Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, joined a team of 55 international researchers in 2001, to research the question: “How can we help young people realise their full potential?” This led to research in what makes life worth living, how we experience a richer life, how we reach optimal well-being and how we can become the best version of ourselves. Thus followed three years of research, which resulted in the identification of the 24 character strengths used by mankind.
This series of blogs helps you understand the 24 scientifically proven character strengths, which help mankind’s wellbeing and quality of life across the globe.
Strength #2 Bravery
7 TIPS FOR FOSTERING BRAVERY IN YOUR CHILDREN
To many people, and especially to young children, the concept of bravery is best illustrated by a favourite superhero, or an emergency services worker, or perhaps a soldier … and mostly encompasses physical acts of courage. But the definitions of bravery as a character strength are much broader than that. Someone possessing bravery:
- Dares to speak their mind, even if they risk being unpopular
- Stands by their opinions and dares say their opinion out loud
- Fights for what's important for them
- Can be brave in many ways – physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically.
When we explain bravery to children, one of the things we should talk about is that bravery doesn’t mean that we don’t feel worry, doubt or fear before we act on it. It’s feeling those difficult emotions – but doing that brave act anyway. Courage and fear ALWAYS go together. It can’t be any other way really can it? Because, if there’s no fear, then there’s no need to be brave. Bravery is a bit magical really, it gives us the strength to push past those scary feelings and go ahead and do the things that feel difficult, risky or downright frightening.
Another thing about bravery, children should know this too, is that you don’t always get rewarded for it. You don’t get given a superhero cape, or a medal, or a certificate in assembly – no-one else may not even notice it. But YOU will know – and that’s enough because you will feel good about yourself, and you should, and that’s a really positive thing to feel. You may have done something that seems very small, like trying a new activity, or sitting next to the new boy at school who’s eating lunch on his own – small things are no less brave (and actually, for that new boy, what you did may make a HUGE difference).
7 WAYS TO FOSTER BRAVERY IN YOUR CHILD
- You can start to encourage this strength in your child from a very young age, simply by using the language of bravery. “I know you were worried about doing that – but you did it anyway, that’s so brave!” “That wasn’t easy was it? But you kept trying and you did it – that took courage.”
- As always, children learn best by noticing what others do. As the adult, you need to be modelling bravery to them. You don’t necessarily need to show them that you’ve conquered that fear of heights by doing a skydive! (Phew) You can simply talk to them about times when you’ve pushed through fear/sadness/anger, to do the thing that was right for you. Talk about risks you took, moving away from home/applying for a new job or promotion/travelling to a new country. The times when you thought differently to others, and said so. The times when you did something differently to others, because you felt it was right. If they see the courage in you, they’re more likely to feel it and use it themselves.
- Don’t be a ‘Lawnmower Parent’ – removing or avoiding any risk for your child means that you not only limit their experiences, you also take away opportunities to get things wrong, fail and make mistakes. Children need to know that mistakes and imperfection can be a really positive thing – because that’s how we learn and grow. Failure is often a sign that we’ve done something brave, that we’ve TRIED. “It doesn’t matter that you got it wrong, it wasn’t easy was it? Well done, that took a lot of guts!”
- Along with this goes encouraging your child to do fun new activities that sometimes push them outside of their comfort zone. Something that’s maybe a new physical/emotional challenge like drama or sport - by taking on new challenges, and meeting them, children learn that they CAN cope and ARE able. The emphasis here is on fun though, if your child isn’t happy or having fun – little learning of ANYTHING will take place!
- Courage is made possible when you believe in yourself, when you know that your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and ideas have value. You can help teach your children this by showing that you see them, hear them, love them and value them - even though you don’t agree with them all the time. Ask for their opinions and let them know it’s fine to disagree with yours or anyone else’s, as long as it’s done in a measured and respectful way.
- Bravery can sometimes be about standing up to friends who might try to steer them the wrong way. It might be pushing against expectations of others, social pressures and pressure from popular media - all of this should be talked about at home.Also, discuss with your child how to say no. Sometimes children just really don't know how to say no to peers who ask them todo dangerous or risky things.
- Teach the value of intuition too, it has value because it’s made up of knowledge, memories and experiences, and sits somewhere in all of us, just a little bit outside of our awareness. Bravery is often the ability to act on our gut feelings and doing what just feels right, despite the noise in our head that tells us to do otherwise. Children need to be able to understand when something feels right or wrong for them. You can practice this by asking your child “Do you have a feeling about what you should do?” - letting them know that they don’t need to try to explain the reason they feel the way they do. Alongside this they should understand that it’s never too late to change direction, change friends, or change their mind.
Bravery is the ability to overcome fear in order to do what’s right, even if it’s difficult or risky. Bravery, however, doesn’t mean never being afraid; and it’s vital that children should also be told that there are times when it is alright to be frightened and to run away from danger.