Want to raise kids who have courage? The Bible tells us God is the source of their courage and research says you can help them develop this God-given character trait.
Picture this: Your kid stands under a tree in your front yard. His hands grip the branch above him. He reaches his feet out toward the trunk and tippie-toes his way up and up until finally—for the first time ever—his legs are long enough to wrap around the branch and he pulls himself into a seated position while you watch in awe.
He did it.
And from this moment, it’s game on. He climbs every tree in sight, scaling branches higher than he ever thought possible and building strength along the way.
Of course, he’s not just developing actual muscles, he’s also building the muscle of courage.
And you—by letting him do it—you’re building the muscle of courage too.
You see, in order for our kids to power through fear, danger or discomfort, we must power through those challenges ourselves. It can be scary to watch your kid try something new. But we, as parents and caregivers, have the great privilege and responsibility of helping our darling children grow up to become courageous adults.
Do you struggle to muster up the courage it takes to help the kids you love find their own? You are not alone. Let’s explore what the research tells us about kids and courage and then identify seven everyday opportunities for our kids to practice being brave.
Kids and Courage: What the Research Tells Us
Encouraging a child to go out into the world and take risks can feel overwhelming, especially as they grow older and the calls to be courageous grow right along with them.
Sometimes it helps to start by looking at the facts. Let’s consider what the research has to say about kids and courage. Why should we prioritize this life skill? And how?
Why Should We Prioritize the Life Skill of Courage?
Studies conducted on this topic are conclusive: building the muscle of courage results in all kinds of positive outcomes for kids, both in early childhood and as they progress into adolescence and adulthood.
For one example, let’s look at research published in the International Journal of Early Environmental Education.
A study of more than 1600 children ages three to 13 showed that kids who were free to engage in play that required courage—like our tree climbing example above—saw advanced growth socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, and creatively. What’s more: they also developed high levels of resiliency—an important skill that allows children to recover quickly from frustrating situations or difficult moments.
The inverse is also true: when kids are limited in the practice of bravery—either by their own hesitations or because of parents who hold them back—the resulting struggles are often evident in other areas of life.
And the findings seem to stay the same as children grow. Research published in 2022 by Psychological Studies found that courageous actions among teens and young adults led to reduced social anxiety, greater emotional control, and the ability to better manage stress.
Related Content: Young David Warrior Animated Episode
How Can We Help Our Kids Grow in Courage?
Thankfully, research provides a wonderful roadmap for us, as parents and caregivers, on what we can do to help our kids develop courage.
The study we’ll focus on involved young teens who were observed over the course of one year—as well as their parental interactions and relationships.
Maybe your kids are much younger. That’s okay! What matters most is that the realities of the families observed were solidified after more than a decade of daily habits.
Parents of young children can start to create a courage-forward home today that will no doubt lead to better outcomes in the future. And parents of older children and teens: there’s no time like the present to start new courage-building habits!
So what did the researchers discover? The 2021 study published by West Virginia University found four key factors that led to greater evidence of courage in kids and teens:
- Autonomy: age-appropriate independence
- Secure Attachment: a healthy, loving relationship between parent/child and child/God
- Self-Esteem: a proper understanding of one’s worth and value in the world
- Cognitive Reappraisal: the ability to reframe a negative moment into a positive one
And while we are not our kids—I repeat: we are not our kids—we do have at least some influence over them. We can look for ways to offer our children increasing independence, a safe space to live and be, and the truth of who they are and how much their ever-present God loves them.
In the brand new Minno animated series, Young David, kids can imagine the life of King David as a shepherd boy and the character traits he developed that would one day make him God’s chosen king of Israel. Traits like courage, which kids will see in episode 1, Warrior. David’s war cry, “Chazak Amats! Be strong and courageous!” (1 Chronicles 28:20) can remind kids that courage is possible because God is always with them.
6 Types of Courage for Every Kid to Conquer
If we hope to encourage bravery in our children, it helps to better understand what courage looks like and how it might take shape in the real world.
