Monthly Archives: February 2011

Helper and Guide

Through stories, we are given the opportunity to search deeper into an understanding of what we make of our own stories, and of this world in which we live every day. What do we notice and why? What does that say about us, or others? How do we think about the stories of others, and about our own stories?
— Robert Coles, Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection

Dr. Robert Coles is an interesting intersection between Lisa and myself that predates our identities as parents of BFFs. A medical doctor and psychiatrist, Coles became interested in how children in crisis made sense of their experiences, and went on to write many award-winning books about the moral and spiritual lives of children. Much of this has concerned the storytelling that children do. As a professor of Social Ethics at Harvard, (he’s on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, too!) he has guided his students into an examination of literature and art, of how narrative informs our own experience and helps us make meaning.

photo courtesy GeekPhilosopher
Over the course of our professional careers, Lisa and I have both sought advice in Dr. Coles’ work. As a child/family therapist (Lisa) and children’s book author (me), we both have tried to understand (for different reasons) how children learn to be Good and Strong, how they make meaning for their lives. By “Good” I mean identifying what is healthy and productive for self and community; by “Strong” I mean able to set and meet goals for that Good. In my work life and personal life I have been concerned with identifying what is good, and with shaping stories that bring that to vivid life with characters who are strong or become strong (this usually requires courage, fyi!). In Lisa’s work and personal life she has been concerned with identifying what helps families through crisis, highlighting for families what already is good and offering tools for strengthening that within the family. We, as professionals, need courage for this work, so that we may offer courage to the children we serve.

We are fortunate to have the work of teachers such as Dr. Coles to turn to. In our life stories we all have helpers and guides; Dr. Coles is one that both of us have met on our journeys.

5-Minute Courage Workout: Navigating the Neighborhood

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

Regardless of where you live, or how you get around your neighborhood, you and your child have a few familiar routes (to school, the supermarket, the subway/bus stop, or granny’s house).  The next time you travel one of those familiar routes, offer your child the chance to be the navigator instead of you.  Navigating the neighborhood is a vital life skill.  When we are the navigator of our own journey, we pay very close attention to where we are.  When we allow another to lead the way we take a back seat, lose our sense of direction, and forget how to find our own way home. 
Here’s a 5-Minute Courage Workout by age range, and remember, all workouts are most effective when you do them regularly.

Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler: when returning home sometime this week, just before you pull into the driveway, bike up the front path, or notice the apartment building ahead, ask your child to point in the direction of home.  When you are a block or two away, see if they recognize where they are and know how to get home.  If they don’t know, start by pointing out landmarks for them.
  •  Preschooler: when leaving home this week with your preschooler, ask if they know the name of their street and the number of their house.  Ask them which direction you both need to turn to start the familiar route to preschool, a pal’s house, or to the playground.  Hold their hand, and see how far they can lead you down that familiar path.  Or, ask them to give you directions from their car seat.
  • Early elementary student: stand at the front door of your home, ask your child to point in the direction of their school, the library, or their favorite pal’s house.  Get them to draw a map with their house in the middle of a page of blank paper.  Then, together draw the route to some of their favorite places.  Include street names and count the number of blocks. 
  • Upper elementary student or ‘tween: make your child a backseat driver (we know, we know…they’ll likely have lots of advice!)  Have them direct you turn by turn along a familiar route or have them navigate you home giving you directions from a map or the GPS (they get to input the information in the trip planner).  Get them to read the street names, tell you how far in miles you have yet to go, and about how long it will take. Get them to remember where you parked, so you can relax a little while shopping.
  • High schooler or teen:  they want a ride to a new friend’s house, to go to the mall on their own, their guitar practice is at a new location on the subway line. If they don’t already, get them to consider all the possible ways to get around without relying on you as their chauffeur or navigator.  Get them to tell you the fastest way there, print out the map, load the GPS, figure out the bus route, or tell you what route they may drive themselves. Discuss contingency plans for unexpected detours or expenses. 
Learning how to navigate the neighborhood provides benefits at every age.  For young children it builds confidence.  For older children who have learned to navigate their ‘hood, it’s a matter of beginning to pull their own weight.  For teens who’ve proven their independence, it’s a matter of security: knowing that they have more options than being driven (especially when they know the driver is new or might not be safest bet).
Working on these skills may call upon different types of courage, depending upon your child’s particular strengths and/or temperament.  For example, asking some children to give you directions may call upon intellectual courage, and for others it might take emotional courage to do the same task.  Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child needs to complete this workout.

