Aristotle believed, “Courage was the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” The need for courage is paramount in today’s new world. While some wish to return to ‘normal’ I believe it’s a time to take advantage of being out of our collective comfort zone and embrace our growth as individuals and as a society. Change takes courage and it is no coincidence that this is our first character value in the formula for Choosing Love! As American poet laureate and legend Maya Angelou said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Courage is not the absence of anxiety and fear, it is the ability to face it, move through it, and grow from it.
The need for amplified courage can be seen everywhere, including schools, homes, the workplace, and in our communities. Neuroscience dictates that some people are more predisposed to be courageous; however, this doesn’t mean that they will act courageously when a situation arises that calls for it. In fact, there are many personal traits that determine our propensity to call on our courage. One is the level of our self-esteem and how confident we are in ourselves and our decision making process. Another is whether we believe we have the capacity within ourselves to make a difference. This is called our ‘locus of control.’ Locus means location. When our control is outside of us, we feel as if things are happening ‘to us’ and we tend to blame others and feel helpless. When we bring control back inside of us, we understand that we make things happen and take responsibility for our actions and then we feel empowered.
Anxiety is a super pandemic now, spreading amongst our children and even adults. The majority impacted often don’t seek professional help and thus suffer alone. Untreated anxiety can lead to mental illness, substance abuse, and even violence. The opposite of anxiety is action. In order to face and move through fear we must practice courage. There are specific steps that we can take with our children and with ourselves in order to instill, cultivate, and strengthen our courage.
There are two valuable ways adults can practice courage that will positively influence their children. First, Model Courage. We teach our children through everything we do. Our words are only a small part of how we communicate to our children. The rest is facial expression, gesticulation, and even our energy. We must remain mindful that our children are watching every move we make and act in a way that is positive, healthy, and reaffirms the best choices and behavior in their own lives. Secondly, find role models through story. When my boys were young I read books to them about personal stories of overcoming life’s challenges. Some of the books included “Nothing is Impossible” by Christopher Reeve, “Joni: An Unforgettable Story” by Joni Eareckson Tada, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillebrand, and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, among others. Through this bedtime ritual we learned how these individuals found courage within to overcome incredible odds and not only survive, but thrive.
Science tells us courage is like a muscle and we can grow our bravery and increase it with practice. As parents, we are our children’s greatest teachers and what we do is even more important than what we say. We must actively demonstrate social and emotional skills and attitudes in order to rise to the occasion and be our best selves in all situations. The Choose Love for Home program is an excellent way to practice courage with our children while at the same time reinforce the essential life skills they are learning at school.
Children can easily practice courage daily. Teach your children how to Take Brave Breaths and Make Brave Poses. Children can take brave breaths, in-and-out, to reduce stress and tension or stand in a brave pose to feel strong and confident. When they face a conflict or feel anxious, take breaths and/or do poses with them so they feel supported. Their number one want, and need, is your attention and this is a win-win in all ways because it can benefit you as well! If you kids don’t want to do it at first, you do it to help with your own courage and they will follow suit!
Help your children be mindful of their thoughts and words. Frustration, anxiety, anger, failure, and disappointment are normal and it’s important to identify the emotion, figure out the origin, and then move through it. The Pixar movie Inside Out featured a young girl named Riley and her personified emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Joy didn’t want Riley to be sad, and at one point she sent Sadness away because no one wants to be sad. However, Joy realized that when Sadness was gone, everything in Riley’s life was grey. Without Sadness, there could be no Joy! Joy eventually finds Sadness and she becomes the unexpected heroine of the story. Share with your children that different feelings coexist, and they come and go, and it’s okay. Encourage them to use positive affirmations to switch the negative thinking into positive to help energize them and to return the locus of control inside. Using “I am” statements can create new neural pathways to courage such as, “I am enough.” “I am worthy.” “I am courageous.” “I love myself.”
Courage helps us move through the difficulty in our lives, to learn from it, to grow, and be strengthened by it! In fact, it’s how we’re shaped and molded and it’s important to not be stuck in fear, but to face it and have the courage and resilience to move through it. As a parent, there’s no better way to do this than alongside your children. We all need this understanding and practice as we choose love together.