Building courage in kids: How to help our little ones to be brave

Genevieve Muir

Genevieve Muir

Parent Educator and Obstetric Social Worker at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys, Gen is passionate about working with families around connection and attachment with their children from birth to five years. Gen assists parents to filter out the noise and find the parenting rhythm that works for them. She has a Bachelor of Social work...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 5 mins read
Building courage in kids: How to help our little ones to be brave

We often think of holidays as being relaxing and fun, but they are often so much more than that. They are also a chance to step out of our comfort zone and try new things – but even this takes courage. Especially for our little ones.

Whether it’s an activity they’d never try at home, tasting a new food or the courage to make a new friend… There is something about being in a new setting, away from our daily lives that can allow us all to do things that feel truly courageous.

We recently had a beautiful family holiday at Club Med Phuket. One of the things we got to experience was the all-new Mini Club + which has activities designed to encourage 6 incredible qualities in kids: courage, connection, confidence, creativity, cheerfulness, & co-operation. 

While these are all qualities we hope to help our kids cultivate, some of these will be more challenging than others depending on the individual child. For my son, Tom, the quality that he often finds most challenging is that of courage.

Tom is the third of four boys, fitting snugly in the middle of a very loud gang of brothers, Tom is on the quieter side. He prefers to be drawing or building LEGO over leaping around or taking physical risks.

When we arrived at Club Med he looked at the trapeze and announced unequivocally that he “would NOT be attempting the trapeze…. no way”. On day one Tom happily skipped the trapeze and had a ball on the trampoline.

Only one day later, on day 2, with no pressure applied by us or the lovely GO’s who were caring for Tom, he decided he wanted to try the trapeze….. Whether it was the holiday vibes, or the fun the kids who tried it were having; I was quite surprised. However, I was keen to support Tom and I was there with him when he began the big climb up the ladder….

Tom got about halfway up and stopped in his tracks. He said he was ‘tired’ but the look of fear on his face was real and raw. His body froze and he climbed down. He didn’t make it that day.

While not succeeding at something we try is disappointing for anyone, the magic of this story for Tom though happened in the days that followed, where two beautiful moments happened for my family I won’t ever forget:

  1. When Tom’s two older brothers heard that Tom hadn’t made it over dinner that night: they listened carefully, their big wide eyes nodding. They then told Tom that in their Teen group that day multiple older kids had also frozen on the ladder, “even big kids freeze” they said. They also told him that they too had felt scared climbing up that high and “they got it”…… Compassion.
  1. While Tom never made it to the high outdoor trapeze, a day later it rained, and the trapeze was set up undercover. This provided Tom with an opportunity to try the trapeze, but with a slightly less daunting climb, Tom said he’d give it a go… and he DID IT!! Three times! Each time feeling braver and the last time singing a song as he swung with confidence and courage.

Courage isn’t feeling brave all the time or succeeding at everything you try with bravado. It’s giving it a go. EVEN when you feel scared and even when you fail, and then being able to get back up and keep trying. It takes courage even just to stop on the ladder and say, “for me, this is enough”.

When it comes to being courageous it’s not getting to the top that matters, it’s the fact he was willing to try. Tom now goes home with a new narrative about himself that is different to the one he had before he left for Thailand:

That he can try hard and scary things, that it’s ok to say when it’s too much – and even if he didn’t get to the top, it was courageous just to try.

Tom also takes with him that incredible feeling of persevering and succeeding, of soaring through the air on the indoor trapeze. He didn’t give up because of one tricky moment and the joy on his face is something I will never forget.

Six tips for building courage in kids

1. Talk to your child as if they are already brave

The way we talk to our kids about what they are doing makes a big difference to how they view themselves. We might think it’s helpful to say, “I know you can be brave” but it implies our child is not already brave. What we can do instead is tell them stories about how you have seen them do so many brave things, this implies they already are brave and the next challenge can feel more do-able.

2. Let them fall

Kids need lots of opportunities to fall and fail in order to be brave. When we protect them from failing the real risk is that they can get increasingly scared to take risks.

3. Praise effort (not outcome)

When we focus on their “effort” not the outcome or success it encourages them to be brave and try because it builds intrinsic motivation.

4. Childhood is not a race…

Trust that whatever the current challenge is they will get there at their own pace.

5. Change the scene

When on holidays, one is more open to new opportunities and testing boundaries, so it’s a great time to build courage. Serve them a new food they wouldn’t usually try or attempt a new activity on holiday. A change can allow us all to relax and stretch ourselves. You can also try this when you get back home too – mix things up!

6. Be the example

Our kids are watching more of what we DO than what we say. When was the last time you tried something that scared you or that you weren’t good at yet?

This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x Club Med.

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