Mike Lanza over at Playborhood wrote about Giving Freedom Incrementally to his son, who now has a large “home range.”

Here’s another 5-Minute Courage Workout: Playing with Fire.  And this 5-Minute Courage Workout: A Fate Worse Than Death! is on public speaking.  Squeamish about dirt? Try our 5-Minute Courage Workout: Talking Dirty to overcome your (and your child’s) reluctance.

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Healthy Attachment Between Parent and Child

Copyright Renata Osinska,

How I coach parents to nurture courage in their kids has a lot to do with attachment—which I understand to be the first step in nurturing courage development.   Attachment being defined as psychological connectedness between human beings.   A healthy attachment between parent and child provides for a child’s basic needs like food, water, shelter—our child’s survival being our most basic responsibility.  The infant’s sole purpose is to survive with the help of a secure attachment with someone (ideally a parent) able to provide the kind of security, safety, and strength needed for protection. The secure someone (ideally an adult who is stronger and wiser) also has a complementary attachment behavior system (or internal working model of attachment) that activates in response to the infant/child and seeks to protect, particularly when a threat is present. 

A healthy parent/caregiver-child attachment teaches a child the basics of human relationship and love, the willingness to try new things and develop intellectually, take risks, open their hearts and trust themselves and others, to develop a moral code, and ultimately to have courage in life.  Researchers Popper & Amit (2009) have also found that secure attachment, along with low trait anxiety and openness to experience, is correlated with leadership development. Without secure attachment between a parent/caregiver and child in infancy and early childhood, a child is at risk for severe psychological, cognitive, social, and physiological consequences. 

CAUTION: if you are a reader like me, a bit of a perfectionist and somewhat anxious about doing this whole parenting thing right…DON’T WORRY!  Being a secure attachment for your child just means loving them, connecting with them through satisfying their primary senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing), being reliable (at least most of the time), and not leaving them in a crib for the first six months of their lives to fend for themselves!  Attachment theory and parenting tends to freak people like me out, but I just remember that there is no question I love my kids, am doing my best, and that there’s lots of room for making mistakes, recovering, and moving on together in the direction of love.  Our children truly deserve our best, so they can become their best.  Research shows we are doing a good job: the vast majority of infants and toddlers have secure attachments with their parents, and half of those without a secure attachment relationship at home have a secure attachment with an early childhood teacher/daycare provider. 

While writing this post on a snowbound day with my kids, I asked my 13 year-old son, the product of all my training and real-life practice in attachment theory and attachment parenting, what he remembers of his earliest years.  His response: “Nothing.  Not a thing.  Well…I do remember that day when we had to wait together in the playhouse for a really long time together until that hailstorm stopped.  You stayed with me and didn’t leave.  Yeah, that’s about all I remember.” 

How do I know it’s okay that my son doesn’t remember those countless sleepless nights and hours logged wearing and breastfeeding him—basically responding consistently, lovingly to what felt like his every early childhood need? Well, he’s still alive, for one.  He recognizes that even during hailstorms I’ll be there for him.  He seems to be secure enough in our relationship to tell me the truth!  Most importantly, he’s a confident, happy, caring, independent kid who has a pretty solid record of doing the right thing—even when I’m not looking.  He also seems to be confident that I won’t flip out that he doesn’t remember any of it! 
For a brief overview of attachment theory, one of the most well-researched, evidence-based, and influential theories in developmental psychology READ ON! 

