How to Model Courage for Your Kids

How to Model Courage for Your Kids

This month we're talking about courage, and today we're talking about how to model courage for our kids because our kids need the language, the opportunity, and the modeling of courage, which can be very intimidating.

We hear stories of how other people are courageous, which is inspiring, but we don't often feel courageous ourselves. We want our kids to learn courage and to even be better than us.  What do we do when we want to teach them about courage but we don't feel like we have any, and can't give what we don't have?  We have some very key things that I think are helpful in doing this and modeling courage for our kids.

In what ways do you think your kids see you as courageous?

I have lived with a chronic illness for years that requires me to get infusions every six weeks and get stuck with tons of needles.  I think my kids see that and they see that I keep pressing on. And the older that they get, they know that I'm doing something that I think I don't even realize I'm doing.

Our topic is modeling courage for kids. We're covering three main points. Number one, we're talking about the first step to modeling courage for our kids. And then we'll talk about why having courage can be so intimidating. And finally, we're giving some examples of ways to model courage so that our kids can grow in courage even when we don't feel like we have it sometimes.

What's the first step in modeling courage for our kids?

The first step is us just doing it scared. Just jumping right in. I'm thinking about when we went to camp solo parent camp at Deer Run. The first year we did the zip line into the lake. We jumped right in. But the next year even though we had done it before, I wasn't doing it that year because I hurt my foot. And my son had a really hard time doing it because I wasn’t doing it with him. Knowing that I wasn't doing it, he had a really hard time. He was all of a sudden really scared to do it, which was very odd. Sometimes you have to do it scared. You have to model it. You have to show your kids how to move through it so that they can see the example. Courage is so vulnerable. We can use that to our advantage and with our kids just how scary something can be. But it doesn't mean that it has to stop us from moving forward and doing the thing. So, we recognize that we feel afraid, and it's okay to share that with our kids and even ask them, “Hey, you're doing something right now. How are you feeling? Are you feeling scared about that?” It helps us move forward in wisdom and helps us move into courage.

How would you define courage?

Courage is completely separate from feelings. It’s acting out of intention despite what you feel, moving forward when you don't necessarily know what that outcome will be. Taking the risk that the outcome, whatever it is going to be is at least worth attempting to achieve.

We can feel afraid and still do something and that is an exhibition of courage. But it really is not knowing the outcome of something and taking a risk anyway. I think a tendency for single parents is to not want to show our fear to our kids. There are appropriate ways to show fear. And there are inappropriate ways to show fear. It’s not saying, “I don't know if we're staying in this house.” It’s not adding to their stress. We as parents are facing things that are challenging, it's a good idea to bring them into the fact that we don't have complete assurance that what we're about to endeavor will work out the way we want it to but we're doing it anyway. That's the first step, letting our kids know that feeling afraid doesn't mean that you're not courageous.

Why do you think courage can be so intimidating?

Courage isn't comfortable. Courage is a pathway that can lead to failure and pain and heartbreak. Courage leads us to walk into the unknown. But I think what we have to realize is courage is also a pathway to changing failure to healing, pain, and heartbreak. And it is courage that can get us past some hard stuff. There's a whole bunch of scary stuff out there. But if we're looking at where we want to be, the only way to get there is to take that first step and realize that right now we're on the shore where it's comfortable and courage is having to get back in that saddle. We have to get back in the boat and row toward what it is we want to accomplish.

The difference between values and feelings and courage is essentially having the strength to overcome the intimidation of what our feelings may be showing us to try to reach and achieve what our value is. We may be saying we have the courage to act in kindness when nobody else around us is when everybody else is bullying somebody else. It may be time for us to step up and act in courage.

I heard a story recently of a woman who years ago there was a KKK rally. She was an American woman, and they were protesting the KKK rally. One of the KKK rally members went over to the protestors and started harassing them. So, the protestors turned and started attacking this KKK member. This woman laid on top of him, a man who was vocalizing hate towards her, and told them to stop. She stepped in that way. That takes courage because she was acting out of her values and not acting out of her fear or her feelings. Courage is intimidating because we know what's on the other side. She could have been hurt or worse in that experience, but she wasn't. Instead, she chose to show love and she acted in courage, and she showed values that have changed hundreds of people's lives since she did it.

Brene Brown says, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” We're not called to get involved in every fight or every discussion, especially not on social media, but I find the path of least resistance very appealing, in some conflict situations. And stepping into that requires getting out of feeling uncomfortable. And I think it's important for our kids to see that. It's not like you're trying to praise yourself for stepping out, but they need to see that it's not just big things. It's also little things that comfort is not the goal. I think a tendency for us single parents is to try to keep the comfort level optimal for our kids because they're experiencing hard things. We can overcompensate. That does not equip our kids to have courage necessarily. So, stepping into discomfort with explanation, I think could be a key thing, but it's intimidating.

I've often thought, in the Bible, God is called our Comforter, but that does not mean He is called to make us comfortable. There is a big difference.

A couple of things come to mind. Chip Dodd says the gift of hurt is courage. The more we walk into things that are uncomfortable, even though we don't know the outcome, we can get through the pain of it, the discomfort. And so being able to walk through that appropriately will get us on the other side to do the thing again. If I know I can survive if I know the pain won’t be so great that it will ruin my life. It may be uncomfortable, but it's given me the gift of courage to be able to walk through and into the things that are hard. And if you can allow your kids to see you doing that, they will learn too.

We aren't putting our kids in harm's way, but natural life happens.

How can we help guide our kids in the right way to be courageous, to step into the discomfort of life? 

