Teaching Character: Bravery
If you could look up bravery in the dictionary (OK, you can actually do this, but let’s pretend) you’d see a photo of a newborn baby with the words ’nuff said underneath.
Babies are among the most brave souls on this planet! “Someone turn down those lights!” only you can’t say that just yet so you simply squeeze your eyes closed. “What the hell are these things that flail about and hit me in the face?” only you don’t know yet that you have arms and hands, much less how to control them. “FEED ME!” and your mouth goes searching about, trying to suck on anything within mouthing distance.
The things babies have to deal with! And to think, newborn babyhood is probably the happiest any soul will ever be. The nuzzling, the breastfeeding. Oh la la.
So undertaking to teach a child bravery could be considered an exercise in redundancy. Or is it?
I was reading in the New Yorker the other day about the bullying/shaming incident at Rutgers University that led to a young man’s suicide. Such a sad situation.
On every level, bravery - or a lack of it - failed them. Bravery on the part of the boy who did the bullying - imagine if he was able to deal with his fears enough so that he could handle them, not lash out at his roommate.
Bravery on the part of the roommate to push the bully back, to stand strong in the belief that he was worthy of love, happiness and respect.
Bravery on the part of every single person who received, saw or read a text/Facebook update/twitter feed about the unfolding situation to say, “Stop this nonsense!”
I’m not suggesting that things would be different if only the students involved had a little more of this or that, or less of this or that. It’s just that often the big things - like teaching our children to be brave - get pushed aside in favor of getting through the day.
Because we all need to get through the day. But then today is tomorrow, then a string of tomorrows and finally, we’re in the future looking back thinking of what we could have done BEFORE to stop this from happening. That’s hindsight talking. Let’s focus on foresight.
I love Mark Twain’s take on bravery: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Inner strength!
Also, as an aside, did you know that too much praise can breed fear? It’s the inverse power of praise. Noodle on that for a while and tell me what you think about it. But back to bravery.
There are a number of good books that talk about bravery for young-uns:
1. Bravery Soup by Maryann Cocca-Leffler about a timid little raccoon who, with the help of Big Bear and his bravery soup, learns about bravery.
2. Le Trois Courageux Petits Gorilles is a sweet French book on bravery. Unfortunately it’s in French, but seriously, you don’t need to read French to understand. We read this book a lot on our travels - the pictures and sound effects say it all! Plus, it could be useful for opening one’s mind, reading a book you can’t pronounce. Ha.
3. Puddle Jumping by Emma Quay follows three friends, Panda, Owl, and Sheep, as they play together. While Panda and Owl puddle jump, Sheep quakes in his boots. He’s afraid he’ll fall so he won’t jump. Then, after his friends encourage him, he does fall, but it’s actually all OK. The book is great because it not only talks about being fearful and then brave, but also about friends who need a little help to face their fears.
Lastly, real life story telling can be a powerful teacher here. Tell stories of when you were little (kids love that!) and how you were afraid of something but you stared it down and stomped on it.
Or, if you can’t conjure your own story, think of your ancestors…did they travel from far and wide to settle here? Were they Wild West-ers? How did they survive in their world, what were their fears?
My grandmother rode in a big boat from Cuba to the US when she was 2! That’s how old my little one is right now.
Mostly, though, we as parents have an open ended opportunity to teach even the smallest acts of bravery every day with our own behavior. Think about it; how many brave things have you done today? What fears have you faced?
Me, well, I haven’t done anything yet. Yet! The day is still young…
photo credit: Modern Home Modern Baby