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Teaching Kids Courage

Sometimes kids need gentle nudges to step out of their comfort zone and discover their inner strength. Our job as teachers and parents is to help kids find their 20 seconds of safe courage, so they can do the right thing when their conscience or heart urges them to step in and help.

Why is it important for kids to be courageous? A bold child is more likely to withstand negative peer pressure, say no to temptations that run counter to your family’s values and fight the good fight. Courage also has surprise benefits: It boosts kids’ resilience, confidence and willpower as well as their learning, performance and school engagements.

The good news is that courage can be taught. Here are nine ways to stretch kids’ risk-taking muscles so they can face adversity and do the right thing:

Model courage
Kids who watch their parents stand up to do the right thing are more likely to do the same. Let your child see you step out of your comfort zone, whether it’s tackling your fear of heights or speaking up to your boss. Then express how good it feels when you conquer your fear instead of taking a shortcut. Your kids will learn how to take on the tough challenges they face by witnessing how you tackle your fears.

Talk about values and courage
Research finds that kids are more likely to be courageous if they believe that their parents expect them to support those in need. Discuss bravery with your kids: Tell them, “Courage is making the choice to do what you know is right even if you are afraid.” Some parents develop a family courage mantra such as, “We find courage to do what’s right, even if it’s hard” or “Our family speaks up and helps others.”

Don’t always rescue your kids
Always “fixing” children’s problems only makes them more dependent and reduces their ability to bravely seek their own solutions. It also sends a disturbing message: “I’ll help because you can’t do it alone.” If you’re “over-helping,” start building your child’s courage muscles by putting him in the driver’s seat. Have him tell his coach he can’t make practice, instead of doing that for him. Or have your child apologize to her pal without your assistance.

Ask your kids to share their acts of bravery
Learning to be brave takes practice, so encourage your children to do something courageous every day, such as introducing themselves to someone new, inviting a new classmate to play or standing up for a peer. Then take time to focus on their courageous breakthrough.

Dispel the “Superman myth”
Many kids assume they need to look like a superhero to be courageous. Share stories of those who changed the world with their quiet, nonphysical brave acts. Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, was heckled because of his skin color, and along with excelling on the field he showed great bravery by conducting himself in a professional manner on and off the playing surface. Mahatma Gandhi – who would go on to be the leader of nonviolent civil disobedience – ran home after school every day, as a child, because he was too shy to talk to anyone. Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat to white passengers, was described as “soft-spoken … timid and shy.”

Read about courageous kids
Share inspiring news and stories about children who stick their necks out for others. Some favorite books for younger kids are “Courage” by Bernard Waber and “Brave Irene” by William Steig. For older kids, check out: “Wringer,” by Jerry Spinelli and “Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends” by Patti Kelley Criswell and Angela Martini.

Teach kids to prioritize safety
Even as we teach our children to be brave, it’s still important to temper risk-taking. Certainly, we want our children to be safe. So, tell your child that safety is always the first priority. If someone could get hurt and the risk is too great, teach your kids to always get adult help or call 911 if needed. Encourage children to trust their instincts when they have concerns that something is unsafe.

Teach your kids how to reduce their fears
If not kept in check, fear can be overwhelming. Teach your child simple strategies to be brave. You might encourage positive self-talk, such as saying, “I can handle this” or “I have courage to do this.” Or teach your child to take slow, deep breaths to find courage. Research finds younger children are more likely to share their fears with another child. Though you want them to be open with you, let them know it’s also OK to share their worries with a friend.
For kids to thrive in today’s uncertain world, they will need courage. Let’s help them find their hero within and learn to be brave!

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