Eitan D. Schwarz, M.D., D.L.F.A.P.A., F.A.A.C.A.P.
CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, FEINBERG SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Copyright © 2002 Eitan D Schwarz. All rights reserved. This handout may be copied and distributed only for non-profit educational use.
Q: COURAGE is often equated with violence or with risk taking for its own sake. How can I help my child know what true courage is?
We grow up to believe that courage is something special and rare: There is the courage commonly recognized by nations for selfless sacrifice in battle; and in some cultures competitive courageous or violent acts mark the passage into adulthood; and there is the ‘lone hero’ Indiana Jones kinds of courage. As a nation, we are living through difficult times that call for courage from so many of us, including our leaders.
Courage is a quality individuals are not supposed to claim for themselves. We are supposed to wait to be recognized and admired by others for our courage. “I am brave” or “I have courage” sounds immodest and too much like bragging. Who ever heard of getting a medal from your self for courage?
But there are different kinds of courage. In all, courage enables a deliberate and persistent striving towards a goal (generally regarded as good) that calls for knowingly facing difficult challenges (pain, fear, danger, or other difficulty).
Courage is not reserved for military heroes. Courage can be highly personal and can go unrecognized by others.
Countless people live lives of quiet personal courage as they face or recover from adversity, disability, injury, loss, illness, or violence. For people suffering from unseen tortures like posttraumatic stress disorder or depression or recovering from addictions, just getting through the day can take enormous courage. It takes considerable courage to repair and rebuild a life shattered by violence.
Ordinary people show courage when they push themselves and persistently strive (despite shame, self doubt, pain, fear, or temptations to take the easy way) to do something good and helpful. Teach your child that we can all be courageous and that we can all support the courage of others. Spirituality, community, and faith helps us find and hold on to courage.
Challenge other common beliefs and practices: Teach your boy or girl that courage is special but not rare, and that he or she can and should strive for courage. Teach your child that to be courageous is not to be without fear — it takes no courage to do something when you do not fear it. It is not courageous to take foolish risks, react thoughtlessly or impulsively, or act violently.
But most of all, teach your child to claim personal courage for himself or herself. Teach your child that courage is within reach and not reserved for braver others. Look at your child’s daily accomplishments and teach him to appreciate his or her own unique kind of courage. Look for non-violent strivings towards a personal or social good that show persistence in spite of pain, self doubt, fear, or shame.
Encourage your child – enable him or her to know his or her courage. Courage is episodic — we can be courageous about some things and not others. Your child be brave even when he cries from pain or hesitates from fear. She can be a heroine just for trying as hard as she can. Say this to your child: I am proud of you. You are brave.
Challenge the conventional practice of waiting for others to recognize courage. Teach your child to say this: I do claim courage for myself. I do claim a medal for myself. I am brave. I am courageous. I am a hero.
And remind your child to be grateful for the blessing of courage.
3/8/03 © 2003 Eitan Schwarz. All rights reserved.