We might think of people who do heroic acts as being brave, the firefighter who rescues someone from a burning building, or a cat from a tree. The person who is not a passive bystander but who actually stands up to others. The doctors and nurses working in dangerous conditions, the soldiers keeping peace. Or perhaps we think bravery is climbing a mountain, sailing across the ocean or traversing the Antarctic. All of the above are indeed brave acts and maybe we can aspire to some of them. But does the fact that I, or you, haven’t conquered Everest or saved a cat from drowning in a frozen pond make us any less brave?
Being brave: it can sound like a bit of a throw away remark, and can sometimes be undermined by comments such as “Oh just get on with it.” or “it’s easy.” Or even “stop making a fuss.” Taking a leap into something that makes us feel uncomfortable should not be underestimated and nor should it be belittled. As adults we have had many experiences and, hopefully, we have reflected and learned from them. We use these past experiences to inform our approaches to our next challenges. It is easy for us to forget that we had to learn to be brave and we tend to expect our children to be able to make those courageous leaps. We need to remember that every act of bravery is prefaced by a degree of anxiety, and if the anxiety wasn’t there then neither would the bravery.
At school and home, we want our children to be courageous, it is one of my school’s key values and something that we talk about in assemblies and other lessons. But, how can we teach our children to overcome their anxiety and be brave? There isn’t a magic wand that makes us brave, it’s a learned skill that comes through practice.
As parents we want to protect our children, we want them to succeed, we don’t want them to experience failure and feel the associated disappointment. We want to wrap them up and take those hardships away – in essence though, we are stopping them from learning to be brave. By being kind and by being overtly protective, we are robbing our children of learning.
We must actively each and encourage children to be brave. We must acknowledge with children that bravery isn’t always about big dramatic acts that are accompanied by applause, more often it is tiny things that perhaps no one else would notice, things like being kind to someone who they don’t usually play with; trying to use a more challenging piece of vocabulary in their writing; falling over and getting back up. We need to have an expectation that they will try, that they will push themselves and when we see that they are struggling to encourage them.
Mustering up courage is a thing. Try not to rush your child when you know they are having that little wobble, they are processing, working out their strategy and their own boundaries. It may be about jumping from one stepping stone to the next (metaphorical or actual) and calculating the chances of falling in, and assessing the level of danger – will they be swept away by the current, or just get a little bit wet, will they lose face. Children need to work out their way through and learn to deal with the consequences if it doesn’t work out. Next time, they won’t be so daunted and they will deal with it better.
Encourage your child to try new things, gently putting them outside their comfort zone, taking safe and supported risks. We do this all the time in teaching, pushing children just beyond what they think they can do, if we didn’t, learning wouldn’t take place. Initially we will hand hold, and then we teach them how to move on with more independence, using books to help, asking a friend, having a bit more thinking time to reflect and improve their work. There is always a little cognitive wobble, a little bit of, “can I do this?”, but with encouragement, they will take the leap and progress. Each leap making them that little bit braver.
Remember that you are your child’s role model, let them see that you are sometimes uncomfortable but make sure that they also sees your bravery, tell them your strategies. Tell them about when you had to do something tough, how you felt, what you did and how it made you feel.
Sometimes courage is about pushing against friends who might steer you off track, it could be the limiting expectations of others. All too often, creative and beautifully open minds have been closed in the name of self doubt or compliance, and so we must always encourage our children to find their voice, to question. Questioning, when done respectfully opens hearts and minds. We want our children to be brave enough to challenge the way things are and to want something better, in time they will grow into adult minds who can make it happen.
So, I leave you with this reminder, courage does not always come in the way of super heroic feats. The truth is, our children are slaying their personal dragons, every day. Every one of our pupils is a hero. The key is helping them to know their inner strength, their bravery so they can use it to push through their boundaries when they are feeling anxious, confused or unconfident. Because one of the most important parts of being brave is knowing that deep inside, ‘brave’ is there, whether you feel it or not.
“Without fear there cannot be courage.” – Christopher Paolini