As with most trained family therapists, I learned about John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.  I reviewed his protégé Mary Ainsworth’s scholarly research and practical applications—particularly her observations about the concept of ‘security’ in relationship and the different types of secure and insecure attachments (secure, anxious-resistant insecure, anxious-avoidant insecure, or disorganized/ disoriented attachment).  I also read the illuminating, devastating, and in some cases, remarkably hopeful research on Romania’s abandoned orphans; research that was the basis for the addition to the then-DSM III of a mental health disorder centering on symptoms associated with a ‘failure to thrive’, called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).   
For the purpose of parents wanting a practical understanding of attachment theory to help understand how best to nurture courage in our kids, I’ve taken the liberty to summarize (in my own words in parentheses)attachment therapist/researcher Susan M. Johnson’s review of the ten central tenets of attachment theory.  I’m going to be writing a fair amount about how to ensure healthy attachment with our children—so I think it is a good idea to start with a basic understanding of the core tenets:
  1. Attachment is an Innate Motivating Force (seeking and maintaining close contact with other human beings across our lifespan is an innate drive, primarily to ensure survival).
  1. Secure Dependence Compliments Autonomy (as human beings, we are neither overdependent nor completely independent. The more securely attached we are the more confident and autonomous we become).
  1. Attachment offers a Safe Haven (the presence of loved ones offers comfort and security in our lives, especially in response to a threat–i.e. hunger, loud noises, unfamiliar environment).
  1. Attachment offers a Secure Base (secure attachments provide the base from which we may explore our surroundings and be cognitively open and reflective).
  1. Accessibility and Responsiveness Builds Bonds (as a parent this means being both emotionally and physically present and responsive.  Emotional regulation is also an important concept associated with responsiveness).
  1. Fear and Uncertainty Activate Attachment Needs (the comfort and connection of an attachment figure is especially important when fear and/or threat are present).
  1. The Process of Separation Distress is Predictable (angry protest, clinging, depression and despair result when attachment behaviors fail to evoke comfort and contact with attachment figures).
  1. A Finite Number of Insecure Forms of Engagement Can be Identified (typically three types of pursuer-distancer behaviors result when attachment behaviors fail to produce the necessary comfort and connection sought:  anxious preoccupied clinging, detached avoidance, and seeking closeness combined with fearful avoidance.  The primary question we are asking of our attachment figure here is “Can I depend on you when I need you?”).
  1. Attachment Provides Working Models of Self and Other (attachment strategies generally deal with how to process and cope with emotion.  Secure attachment helps us learn self-love and love of another. It is associated with self-efficacy and a trust in other’s dependability.  Once secure attachment is established, an individual develops cognitive schemas associated with goal-setting, life-affirming beliefs, and an emotional regulatory system that is more responsive than reactive.)
  1. Isolation and Loss are inherently Traumatizing (stress-based habits and behavioral strategies result in response to the unmet needs and fear that trauma evokes.  Bowlby’s (1969) fundamental research started with case studies of the effects of maternal deprivation and separation on child development.  Bowlby (1988) himself, at age four, suffered the early loss of his beloved nanny; and had limited contact with his mother due to a traditional upper class British upbringing involving boarding school for most of his childhood). 
To review, Bowlby’s (1969; 1988) theory shows that secure attachment includes the following characteristics:

Naturally, once I started having my own kids, William and Martha Sears’ attachment parenting approaches appealed to me.  Though I will admit that one particularly sleep-deprived night in our ‘family bed’, exhausted and fed up, I’m pretty sure I threw my copy of the Sears’ attachment parenting book across the room.  Anything worth doing well, isn’t always easy.  Stay tuned for more about attachment parenting in upcoming posts.  Don’t worry…in future posts you’ll see lots about how to become and stay attached (whatever the age/stage of your child) whether you are a mom, dad, or other primary caregiver to a birth, step-, foster, or adopted child.  If you have questions about attachment and/or an interest in parent-coaching, don’t hesitate to post a comment or contact me.

I’ll start with Sears’ seven “Baby Basics” to getting attached in my next posts. 


Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ainsworth, M. & Bowlby, J. (1965). Child Care and the Growth of Love. London: Penguin Books.
Bowlby, J. [1969], (1999). Attachment (2nd ed.), Attachment and Loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory.  London: Routledge.
Goosens, F. & van IJzendoorn. (1990). Quality of infants’ attachments to professional caregivers: Relation to infant-parent attachment and day-care characteristics. Child Development, 61, 832-837.
Johnson, S. (2002). Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors. New York: Guilford Publications, Inc. (pp. 38-43).
Johnson, S. (2003). Introduction to attachment: A therapist’s guide to primary relationships and their renewal. In Johnson, S. & Whiffen, V. (Eds.)., Attachment Processes in Couple and Family Therapy. NY: The Guilford Press. (pp. 5-17).
Popper, M. & Amit, K. (2009). Attachment and leader’s development via experiences. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 749-763.
Sears, W. & Sears M. (2001). The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. NY: Little Brown and Company.

What is Moral Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the fourth in the “Six Types of Courage” that we will explore in-depth. We hope you’ve already had the chance to read over our page called “The Six Types of Courage” for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you please keep in mind, when you are reading this post, that some of these examples may involve taking “baby steps” on your way to moral courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Moral Courage

“He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Perfect courage means doing unwitnessed what we would be capable of with the world looking on.” La Rochefoucauld

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their mind to be good or evil.”  Hannah Arendt

Moral courage  means doing the right thing even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security or social status, etc.  Moral courage requires that we rise above the apathy, complacency, hatred, cynicism, and fear-mongering in our political systems, socioeconomic divisions, and cultural/religious differences.  For parents, it frequently requires us to put aside compelling but momentary pleasures or comforts in order to set a good example for our children and  be the parents we aspire to be.  Doing the right thing means listening to our conscience, that quiet voice within.  Ignoring that voice can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt and diminished personal integrity.  Moral courage requires us to make judgments about what actions or behaviors are supportive of our highest ideals, and which ones are destructive.  It asks us to recognize our responsibilities and see the consequences of our own actions.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach  moral courage in ourselves and our children…READ ON!
History is full of shining examples of moral courage whom we rightly celebrate: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Aung San Suu  Kyi and many others.  When we see people put their safety, security or reputation on the line for a cause they believe in,  or for an ideal that matters more than personal comfort, we see moral courage in action.

Here is a video from that gives great examples of moral courage and demonstrates the importance of overcoming the fear of failure.  The speaker is author J.K. Rowling, and the speech is 21 minutes long.  We were surprised and inspired by what she had to say.

Moral courage looks like:

  • helping someone push a car out of a snowbank, even if it means being late
  • standing up to a bully on the playground
  • picking up litter
  • doing homework or chores without being reminded
  • refusing to listen to or repeat gossip
  • practicing what you preach, even when no-one is looking or knows
  • turning in a toy or a wallet to the Lost and Found
  • a teen who calls home for a ride from a party where alcohol is being served
  • a teacher who gives all students an equal voice regardless of race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender or sexual orientation
  • a company whistle blower risking job loss, financial cost, and or legal repercussion
  • reporting a crime
  • participating in a peaceful protest

Lack of moral courage looks like:

  • walking away from someone in need
  • taking more than your fair share
  • laughing at someone’s misfortune or accident
  • grabbing the spotlight from someone who has earned it
  • placing too much reliance on the letter rather than the spirit of the law
  • remaining silent in the face of wrong-doing or injustice
  • rationalizations or justifications for action/lack of action
  • being inconsistent or capricious with rules and standards for our children
  • choosing sides after seeing which way the wind is blowing
  • breaking a promise
  • lying or cheating

Moral courage sounds like:

  • “I believe strongly in _________.”
  • “That joke was offensive to women/Muslims/the disabled/etc.”
  • “Let’s volunteer.”
  • “Dad, I’m in trouble.”
  • “I am going to campaign for __________.”
  • “It’s not fair that ____________.”
  • “I broke this, Mom.  I’m sorry.”
  • “I’ll march with you.”
  • “No, thanks, I don’t want to hear a secret!” 
  • “You shouldn’t talk behind her/his back.”
  • “Will you sign this petition?” 
  • “You can depend on me.”

