Braving it. How to Raise a Courageous Child.

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“The very word comes from the heart. Coeur is the French word for heart. It’s important to remember that this isn’t stuff that comes from the brain; it also comes from the gut.” Warren Bennis

“I’m nervous but mostly excited.” uttered Ollie, five years old, behind a smile as we waited for the boarding call to his first solo flight.

The process is not without calculated and organized parameters. Considered an unaccompanied minor, the airline charges a fee that includes a guest pass for the parent to take the child up to the gate and deliver them to a flight attendant that watches over them during the flight and a pass for the family members at the other end to greet them at the gate. These precautions ease the parent’s mind, the child will be safe. But what about the child’s mind? What about their possible fears? The process implies stepping into the unknown, and a great big one at that, a metal bird barreling through the air to see family members vaguely remembered in reconstructed memories and pictures without the comfort figure of their immediate parent. I can see why a child would be scared, but Ollie masterfully recognized the fear and chose to move forward in spite of it, with it, alongside it.

My thought, as a loving and proud mother, is “wow, what a special child” but could his bravery be due to parenting? More than likely, studies have found that courage is learned. At the very least, the right environment needs to be created for bravery to arise. “Our stories of worthiness, of being enough begin in our first families. The narrative doesn’t end there, but what we learn about ourselves and how we learn to engage with the world as children sets a course that either will require us to spend a significant part of our life fighting to reclaim our self worth or will give us hope, courage, and resilience for our journey.” Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

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Because I have lived with fear for many years (fear of ridicule, fear of shame, fear of failure, fear of being myself) I set out to raise a child free of fear, or at least a child that would bravely face his fears. These 5 points have guided my parenting style when raising a courageous child:

  1. Identify emotions:

 

“Are you happy?”, “Are you feeling frustrated?”, “You are apprehensive”, “You are feeling tired” Since the time they are infants, it is important to label emotions and properly name them- during meltdowns, during exuberance, during joy. Labeling emotion in others and in ourselves. “I understand that you are frustrated because you want to play outside and I won’t let you. But I am tired and need some quiet time so I cannot take you.” This labels the child’s emotions but also the parents’- it creates a bridge of labels- a path to understanding. Even if it doesn’t ease the particular tantrum- repetition of emotion labeling results in knowledge of self.

  1. Allow Expression of Self:

Labeling emotions goes hand in hand with allowing the expression of these emotions. Frustration needs to be expressed- anger needs to be expressed, joy, excitement, sadness. If we repress our emotions they grow larger and more powerful, especially in tiny folks- They must be allowed to express their emotions and thus their selves. Sometimes this is not convenient for us, especially when they are expressing frustration in the cookie aisle in the supermarket or their exuberance in the subway during rush hour. But as parents we must endure and practice our patience muscle. If we curtail their emotions, we teach them shame, we teach them intolerance, impatience, indifference, inauthenticity.

  1. Embrace Failure:

Sometimes when we color outside the lines, it creates shadow. As children, heck even as adults, there’s no such things as failures or mistakes just lessons. Children need the freedom to fail without a disapproving parent. This also means we don’t shame our children. Semantics matter. Language matters. Children are very literal and what we say sticks with them.  

“When we shame and label our children, we take their opportunity to grow and try on new behaviors. If a child tells a lie, she can change that behavior. If she is a liar- where’s the potential for change in that?” – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

  1. Don’t Praise Achievement:

Lack of disapproval is not enough, achievement should not be overtly praised either. Praise effort instead. Sure we’ll fist bump whenever he accomplishes something outstanding, but we don’t fuss over it either because if he doesn’t accomplish something great, the lack of praise means the same as disapproval.

If there’s no pressure to do anything, everything is fun. We create because it’s fun to do so, we are nice to others because it feels good to do good to others, not because of an external judge, not for a reward, or lack of punishment. We learn to live life according to our own hearts, our own coeur.

  1. Be brave!

Most importantly, you yourself must model courage!

Children imitate what they see. The best way for children to be courageous, is to lead a courageous life!

“What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” Joseph Chiton Pearce

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Ollie’s turn to board came, he kissed me, and faced his nervousness with courage, taking the flight attendant’s hand and walking down the gate. I stayed behind and smiled, I knew if he faces life in this manner, he will be alright. He will shine bright. He already lights the sky with his fire.

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