With the rising rates of anxiety among children today, it’s more important than ever to help our kids learn to cope with worry in healthy ways.1 Nurturing courage doesn’t mean teaching kids to be ashamed of feeling fear or anxiety.
It means helping kids develop the strength to face challenges without being held back by fear.
So what’s the key to teaching courage for kids?
It’s showing them that feeling scared is perfectly normal, but we don’t have to be controlled by it. If teaching courage sounds tough, don’t worry—we’ve put together a list of 6 effective ways for caregivers and educators to help children choose the courageous path.
What Does Courage Really Mean?
Before we try to teach courage, it’s essential to take a step back and check our own understanding of what it means. It’s easy to confuse courage with being “tough” or never feeling small, scared, or sad.
But the fact is, courageous people feel afraid. They just choose to act despite it.
For most of us, the kind of courage we need every day isn’t about running into a burning building to save lives. Instead, courage is about the little things we all struggle with:
- Trying new things, even when we’re not good at it
- Standing up for others
- Speaking up for what you believe in
- Owning up and apologizing when you did something wrong
How Should You Teach Courage to Kids?
Teaching courage to kids is an art that combines empathy, understanding, and gentle guidance. It doesn’t mean telling them to be brave or hold in their emotions—instead, it’s about giving them the tools to handle their feelings as they move through life’s challenges.
Here are six strategies that you can use to foster emotional courage in your child, through interactive role play to creating a safe and nurturing environment and beyond:
#1 Role Play and Practice Scenarios With Them
Kids naturally use imaginative play to develop coping skills for the real world, and you can use this as a tool for building courage, too.2 Role-playing provides a safe space to explore fears and uncertainty to develop emotional courage.
For example, if your child is nervous about trick-or-treating:
- Try a pretend play where they dress up and practice knocking on your door and greeting you
- Use the game as a chance to talk about their worries and what they think might happen
- If they feel comfortable, act out the worries—what happens if someone is mad at them for knocking on the door? What happens if someone jumps out and says “boo!”?
#2 Validate Their Emotions
As we said above, courage isn’t about being fearless. So when your child expresses fears or concerns for everyday situations:
- Validate their feelings with acceptance and support
- Remember that you don’t have to fix those feelings—focus on listening and making space for any and all emotions
- Talk about how expressing feelings is a way of being brave
- Share the Unicorn children’s book to discuss the strength it takes to be authentic and express these emotions
Our Authenticity Kit has more ideas for teaching kids that being their authentic self is always brave, even when they’re feeling scared or experiencing hard things.
#3 Nurture Curiosity
Fear of the unknown is common in children (and let’s be honest, adults too). Welcome this feeling and let your child know that it’s okay not to have all the answers.
Instead of worrying when something is new and unfamiliar, encourage your child to have a spirit of curiosity by:
- Asking questions and learning more
- Seeking help from others
- Talking about it instead of holding it in
#4 Lead by Example
It may sound like a cliche, but it’s true: children naturally look up to their parents and caregivers as their real-life superheroes. So how do you model courage in your own actions? You don’t need to pretend you never feel afraid.
Instead, be open about your feelings. When you’re worried about something, share it and talk about how you’re handling the situation in a developmentally appropriate way:
- Challenges at work – “I'm trying something new at work tomorrow and I'm a little nervous. I'm practicing so I feel more confident.”
- Tough conversations – “I'm feeling a little overwhelmed about painting this big wall. I'm going to take a deep breath and take it one step at a time.”
- Trying new activities – “I don’t know if I’ll be good at this. But it’s still fun to do something new.”
#5 Let Them Try It Their Way
Allowing kids to tackle challenges in their own way boosts their confidence and sense of self-reliance. Whenever possible, try not to take over their problems and solve it for them—instead, be a helper, sherpa, and supporter. Let them know you have their back, but that you believe in their ability to figure things out themselves. This can help a child build courage and skills to overcome setbacks.
#6 Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
Whether acknowledging a child’s efforts or talking about something that could have gone better, focus on the effort your child made rather than the end result.
- If the game didn’t go so well, focus on how brave it is to try a new sport
- If they missed a note in the recital, focus on how exciting it is that they performed on stage
This growth mindset helps kids get over the fear of failing. After all, mistakes often mean we’ve tried something new or gone outside our comfort zone.
What to Avoid When Teaching Courage
When we’re trying to nurture courageous kids, it’s important to guide them gently without pushing them to cover up their feelings. Use these three tips in mind to keep your courage talks empowering and productive:
- Try not to say things like “Don’t be afraid” or “Don’t worry” that encourage them to cover up their feelings.
- Try not to let them avoid situations they’re afraid of—anxiety tends to grow when kids avoid the cause of the worry.
- Let them know that everyone gets scared sometimes, and that’s okay.
Unlock Your Child’s Inner Courage with Slumberkins
Nurturing courage isn’t something that happens overnight. Be patient with your child and build a relationship that encourages them to feel safe sharing any feelings—even fear and worry. With time, you can help them express those feelings and discover that they have the strength to act in the face of fear.
To that end, Slumberkins is here to help you guide your child toward feeling confident, brave, and empowered.
Our Emotional Courage collection features brave, resourceful Ibex, who teaches kids that courage lives inside us all. Let Slumberkins help your child find the strength that was within them all along with fun activities, engaging books, powerful affirmations, and more.
- Harvard Gazette. Building ‘bravery muscles’ to fight rising anxiety among kids. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/10/building-bravery-muscles-to-fight-rising-youth-anxiety/
- Wiley Interdisciplinary Review: Cognitive Science. Pretend play. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26263228/