Lack of moral courage sounds like:

  • “It’s none of my business.”
  • “She got what she deserved.”
  • “That’s got nothing to do with me.”
  • “How could you do this to me?”
  • “It’s not for me to judge.” *
  • “I only did it once.”
  • “This is all your fault!”
  • “Just let it slide.”
  • “There’s no use trying to change the system, it’s just too strong.”
  • “Nobody else is doing anything about it, why should I?”
  • “I might get into trouble.”
  • “Don’t make waves.”
  • “Nobody ever gives me a break.”

* as a way to shirk personal responsibility.

    Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
    Here are some tips for developing moral courage for you and your kids:

    • role-play losing a toy, ask your child to imagine what it would feel like if nobody returned the lost item
    • show good sportsmanship and request your children to do the same
    • be a good loser and a good winner
    • offer ethical dilemmas to discuss at the dinner table; here are some conversation starters: is it ever okay to steal? lie? cheat? If you’re driving home at three in the morning and there’s no traffic for miles around, is it okay to go through a red light?  Is tattling on someone good or bad?
    • choose a charitable cause to support as a family
    • beware self-righteousness!  we all stumble and fall sometimes
    • be a good listener to your kids; if you have their trust they are more likely to come to you when there’s trouble
    • let your kids, especially your teens, know that you’d rather hear it from them 
    • tell a story about a mistake that you made and what you learned from it
    • tell a story about your biggest flop; be sure that enough time has elapsed that you can find some laughter in it!
    • share stories that show people making difficult choices

    What are your ideas about moral courage, your parenting tips to promote it with kids, or your favorite moral courage story (fiction or non-fiction)?  We’d love to hear from you!

    Here are other blog posts related to moral courage: Helper & Guide, David & Goliath, Getting to the Heart of Courage , Healthy Attachment Between Parent and ChildFenrir: Big, Bad Wolf,  
    The Path to Courage: Irena Gutowa’s Story ,
     Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold, Hard-Wired to Care: You Matter in the Moral Life of Your Children, Raising a Good Citizen of the World, Using Moral Courage to Navigate Facebook and other Social Jungles

    Here’s more on the types of courage:
    What is Physical Courage?
    What is Social Courage?
    What is Intellectual Courage?
    What is Emotional Courage?
    What is Spiritual Courage?

    Stories Made Me

    What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. They baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. — G.K. Chesterton

    Stories make us who we are. I spent hours and hours of my childhood on two occupations: making up stories to act out outdoors, and reading stories indoors. What I read, besides chapter books, were treasuries of folktales, legends, myths and fables. Aladdin, Odysseus, Till Eulenspiegel, Robin Hood, the pantheons and heroes of Greece, Rome, Scandinavia, India, Persia, Egypt, Japan, China – these hero stories were all very much alive to me. I was never bothered by sexism – the hero’s journey is archetypal – and it never occurred to me that being a girl limited my participation in the journey. Sometimes physical prowess was key, but not always. Odysseus triumphed by his wits, after all, and Scheherezade saved her own life by being a good story-teller.

