2016-06-30
Birth to 2

Young children constantly push themselves to master new skills despite their fears of getting hurt. For example, a toddler will persist in getting up and trying to walk even though he repeatedly falls and lands on the floor. This inner push toward growth and achievement despite bumps and bruises is an early form of courage.

The more a young child confronts physical challenges like learning to run or climb, the more capable she feels, and the more likely she is to take on new challenges in the future.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Encourage small feats of independence can help build their children's confidence and willingness to confront their fears.
  • Praise your child when he tries an activity that's new for him. Leave her alone to experiment with play on her own.
  • When he falls down, don't let him see you panic.
  • What's the Goal? Build your child's confidence and willingness to confront her fears.

    3 to 4

    Like younger children, preschoolers demonstrate courage by taking on new physical challenges. They'll summon all their inner strength, for example, to ride down the big slide at the playground or hang unassisted from the monkey bars. But children this age also begin to confront fears that are less tied to the physical world. Their growing cognitive ability, which causes them to picture imaginary threats, also helps them overcome fear.

    What Parents Can Do:

  • Give a child who is afraid of the dark, for instance, some pretend "monster spray" to keep nightmares at bay.
  • Encourage your child to use words to express fear instead of becoming paralyzed by it: "Mommy, I feel scared because that dog is big."
  • What's the Goal? Give your child emotional strategies and skills that will help him continue to confront difficult challenges in the future.

    5 to 7

    At this age, children begin to cope with increasing independence and display a new level of courageous behavior. For example, a child who walks into her kindergarten classroom for the first time has to face a host of unknowns: Will her teacher be nice? Will she make friends? How will she find the bathroom? Will reading be hard? As she learns to handle these fears, she gains courage.

    Children this age can also start to temper physical courage with common sense-that it's brave to learn to ride a two-wheeler, for example, but it's foolhardy to race down too steep a hill.

    What Parents Can Do:

  • Encourage your child to take up a new sport, such as gymnastics, that is fun but might be frightening at first.
  • Tell the story of David and Goliath and talk about how David's courage defeated the big, scary Goliath even though he didn't look physically strong.
  • What's the Goal? Increase your child's confidence in her ability to be brave in the face of challenging situation.

    8 to 10

    Middle-years kids may start to display a different kind of courage--moral courage, the drive to do the right thing despite fear of negative consequences. Two developmental milestones occurring at this age make moral courage possible--the awareness of others' perspectives and a sense of right and wrong.

    What Parents Can Do:

  • Set a good example of moral courage for your children throughout their growing-up years to ignite their capacity to stand up for what's right.
  • Praise your child when she returns a toy she's found to its rightful owner-when she'd really like to keep it-or picks a disabled child to play in a pick-up game of baseball.
  • What's the Goal? Lay the foundation for your child to expect moral courage in others and himself.

    11 to 13

    Preteens are in rebellion against their parents, while also increasingly under the influence of peers--not exactly a recipe for moral courage. If taking a stand is likely to provoke a negative reaction from friends, a preteen may be unable to carry it through. However, moral courage has not disappeared--it's merely in hibernation. Below their surface cool, kids are keenly aware of life's injustices. Often, a child this age will quietly assert his independence by refusing to do things that violate his ethical sense.

    What Parents Can Do:

  • Praise your child when you observe her putting her ethical sense above popularity, by defending a picked-on friend or staying away from kids who shoplift.
  • Set up a pen-pal relationship between your child and a child in a very poor or war-ravaged country. Point out the courage the other child shows every day just by surviving.
  • What's the Goal? Maintain your child's commitment to doing the right thing, even through it may be hard for him to express.

    14 to 18

    As kids hit the teenage years, they are capable of a higher level of moral reasoning. Though still self-absorbed, teens are aware that their actions affect others, and they feel a sense of responsibility to advance the social good. A 17-year-old is likely to stop a buddy from driving if he's had too much to drink--despite the possibility of being labeled "uncool." Teens are more analytical and tend to question authority, which helps them take an independent stand on issues.

    In the classroom, learning about historical events in which people showed moral courage--such as the Germans who defied Hitler--or studying heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King advances ethical standards.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Be open to discussing difficult situations that require moral analysis.
  • Hold up courageous individuals like Gandhi and Martin Luther King as heroes in your family.
  • What's the Goal? Provide your child with a safe place to reason through morally difficult situations and conclude that moral courage is the best solution.


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