It is not uncommon for one of my kids to ask me to define a word for them. It happens daily. Their vocabulary is rapidly growing, but often words are used without understanding the definition. The other afternoon I decided to inquire about my kids’ understanding of bravery. When asked, “What does it mean to be brave?” this is what they said:
“To be courageous and strong. To stand up to others and for others.”
“It’s like when you’re doing a presentation and you feel really nervous, but you face your fear and do it anyway.”
“To do something even when you feel scared. “
“To keep riding your bike even when you think you are going to fall off. Keep peddling.”
Mulling over their answers, I saw a common thread. Face fear, do it scared, and don’t quit. Given the various ages of my children, yet seeing the consistency of the message, I recognized five key factors we practice in our home to build bravery in our kids:
1. Read about Courageous People
Our book shelf is mostly filled with fictional stories, but the non-fiction ones, specifically the stories of bravery and courage, are the most favored ones. These stories are ones they remember. When we educate ourselves and our children about the stories that shaped our history as a result of courageous acts of individuals, it is an invitation to each of us to make our lives and our decisions count. And not only for ourselves and our families, but for society at large.
2. Be the Example: Go First
Why is it that I can talk about something constantly, but until I am willing to do the very thing I am asking, my authority wanes? Our words matter, but our actions matter more. My children are watching my actions and my choices. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a gap between my words and my actions, but when I become aware of this, I do my best to own it and apologize for my lack of integrity. Admitting when we mess up can be scary, but modeling this small act of bravery does not go unnoticed. Understanding that I am raising white children, and that privilege is attached to their skin color, reinforces the importance of teaching my children the necessity of owning their mistakes and living with integrity. And treating all people equally is of the utmost importance in our home.
3. Take a Risk
The last two years has been full of risk for our family, and as a result, lots of uncertainty. Our children have watched us navigate risk and change. At times, things have worked out beautifully, and other times disappointment. When we take a risk, regardless of the outcome, we grow in courage and resilience. And we’ve been teaching our kids to step towards adventure without the promise of a pretty, polished outcome.
4. Celebrate Acts of Courage
My twin daughters came home last week with permission slips for the talent show. In spite of being in a new school, they each decided to participate with a group of friends. I couldn’t be prouder! My youngest daughter deliberated whether to introduce herself to another young girl at the park. She found the courage to risk asking for what she wanted. As a result, she found a new friend. Each night at dinner, we make time to share the events of the day. When acts of bravery are reported, we collectively celebrate with enthusiasm. Because courage is a big deal!
5. Resist the Urge to Rescue
As an adult, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I work really hard to avoid pain. What we do with pain is a pivotal turning point towards healing. If we make room for it, courage is often birthed out of pain and disappointment. When I think about the type of children I want to raise, it becomes clear to me they need to learn to navigate the difficult road of life without their mom following uncomfortably close by, trying to clear their path of obstructions. Hitting a few obstacle along the way is what will train them to gracefully maneuver around them in the future.
When we choose courage, we inspire those around us, specifically our children. What seems like a small act of bravery will create a big impact today that will spill over to tomorrow.