The world can be a scary place for a child. There are so many different experiences to navigate; first steps, first words, first day of school, new friends, new experiences, learning new information and feeling strange emotions. So, how can families help their children to be courageous? This article offers a few strategies parents can embrace to nurture courage within their child.
Read story books
Story books are a powerful tool for teaching concepts and social situations to children. Reading story books about characters being brave, like Fearless by Colin Thompson, can offer insights into scenarios and are a great stimulus for discussion. Most importantly, reading story books equips children with the vocabulary and language to be able to express their feelings.
Expose children to lots of different experiences which will push them outside their comfort zone. It might be encouraging them to try a new piece of play equipment at the park or signing them up for a new sporting team at school. Gently nudging and pushing their boundaries will not only give them the opportunity to accomplish a new skill but also the dispositions and confidence needed to successfully embrace challenges in the future.
St Margaret’s Head of Primary Angela Drysdale says: “Feeling uncomfortable when learning is all part of learning. As adults we tolerate frustration as part of our learning process; we are not rescued when we can’t do something.”
St Margaret’s Primary School has adapted the model of The Learning Pit from British educator and researcher James Nottingham. The Learning Pit is a metaphor for helping students to understand the learning process, including the discomfort we experience when faced with not knowing.
“We are teaching our students that the pit is not a bad place to be; it’s a necessary phase of the learning process and actually where deep learning takes place,” says Angela.
New and different experiences become important teachable moments for parents and teachers and provide opportunities to discuss ‘how to deal’ with a situation and strategies to employ.
Consider the old adage “monkey see, monkey do”. When St Margaret’s pre-prep teacher Katie Bryant kicked off her shoes and leapt into the mud pit on “Muddy Mondays”, she was normalising the experience for her young observers. “I showed them how my muddy toes could be washed clean with a bucket of water and provided lots of positive reinforcement and reassurance to those who were really feeling uncomfortable. We try to desensitise and normalise these different experiences,” says Katie.
Children learn from observing the behaviour of parents and role models. Something as simple as sharing with your child the trials and tribulations of your day and how you dealt with them can be a great way of modelling to your child.
Applaud your child’s effort. Praise the bravery, courage and perseverance it took when they challenged themselves outside their comfort zone. Share and celebrate their progress; this is how we learn. The story book Clem Always Could by Sarah Watt is a story of perseverance and a great reminder to children of all the things they can do now that they once had to learn.
There is a Japanese proverb “Fall seven times, stand up eight” that encapsulates the essence of resilience or the ability to bounce back from difficult situations and challenges. Resilient children are more likely to be courageous. They know that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they get back up and try again. Children need coping skills as these provide the cognition, behaviours and attitudes for making their lives in the classroom and playground happier and more productive; and the development of these skills have implications for later in life, their future careers and relationships. Promoting the skills of optimistic thinking, having a sense of purpose and future, and normalising negative events as part of everyone’s everyday life promotes resilience in children.