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Raising Courageous Children

We all want our kids to be courageous. To take positive risks. To follow their dreams. Yet, paradoxically, most of us—along with society at large—are increasingly working against this wish by overprotecting, coddling, and shielding our youth from danger, hurt, disappointment, and loss.

From sanitized ‘safe’ playgrounds, to eerily quiet streets after school, to trigger warnings on college campuses designed to ‘protect’ our youth from words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense, we are raising a generation of children who won’t know what to do once released from their ‘safe’ cages into the real world.

“A young animal kept too long in a cage will not be able to survive in the wild. When you open the door, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do because the world has become unfamiliar, an alien place.”
On the Wildness of Children, by Carol Black


The Real World

“In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development,” says Joe Frost, an influential playground safety consultant. Tim Gill, author of No Fear, suggests, “At the core of our safety obsession is the idea that children are too fragile or unintelligent to assess the risk of any given situation.”

Today’s world is evolving at an incredibly fast pace. This demands adaptability and survival skills, only children exposed to challenges and uncertainty can develop. Such skills can only be gained through exercising courage in experimental trial-and-error.

The Path To Courage

Helping children develop courage, then, first requires parents to build courage themselves—to moderate their fears and allow their children to take positive risks. This does not mean letting children be reckless. Courage, as defined by Greek philosopher Aristotle, is the halfway point between timidity and recklessness.

Parents must also prepare their children for disappointment. On this front, says Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift, “We’re failing in the most basic aspect of teaching kids about the human experience. Disappointment is more common than success, unhappiness is more common than happiness.” Teaching children to identify discouragement and disappointment will prepare them to make informed choices – ultimately raising self-esteem.

When children dare move out of their comfort zones, parents must prepare them for the inevitable setbacks they will face, especially at the beginning. Commonly, children will try to escape that initial discomfort by giving up, often persuading parents to let them try something else instead. If parents give in, children will never develop the life force of grit: the stick-to-itiveness necessary to master any new skill or to overcome challenges. Embracing and overcoming discomfort is the only way they’ll achieve mastery.

With every small victory, parents must celebrate and encourage their children. This strengthens the children’s self-esteem and confidence. By pointing at the character strengths the children apply to the challenge—courage, persistence, perseverance, bravery, etc.—we help grow each child’s inner capacities and prepare them for the next stage.

Ready to learn more? Sign up for an Active Parenting course through Olive Crest, or learn how you can host a course at your site.

Parenting Education is a program of Olive Crest. Funded by: OC Health Care Agency (HCA), Mental Health and Recovery Services, Office of Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Services Act/Prop. 63.

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