One of the gifts of courage my mom gave me was when I was 15 and had my learner's permit. We were driving down the road to church. We were coming around this corner in West Nashville. A friend of mine worked at a bagel shop on the corner, and it's not a corner where you stop, it takes a sharp curve around. And I turned my head to see if my friend was working at the bagel shop, and when I did, I also turned the whole car into a curb where there was a no parking sign, and the no parking sign broke the windshield. This was my first accident, and of course, I was terrified. I was shaking uncontrollably. My mom very calmly said, “Pull over to the side.” She had me go up to the next block.

We pulled into someone's driveway, and we talked about what happened, and then she said, “I need you to keep driving.” I didn’t want to, but she insisted. So, I drove to church and she later told me, “You had to keep driving at that point. I needed you to keep driving because I needed you to know that you were okay. It was fine. And if I had let you not drive, there's a better chance that you wouldn't have driven as confidently later.”  

Again, she wasn't putting me in harm's way. She was teaching me a lesson. During that time to be resilient, to step in with courage and keep moving forward.

What are some examples to help model this courage to your kids?

We can do some small things like making scrambled eggs. Jax asked me to teach him. So, all week I helped him with it and guided him through it. By the end of the week, he did everything himself.

Trying a new recipe, setting a goal, saying no to something, or even saying yes to something takes a lot of courage. It can be big or small, starting a new job. The first day of school every year. Kids starting high school for the first time. Even elementary school, going into kindergarten. That takes a lot of courage to walk into a new school.

It’s not just doing these things or allowing these things to happen but talking about them. Being deliberate about explaining, it's tough going into school. I'm sure that can be scary. I would consider those big things. Be intentional about putting courage language into everyday things.

So often we get into our adulthood, we've been through life, we've done this thing, we've made our scrambled eggs over and over. We probably don't even remember the first time we made scrambled eggs, for instance. But to our kids, this is their very first time going through so many things. I tend to think that honestly, kids have way more courage than we do. They're having to walk through the very first thing in life over and over every single day, especially the younger they are, they may not have ridden a bike ever before.  Even going through making friends for the first time. They're going through life for the very first time and trying new things for the very first time.

One of the other gifts that I can give my kids is failure. Allowing them opportunities to do things that stretch them is so good. Encouraging them to try new things and then letting them fail, but not letting them fail and quit. Get back up! Try again!

There's a sign that I have in my bedroom that takes part of a quote by Aaron Hansen. It says, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky. And you ask, what if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” As I faced a very hard solo journey, I used it to inspire myself, but then I started realizing I need to inspire my kids in the same way. And what am I, what courage am I asking of my kids? Where am I asking them to maybe go outside of their comfort zone?

When I became a single mom, shortly before my husband passed, our world was just turning upside down. And I started more regularly having quiet times. It started with jogs and podcasts. I was so desperate for the word of God that I would wake up early and sit in front of our fireplace. I would read and I would journal every morning because if I didn't get that time, no matter how early it had to come, I could not make it through the day. It was very difficult. And I thought I was getting up before my kids were awake. And before they even saw me, I did this for years through the single-parent journey.

My son recently went through hardship on his own. And his response to it was before he went to bed every night, he started reading the Bible and started listening to more Bible podcasts because he was seeking. We were talking recently, and I said, “What drove you to do that?” And he said “Because while my friends and my cousins were telling me I should drown my sorrows by getting high or drunk or by going to find a girl, I had seen you in front of the fireplace reading the word of God every day. And I had seen that is how you endured losing dad. And so, I knew that that was what I wanted to try first.”

It made such a huge difference in him. And now I'm seeing him take steps of courage. He wants to speak about his faith to people who don't want to hear about it. Because for him, a world, where people don't know God is worse than a world where he may be harmed because he is speaking out for his faith. He even has an Instagram that’s based on the concept of both praising God, but also the reprieve that God gives us from the punishment that we deserve. That's the difference that courage can make. Courage can beget more courage, which can beget more courage. So many times, we don't know the places where we are acting and the courage to just say, “God, I don't know what to do, but You do.” Our kids are watching us, and they are seeing what we do.

We have the opportunity in the solo season to turn to God and to accept the fact that we don't know the way things will turn out. But we know that He is faithful and if they see that in our lives, that's modeling and that's what will stick.

We have to redefine success because we look at success or failure. Instead of, and I'm not saying give a participation trophy to everybody but there is an amazing thing that can happen.
The reason we do something shouldn't be motivated just by successfully accomplishing it. That is setting our kids up to fail. Our kids are dealing with so much more than we dealt with at our age. If we're defining and modeling courage, we have to have conversations about how success is about inner development, what happens to us, to our character. Sometimes we need to scrape our knees. Sometimes we need to feel the sting of not having things go our way. And that is sometimes the best lesson.


We need to start with the understanding that courage isn't the absence of fear. We need to acknowledge and accept that courage is intimidating because it's not comfortable, and that's okay. We can model courage in small ways and big ways to teach our kids. It is words and actions that present the best case for courage for our kids.

Listener Question

Hi, Mallory, a single mom. Do you find you have had more or less patience with your kids since becoming a single parent?

I feel like because of my growth personally, I have more patience. I think it said more about me and less about my son’s age, who he was, who he is. I've probably had more patience with him now in understanding working through some of my own shame and my own ways that expectations that I've put on myself throughout my life. And then healing from some of those has allowed me the opportunity to give him more grace in being a child, going through life, making mistakes, and seeing them as a good thing and not a bad thing. And allowing him to just live his life in that way has given me more patience to not expect things to be perfect or expect all things to be right and good.

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