Experts tend to break courage into six distinct categories:
This can be really helpful information for parents. Here’s why:
Maybe your kid is an expert tree climber and you have no qualms about him racing up to the highest branch. That’s great! He’s rocking physical courage and benefiting from the practice. But courage doesn’t stop at physical bravery.
Understanding the types of courage may help you to hone in on an area where she could use your help in growing. Perhaps she struggles to ask questions in class or to right wrongs after a fallout with friends. Categorizing courage can help the two of you work toward a goal together.
Other parents may worry, instead, about a lack of physical courage. Perhaps your child is more reserved in his personality and more careful with his actions. Depending on his age, he may have even voiced feelings of inferiority among his peers.
Knowing that courage comes in all types can help you find an area where your child really shines. Again: courage doesn’t stop at physical bravery.
You might point out that when your child sits with the lonely kid at lunch, she’s being courageous. And when she talks openly about her faith, she’s being quite brave!
Keep in mind that many adults struggle to master all six types of courage, so there’s no reason we should hold our kids to such a tall order. Instead, use this knowledge as a guide for helping your kid grow in courage as they move from child to teen to young adult.
“Be strong and courageous . . . Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. 1 Chronicles 28:20 NLT
7 Everyday Opportunities to Practice Bravery
Of course, when it comes to getting better at any life skill, nothing beats practice. Luckily, our kids are presented with opportunities to try courage on for size every single day.
You can encourage them to take advantage of those opportunities by having regular conversations about what it means to be courageous and how they can exercise courage. You can even role-play likely scenarios to build confidence.
And remind your children: when it comes to practicing courage, it’s not about getting it right. It’s simply about giving it a try!
These are some of the most common opportunities for kids to practice bravery. As you make the topic of courage a regular conversation in your home, your kids may reveal a few new opportunities as well. We can’t wait to hear all about it!
In the classroom: Encourage your child to ask questions if they don’t know the answer, to speak up when they do, and to give reading aloud a try once in a while. You might also suggest that your child take a risk on a writing assignment, attempt to do their math homework without your help, or sign up for that after-school club they keep talking about.
On the playground: The playground offers all kinds of unique challenges that allow kids to test fears and build confidence. If your child struggles to feel comfortable giving all of the elements a go, pick one that they can work on conquering. They might try the slide, the swings, the monkey bars, or the ropes course. As you can, offer them space to do it on their own.
At a store: Gone are the days of kids walking over to the five-and-dime and putting a Coke on the family’s tab. Thankfully, we can borrow from simpler times and implement this practice today. Kids as young as seven can take charge of finding an item or two on the grocery list, or paying for a small treat at the ice cream shop—all with a parent’s nearby supervision. And as children get older, they can take full reign of collecting and purchasing.
In a restaurant: If your child can speak plainly, they can order their own meal at a restaurant. It may take a little longer for the waiter to understand, and you may need to offer clarification, but the effort will be so worth it in the end. Your child will learn to speak confidently to adults they don’t know—which takes more courage than us parents might remember.
With friends: Friendships can be tricky for kids—and for good reason. They’re still learning how to treat one another and how to trust one another. Depending on your child, you may need to encourage them to start small, learning to walk up to someone new and say, “Hi! My name is John. Do you want to play?” Other kids may need a nudge to join the two-hand touch football game at recess or to invite friends over to play even though they fear rejection.
When alone: Spending time alone can be a little unnerving for kids—and even for adults. But we all have to do it at least occasionally. Kids can practice building courage as they fall asleep in bed at night, or when they play LEGO or run around the yard while the rest of the family completes tasks or engages in their own hobbies. And while we never want our children to be alone more than necessary, sometimes it is necessary.
Through imagination: One fun and effective way to practice bravery is by living vicariously through the stories of others—especially in TV, movies, or books. Stories help children to better envision scary situations and imagine what they might do if they found themselves inserted into the story. It’s always a good idea to pair these stories of bravery with intentional discussion. Want to know some of our favorite stories to share?
For kids, we love the brand-new show, Young David, the animated series that steps into King David’s early life as a young teenage shepherd—with lyre, slingshot, and sheep for friends. And for teens, we suggest the book, All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team.
Above all, we can remind our children—and ourselves—that courage is possible because God is always with us.