              What counts, I believe, is that I spent hour upon hour with undaunted characters who persevered, who vanquished evil, who faced natural and supernatural challenges, who made sacrifices to a greater good. They were my models for every kind of courage.  Some were more domesticated victories which featured female characters, whose courage was more often emotional or spiritual. If they revealed the face of moral courage more often than physical courage it was no less courageous because of it.  And anyway, there were plenty of active heroines with no shortage of physical courage.  The passive Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites were like Barbies to me — mildly interesting to play with for a bit, but soon set aside for more dynamic characters.
              These traditional stories were powerful for a reason. They were traditional for a reason. They had been preserved for centuries for a reason. There is real meat on those bones, and they nourished my developing self to a very significant degree. For centuries, people told these stories — not just to their children but to everyone. In this way they transmitted their culture and their customs and their values from generation to generation, teaching them to children, reinforcing them for themselves. Those cultures, customs and values varied from country to country, continent to continent. But what did not vary was the role the stories played. The stories taught children and reminded adults how to be an adult:  how to do hard things, how to face challenges – not without fear, but in spite of it. The stories taught all six types of courage.
            I believe we need to reconnect with these powerful stories from the past. They are a potent, perhaps the most potent, method for communicating courage directly to the heart, the “cour” in courage. Generations before us faced very great challenges, but I suspect no generation before us has been less well-equipped to meet the challenges in our path. Somewhere along the way we stopped taking these stories seriously; we dismissed them as mere entertainment, and let other forms of entertainment step in as pale substitutes in the spare hours between school, sports practice, and piano lessons. Since what they teach is not quantifiable and can’t be tested with a number 2 pencil, traditional stories can be considered nostalgic and outdated, like cursive writing or learning long poems by heart. Worse still, contemporary forms of entertainment often lack narrative coherence or consequence, and our technology promotes a style of fractured consumption that separates cause from effect. On top of that, the storyteller (i.e. t.v. and internet) does not elicit love and respect from the audience, and so the stories carry little weight.
                 Listening to a story is not a passive experience. Narrative requires sustained attention: it requires us to remember past events and it requires that we project ourselves forward, anticipating possible outcomes for the choices the hero is making; it requires us to observe cause and effect. Narrative invites us to identify with the hero and become invested in the journey. It asks us to care what happens.

    Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. — Hannah Arendt

    For more than twenty years I have been telling children stories through the books I have written. I don’t presume to decide up front what “lesson” they will learn from my stories, because a good book should be subtle enough to serve each reader in a unique way. I have written articles for magazines and journals about the role of narrative for children, how it can guide children safely through challenging experiences on the page and in their lives. When I became a mother at 46 to an 8-year-old girl from far away, I filled our dinner hours with all the stories that were stored inside me – Pandora’s Box, William Tell, The Death of Baldur, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, The Brave Little Tailor, Rapunzel, Androcles and the Lion, the Good Samaritan, The Fox and the Grapes, and so many more. They had followed me all through childhood and were with me still, helping me every day to be the adult I had become. It is my hope that they will help my daughter become a strong adult with courage to face whatever lies before her.

    Courage Tip of the Day

    Is there something you started that you can go back and finish?
    (a knitting project that just got too hard and the yarn all tangled?  a room half painted deep ruby red that looked so good in Home Depot?  a novel stopped just as the plot thickened? a skating class that you quit where you’d fallen on your butt too many times to count?)

    Courage as an Antidote to Fear

    The difference between the diminished individual, wistfully yearning toward full humanness but never quite daring to make it, versus the unleashed individual, growing well toward his or her destiny, is simply the difference between fear and courage.
    ~Abraham Maslow

    Courage is an antidote to the fear bred in our society.  Without courage, even tasks that require minimal effort can become difficult and seem insurmountable.

    I gain comfort, and the insight necessary to face the situations requiring courage in my life, when I remember self-help author Byron Katie’s philosophy: “Reality is always kinder than we think it is.”  Intellectual courage often requires questioning our thinking. 

    Intellectual courage also involves the choice to accept the circumstances of our lives, whilst clearing away the mental phantoms standing in our path towards creating what we want in our life and in the lives of our children.  My daughter and I have read Byron Katie’s children’s book together, which helps teach younger children (ages 4-10) the concept of ‘questioning your thinking’…a self-reflective intellectual skill kids typically begin to develop around age 7.  I have also used this book with children I’ve treated as a child/family therapist who are dealing with worry, anxiety, or social distress. 

