How do you teach your kids to be courageous? How do you teach them to think bigger than here and now, dream beyond what they currently see, and go after that vision?
Here’s how you teach courage for kids:
By showing them what it looks like to be afraid.
Here’s what I mean…
One of the biggest misconceptions about parenting and personal development in general is that we need “just a little bit more“ before we can achieve what we want. As parents, we tend to think that we need just a little more experience or just a little more knowledge, then we will be good parents. It’s as if our ideal selves are always just out of reach, just on the other side of tomorrow.
In this worldview, fear and uncertainty are simply things to overcome. When we tell ourselves that we can only do the things we dream of once we’ve worked on ourselves a little bit more, what we’re ultimately saying is, “I’m not really sure that this will work out, and that scares me, so I’m going to delay it.“
In reality, what we’re often doing is feeding the fear that’s keeping us from taking action.
The truth is, you’ll never be ready and you’ll never be fearless. You’ll never have enough knowledge or money or experience. But the key to overcoming fear is to do it anyway.
That thing you’re convinced the world needs – do it anyway. The kids you want to have but feel like you just need to make a little more money. The person you want to marry but you feel just a little bit too unprepared. These are the things we must do in the face of fear, because there will always be fear associated with anything worthwhile.
In doing this, though, it’s important to understand that fear plays a valuable role in decision-making. In other words, there’s a reason fear exists and there’s a reason you’re feeling it. It could be a valid reason or an invalid reason.
A valid reason to not have kids would be if you’re not married or if you actually don’t make enough money to support another human being. But only you know when that fear becomes invalid. An invalid fear would be waiting to have kids even though you want kids, you and your spouse make a decent income, and it wouldn’t crush your financial goals, because you would like to have a little more in savings or just a little bit higher income. When it starts to get on the fence like that, it’s probably fear keeping you idle.
The one and only way to overcome irrational fear is to take action. Knowledge can only go so far in overcoming a lie that your mind has bought into. My wife and I were never prepared for any of our four kids. We honestly weren’t prepared to get married. We kind of thought we were, but a few months in, if you would’ve asked us if we thought we were really prepared, we might’ve given you a different answer. But we did it anyway, and four kids and nearly a decade of marriage later and we’re loving (almost) every minute of it. I’m kidding, we love every minute – even the frustrating ones.
But let’s get back to the original question:
How do you teach your kids to be courageous?
The only way you can teach your kids to be courageous is to show them what it looks like to face fear in a healthy way. After all, courage is the willingness to act in the face of fear.
For some reason, parents tend to think that they should have it all together. We buy into the lie that a flawed parent is a bad parent. We try not to argue in front of our kids, we try not to cuss in front of our kids, and we try not to cry in front of our kids. But in sheltering them from our flaws and weaknesses, what we’re really communicating to them is that it’s not okahy to be weak.
Whenever we communicate that it’s not okay to be weak by not showing them our weakness, it’s implied that anything that could cause weakness, including fear, is something to either be avoided or overcome. The problem, of course, is that fear cannot always be avoided or overcome. Sometimes you just have to carry-on in the face of fear, and that’s exactly what courage is.
But if you, as the parent, are not willing to be vulnerable enough to both face fear and to open up and show your child what it looks like to act in the face of fear, then they’ll never know how to process fear themselves.
So my question for you is: What scares you?
What have you put off doing because you’re afraid you’re not good enough or you’re afraid of what people will think?
One of the biggest tragedies in life are dreams that were never fulfilled because they were given over to fear. And parents are at the top of the list of people who do this. What’s worse is, parents tend to use their children as their excuse for not being brave and creative and bold like they were when they were kids. When in reality, having children should be a primary reason for you to lean into the things you’ve always wanted to do that scare the crap out of you. Because it’s only by doing so that your children will learn what it looks like to be courageous and bold and creative.
So start talking to your kids about what scares you. When you have conflict with your spouse, let your kids see what it looks like for you to face frustration. Show them your weaknesses as often as it makes sense. Let them see you process discomfort in a healthy way.
You don’t have to traumatize them, but letting them see when you’re afraid and when you’re weak, then showing them how to deal with that in a healthy way by facing it and processing it and recovering from it, will do wonders for them as adults.
And before you know it, you’ll have courageous little world-changers on your hands and it won’t be because you were Superman or Superwoman. It’ll be because you’ve modeled what it looks like to walk through fear.