Courage is at the heart of the core strength of character that we want for our kids.
Courage is the conviction that motivates acts of bravery.
Courage is overcoming hard things.
But courage is also an elusive thing to teach our kids. How do we teach them to respond to circumstances with courage – when courage is an inner attitude?
- We teach them to have values. We need to teach our children not only what a value looks like but also why it is important. It is as they understand the why that they will start to own these values as their own. You will never have courage (acting out your values) if your values are only copying someone else.
- We teach them to understand and recognise fear. “Courage isn’t the lack of fear but rather acting in spite of our fears” (Mark Twain). We need to teach our children to identify that they feel fear but also know that they have a choice to let that fear dictate to them, or they let their values direct their choices. Fear needs to be recognised but not accepted. We can often whitewash fear in the hope of instilling courage – and in doing so we leave our children with the feeling of not being heard or understood. Being brave – in spite of our fears – that is empowering.
- We give them an example to follow. As always our children learn more from what we do than what we say. Do they see us being afraid and yet still doing the right thing? Maybe we are being courageous but in the adult world and our kids don’t see it. If this is the case then we need to talk about it – let them know your fears, your challenges and your choices. As they see us processing the idea of acting on our values, in the face of our fears they will see you as a hero and an example to follow though their challenges will be different.
- We help them accept failure. Often failure is seen as a fear itself but this is a false understanding of life being a journey. When we fail it isn’t the end of the road –it is a step on our journey to grow and live by our values. When we fail and try again we build muscle – and if we fail in the area of acting courageously – when we get up and try again, we are building moral muscle. Failing isn’t the end of the story – not trying is. We need to communicate (by our words and actions) this idea of failure to our children.
I like the definition of courage that we glean from Ambrose Redmoon “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
I think we see this when we see people do extraordinary acts of bravery – we are amazed at what people can do; often this is attributed to a rush of adrenaline in the extreme situation but I also think this definition of courage comes in to it as well: for example, saving a life becomes more important than the fear of the danger.
Whenever we are faced with a tough situation we can choose to be guided by the risk or danger of the situation, or by recognising an important value. When our values are more important than our fears we act with courage.
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Three situations our teens will face where they will have to choose to respond with courage – to overcome their fears – and do the right thing:
- To fight stinking thinking and to focus on life-giving thoughts: there is so much change going on in a teens life that they easily get overwhelmed and start a downward spiralling pattern in their thinking. They start focusing on the negative instead of the positive, or life giving thoughts. Stinkin’Thinkin’ is a term that a friend introduced to us which means thinking that isn’t in line with God’s word; it takes courage to have faith. When all around looks scary it takes courage to say I am going to trust God’s word.
- Decide what values they want to live by. Teen years is a season of life where fitting in is so important and that collides with the season of establishing your own values for yourself. At some time every teen will be faced with the challenge of following the crowd or standing out as different because they believe something different than the crowd – this takes courage.
- Be themselves and be okay with that. Our teens need to accept their weaknesses, and their strengths; accept their passions and talents as all-okay. Once again the pressure to conform to peers is a big pull on a teen but they need to resist that and be true to the things on their heart. They may have a passion or ability that is unusal, they need to have courage to pursue whatever it is in their hand – even if it is a lonely path. It takes courage to be the only one (even if it is for only a season).
When I was a teen there was a little flyer floating around that talked about the difference between conviction and preference. We often hold our values as our conviction until they get challenged and once we start wavering we really start to see that it is more of a preference than a conviction. I think this is a good conversation to have with our teens in connection with courage. If you are going to stand out on a limb and do something bold because a value is more important than the fear starting to rise in your heart – then you need to have the conviction that that value is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely and excellent.
In order to have courage we need to have convictions.
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