    Here’s a quick test, when you ask a young child to sing “Happy Birthday” to themselves (in their own heads), you will likely hear them sing “Happy Birthday to you!…” out loud and proud! But, around age 7, when you ask a child to sing the song to themselves, you will not hear anything…that’s the beginning of inner dialogue!  Therefore, especially when my kids were young, I was very mindful of speaking lovingly to them…knowing full well our dialogue would soon become part of the background track for their own inner dialogue.

    My most courageous moments often boil down to telling or acting from truth (however painful, shameful, risky, or embarrassing).  I can also think of many times which required the courage to ask questions and admit my mistakes (no matter how uninformed or stupid I may seem, and no matter how painful or unsettling the answer).  Times when I’ve mustered the moral courage to do the right thing, even at the risk of being unpopular, fired, or physically harmed. 
    Given my genetic make-up (let’s say I agree with current research that nature=50% in terms of influence, particularly intelligence and temperament) combined with how unsettling my own childhood was at times (nurture=the other 50%) = I’m definitely wired to ‘feel the fear’.  That said, thanks to many of my life experiences (loving relationships, especially) and clinical training, I’ve developed the intellectual, emotional, social, physical, spiritual, and moral habits to ‘do it anyway’.  We’ll be discussing these courage habits a great deal in this blog. We welcome you sharing your own!
    It sometimes requires physical courage to try new things or foods.  I’m a bit high maintenance and a picky eater, which you should probably know right off the bat.  My kids love it, though, when I’m trying things for the first time with them (like one bite of some weird food I’m reticent to try).  Well, what’s really the worst that could happen? Food poisoning? Treatable. Disgusting taste? Wash it down with water.  You get the point.

    My kids also delight in trying and surpassing me in things that I may be doing for the last time (I think, for example, that my rock climbing days may be behind me now, but indoor rock climbing walls are still a fun challenge).  Kids love when we show them our lack of mastery, our humility.  Heck, they conquer new things EVERY DAY!  I’m sure when they see us struggling to draw a person, answer one of their truly difficult math homework questions, or make our first-ever pie, they might think we’ve drunk some of Alice’s potion, made ourselves small, and pulled up a seat beside them at the playhouse table. 

    Sometimes developing physical courage requires taking gradual, thought-out risks to gain the mastery, experience, and confidence to take on personal courage challenges like riding a roller coaster, snorkeling and eventually scuba-diving, or white water rafting.  Or training for and completing a marathon, and in my case my first half-marathon after babies at age 41.  I’m confident I can now run for safety, if need be, and maybe even escape a lion’s reach! 

    Traveling or living alone in new places (where I may not know a word of the local language)—especially when I fear that danger lurks in dark corners—also requires me to have physical, intellectual, emotional, and social courage.  I have made a point of telling my kids about these experiences and letting them know how scared I was and what I did to overcome my fear (i.e. asking for help, walking fast and holding my money belt close, or changing my thinking which results in a change in my feeling).
    Asking for help and risking my own or another’s judgment or rejection can sometimes take more emotional courage for me than just going it alone.  Trust me, as a trained child/family therapist the irony of this one is not lost on me.  The truth is I deeply admire in others their ability to ask for help and to receive it.  Every client I’ve ever worked with is a shining example of emotional courage!  Alas, we often teach what we, too, need to learn…which is why most counseling grad schools (including the ones I attended) require their students to do their own therapy first. Since walking my talk is very important to me, I reach out a lot to friends and family for the support I may need, and gain immense strength through that sharing and their love.  Raising my kids without asking for help could be so isolating and difficult—so I’ve become adept at offering and receiving help and model this for my kids every time we extend our circle and allow others in to offer or receive a meal, a ride, a last-minute sleepover.  Without such support a courage project like this would barely be able to take flight and reach the heights it is quickly beginning to! 

    More often than not, courage requires moving out of my comfort zone and putting myself out there for others to evaluate:  writing a blog, for example!  Public speaking, learning a new skill or hobby (especially in adulthood), admitting and facing the consequences of my mistakes/wrongdoings, trusting and following my heart (even if it means switching course midway or midlife), making new friends—all these acts require me to muster social, intellectual, emotional, and moral courage. 

