Lots of kids struggle with anxiety and worry in their everyday lives. Anxiety can take many forms. Maybe your daughter has trouble trying new things for fear they won’t go well. Maybe your son never raises his hand in class because he worries he’ll make a mistake in front of others. Whatever the case is, many children who struggle with anxiety also see themselves as a “worrier” and have trouble recognizing the many ways they are brave in their everyday lives.
What Does “Brave” Actually Mean?
Many kids think that brave means never being scared and so of course, as a “worrier,” they could never be brave. But let’s take a look: Webster’s Dictionary defines brave as “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” Huh. When I let kids know that being brave requires you to feel scared, suddenly becoming brave seems a lot more possible. Instead of being just a worrier, kids start feeling like they can become a brave worrier (or warrior, you decide!).
Why Talk about Courage?
Has your child ever said something like, “I’m too scared to do that!” That’s where courage comes in—when kids start to realize that you can feel scared about something AND do it anyway, the impossible starts seeming much more possible.
How to Inspire Courage in Kids
There are several ways you can help your child find their brave:
Start out by talking about bravery — what it is (doing something when you’re scared) and what it’s not (not feeling afraid).
Notice your child’s small acts of bravery — for instance, compliment your shy child when she goes closer to another child even if she doesn’t say hello. Also, verbalize your own acts of bravery whenever you can (e.g. “I’m feeling a little scared about sledding down this big hill AND I’m going to try anyway because I know it’ll be so much fun.”)
Help your child take TINY steps to success and provide lots of praise for doing it. Lots of parents can end up feeling frustrated with their anxious child and may be tempted to push them too quickly, especially when fears are getting in the way of daily life. But be patient! Your child will have a lot more success facing fears gradually, even if it takes a little longer. For instance, if you have a child who is afraid of dogs, don’t ask them to pet your neighbor’s dog right away. Start with something small like getting one step closer to the fence when the dog is outside.
Consider rewards. Being brave is really hard work and it makes sense to recognize kids for it! Lots of kids benefit from being able to earn a little something extra for their effort—e.g. a little extra screen time, a Pokemon card, stickers, or an extra story at bedtime—it can be anything small and doable for you that your child really loves and will work hard for. And don’t worry, once your child has mastered their fear, they won’t need the rewards anymore.
Finally, if your child needs a little more support to find their brave or if you’d like more support in helping them work through their anxiety, therapy can help! We invite you to reach out to us to discuss how we can help.