A child’s life is filled with firsts. In no particular order, here are just a few things kids will, at some point in their first few years, do for the first time:
- Play with non-siblings
- Ride a bike
- Tie their shoe
- Learn their address and phone
- Write their name
- Start school
- Spend time away from parents and family
- Lose a tooth
- Answer the phone
- Chew gum
- Go on vacation
- See a parade
- Skin their knee
- See fireworks
Those are just a tiny fraction of milestones in a child’s life. There are so many more it’s nearly impossible to think of them all. For quite a few years, almost everything a child does is being experienced for the first time, and that has to be at least a little unsettling.
Fear of the Unknown
Many adults who may have to speak in front of an audience, start a new job, or move to a new city can be plagued by fear of the unknown. Not to mention common, inexplicable, lifelong fears that many adults experience, such as:
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of heights
- Fear of hypodermic needles
- Fear of lightning
- Fear of bugs
- Fear of snakes
- Fear of flying
- Fear of failure
- Fear of enclosed spaces
- Fear of strangers
If adults can experience so much anxiety, think of how kids must feel.
Kids have a lot of things to be afraid of. Not only do many kids fear all the unknowns that lie ahead in their lives, but many also fear imagined or illogical unknowns such as bad dreams, monsters in the closet or under the bed, home invaders, or natural disasters like hurricanes, volcanos, or an asteroid similar to the one that brought about the end of the dinosaurs.
Parents can individually address each instance of a child’s fear; however, a better approach—and one that will serve them for the rest of their lives—is to address fear in general by teaching children to have courage.
Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” Kids can overcome fear if they learn how to make courageous decisions and choose to act in courageous ways.
Children should understand that fear is a survival instinct that goes back to prehistoric times. Seeing a rattlesnake in one’s path can be frightening, and that fear prevents us from walking up to the snake and getting bitten. Like Winston Churchill said, fear of the snake is one’s reaction. However, instead of running around in circles and screaming or being so scared one is unable to move, courage tells us that we can back away and walk around the snake.
Or a child is going to the doctor for a checkup and is afraid because they’re not certain what the doctor is going to do. Courage should intervene and tell the child that the job of a doctor is to help people, not hurt them. Even if they have to get an inoculation, the split second the injection takes is nothing compared to getting tetanus, chicken pox, or the measles.
The examples of the snake and the checkup have something in common with every fear we humans experience: we can out-think our fears because the enemy of fear is rational thought.
Rational thought tells us what we should and shouldn’t do. We don’t stick our hand in a fire because we’re afraid; it’s because rational thought tells us it’s a stupid idea.
The challenge for parents is that we don’t want our children to be afraid, and so we try to come to the rescue. If there’s a monster under the bed, mom or dad will look under the bed and report that it’s monster free. And that’s reassuring to kids.
The problem with checking for monsters is that kids will soon be under the impression that, to alleviate any fear, just call mom or dad and they’ll take care of everything.
It would be better to find out what makes the child afraid? Why do they think there’s a monster? Have they ever seen one? Is it more a fear of the dark? Once a parent understands a child’s fear, they’ll be able to work out a strategy for the child to deal with the fear on their own, which will require courage—and rational thought—but will be much more rewarding.
Finding the courage to combat fears of concrete things like a snake, checkup, fire, or the dark, may be easier than finding the courage to change behavior. For example, the friends of your child are vaping and are trying to convince your child that they should start vaping too. It will take courage for your child to decline the offer, but others will respect them for standing their ground. More importantly, they’ll respect themselves.
Courage may take many forms, including the courage to:
- Stand up for one’s beliefs
- Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves
- Stand up to those who are mistreating others
- Speak up when something isn’t right
- Try new things
- Persist in the face of failure
- Be a leader or role model
- Follow one’s own path
- Think independently and be oneself
To help kids learn how to be courageous, parents can:
- Use children’s literature to demonstrate courageous acts. Many books are strictly meant to teach lessons of bravery and courage; others, like Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen—the story upon which Frozen is based—have a main character who is courageous because it’s part of their character.
- Get ideas from lesson plans on courage. One Community has some great ideas for lessons in every subject area. Many are for older students, but several can be repurposed for younger children.
- Tell them your own stories of courage. Relate personal experiences in your life when you showed courage.
- Share a sense of adventure. Accompany your child on a journey to a new place, trying a new food, or trying a new activity. Show them that facing the unknown can have its rewards.
- Read some quotes on courage from famous people. Discuss the lives of the people being quoted and the courageous things they’ve done.
Courage is a tough concept for kids. They often think courage involves grand gestures or daring acts. It’s important that they know courage can be shown in small ways like standing up for a person being picked on, doing something alone for the first time, trying a new food, or speaking in front of the class.
Children that learn to be brave and courageous when they’re young will carry that with them throughout their lives, and their lives will be richly rewarding as a result.