    All too often courage requires the deeper emotional work of forgiving and letting go of hurts.  Being brave enough to create my own family, share my heart, continue to be a loving and generous human being in the world…even risking heartbreak (whilst not expecting approval or reciprocation)—all of these emotional courage challenges cause me to take heart, open my heart, and be brave of heart. 
    At times, I want to shrink from life’s challenges in favor of some romanticized easier path.  At times, I’m even the cowardly lion.  That’s when I dive down into the comfort of my quilt, hide my head in the sand, or swim down da’ Nile.  Afterall, defense mechanisms do offer some short-term psychological protection.  But fearful thoughts that create stressful responses can lead to significant physical, social, and psychological costs over time. That’s when it’s time to muster the courage to question our stressful thoughts and shift our focus to positive, life-affirming thoughts—gratitude for example! I need only think of any number of brave friends or inspiring families I’ve worked with facing devastating diagnoses or difficulties, to be inspired not to sweat the small stuff in order to save my energy so I’m better prepared to deal with the big stuff when it’s my turn. 

    Thankfully, more often that not, like most of you reading, I choose to live life head-on, instead of shrinking from life’s demands and responsibilities—that choice, for me, for us all, I believe takes courage!  For every parent, the choice to get up some mornings—tired, sick, or just plain bored with the routines associated with raising children well—requires courage.  It takes courage to put our children and their needs above our own, especially on the days we’d much rather get some much-needed rest.  But, they and we are so worth the effort! Today, it’s my kids who inspire me with their courage: moving countries, starting new schools, traveling on their own for school trips, climbing trees, performing in front of an audience, standing up for a friend or cause they believe in, forgiving quickly and continually moving our family forward in the direction of love. 

    Parenting is the perfect opportunity to put into practice what we’ve learned about courage, to continue to mindfully develop our courage muscles, and to stretch ourselves in ways we never imagined. 

    I’ll leave off with Anne Sexton’s poem on courage.  One of America’s foremost poets—and a deeply troubled one—I think she summarizes well courage throughout the human lifespan.  The courage it takes to face life in all its possibility for both beauty and pain:


    It is in the small things we see it.
    The child's first step,
    as awesome as an earthquake.
    The first time you rode a bike,
    wallowing up the sidewalk.
    The first spanking when your heart
    went on a journey all alone.
    When they called you crybaby
    or poor or fatty or crazy
    and made you into an alien,
    you drank their acid
    and concealed it.

    Later, if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
    you did not do it with a banner,
    you did it with only a hat to
    cover your heart.
    You did not fondle the weakness inside you
    though it was there.
    Your courage was a small coal
    that you kept swallowing.
    If your buddy saved you
    and died himself in so doing,
    then his courage was not courage,
    it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

    Later, if you have endured a great despair,
    then you did it alone,
    getting a transfusion from the fire,
    picking the scabs off your heart,
    then wringing it out like a sock.
    Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
    you gave it a back rub
    and then you covered it with a blanket
    and after it had slept a while
    it woke to the wings of the roses
    and was transformed.

    Later, when you face old age and its natural conclusion
    your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
    each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
    those you love will live in a fever of love,
    and you'll bargain with the calendar
    and at the last moment
    when death opens the back door
    you'll put on your carpet slippers
    and stride out.
    Dr. Lisa’s Parenting Tip:
    When have you had courage in your life?  What moments can you recall that required you to be courageous?  Is there a thread that connects these events, like telling the truth, trying new things, or sharing your heart, that helps you string together and see the areas where you are strong and the areas that require courage strengthening?  If you want some help, check out our page with the definitions for the six kinds of courage.
    You will be drawing on these stories to not only lead by example, but also inspire your kids to be courageous in life.  Once they know courage is a quality that you both value and practice, chances are much higher that they will follow in your footsteps courageously.  Start talking with them about the different kinds of courage possible.  Post comments from your family discussions.  We want to hear from you!

    Books I recommend: