Introducing Courage Challenges

As a trained child/family therapist, parenting coach, and family life educator, and most importantly, a parent of two kids, I can relate to the kind of heart-centeredness required to be a loving influence on others.  When I act from a place of love, I am effective in my work and my parenting.  Not only does parenting require listening to the wisdom of our hearts and loving our children completely, it also requires our bravery to allow our children the opportunities to take on life tasks without our protection, constant hovering, and/or insulating them from the consequences of their behavior or choices.  We can’t teach our children about courage through lectures, as much as we can show them through our actions, supporting them as they face challenges in life, and by offering opportunities to build their courage muscles—let’s call them courage challenges.

I liken the process of learning to be courageous in life to the mathematical and structural configuration of a helix.  Picture it as a spiral journey up the ladder of courage.  It’s a cycle that continually brings us to places within ourselves where we may be afraid, in order for us to gain confidence and competence in slaying any number of inner or outer demons.  We continually bump up against those fearful, vulnerable places within our own minds and hearts, and each time we become a little bit braver to tackle those fears we move up a level. 
Each time we face some emotional, spiritual, physical, moral, intellectual, or social challenge that demands us to be courageous, we grow in confidence.  Courage is a step-by-step process that we can teach through our words, our actions, our stories, and the invitations we extend to our children to be brave.
During school vacations, sometimes at a loss for what my kids and I are going to do with the endless hours of unscheduled time, we make a list of all the things we want to try, do, be during the vacation.  During Christmas break one year, my daughter wanted to freeze maple syrup to the freshly fallen snow on our back porch (without help from anyone)—a kind of Quebecois candy she’d shared with French friends of ours one magical winter’s night.  During a summer break, my son wanted to return to our family’s hometown to see the train tracks where his great uncles narrowly escaped the two police squad cars chasing them, when the then-youthful group of boisterous boys had dared each other to hijack a hand-propelled railcar, or jigger, one fateful afternoon…only to discover the jigger’s brake broken, and the story of their escape on the front pages of the next morning’s newspaper.  I wanted to ride one of the oldest, ricketiest wooden roller-coasters in Canada, and thus the scariest, to remind myself how brave I can be and show my kids that adults can be fun and not just white-knucklers in life.  I wanted to sit beside my son, let go of the safety bar, and ride the ups and downs with our arms raised in pure joy!

Dr. Lisa’s Parenting Tip:

Move out of your comfort zone—Give yourself and your child a courage challenge
What is something you’ve been afraid to try?

It need not be unsafe, which would be more like a dare.  A dare is more of a bold action, one for the thrill and/or fear it evokes (like hijacking a jigger)—whether or not you actually complete the dare.  A dare is often posed as a challenge to prove one’s courage.  A courage challenge, on the other hand, is an opportunity to learn something new, try something you haven’t yet, or stretch yourself in ways that have scared you, even a little, in the past.  Courage challenges are also meant to be fun! 
Tailor-making courage challenges for our children, with their input, can help you strengthen aspects of who they are that may need strengthening.  Activities everyone can be involved in planning and completing…and a chance for our kids to see us being silly, adventurous, and even downright brave. 
As a primer for this activity, start with your five primary senses:  touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing. 

(Is there a restaurant you haven’t tried yet?  An ethnic food that you’d like to introduce to your child’s palate—the human palate is developed primarily in the first three years of life, so there is no time like the present!)

(Gather together a handful of different textured household items into a bag.  Allow your children to explore and guess the different items in the bag, whilst blindfolded or with their eyes squeezed shut.) 
(Maybe, like me, you are the one person in your family that everyone gets to smell if the milk is past due or if the sewage pipe is leaking again in the basement.  If so, you can skip this one and have a blast getting even!  Or better yet, take a trip to the local florist—especially in winter—and smell all the different kinds of flowers, see if you and your child can even name a few.) 
(Get up early, earlier than you’ve maybe been up in awhile—before the coffee is even made— and witness a morning sunrise.  Go on a night walk, with or without a flashlight, and feast your eyes on the moon.)        
(Swap your iPod for the day with your teenager.  Ask for some feedback from someone you trust about one thing that they might consider you could improve about yourself, e.g. being more punctual or becoming a better listener.)

One thought on “Introducing Courage Challenges

  1. MaryBeth

    "A Courage Challenge"
    When my son Devin was three, he and his older sisters were taking swimming lessons at our community pool. It was a beautiful outdoor pool, filled with youngsters enjoying free swim, and families camped out for the day on blankets with lunch baskets.One day I saw a friend of mine sitting on the far side of the pool so I went over to talk with her.Devin had not seen me move, so I watched him, as we were chatting away, get out of the pool and look for me in the usual spot.When he saw I wasn't there, his eyes scanned around the pool."Look."I said to my friend."Devin doesn't know where I am.Let's see what he does."Now let me say upfront that I know nothing about child development levels, or separation anxiety triggers, or 'the road to independence.' All I have ever known when it comes to parenting is what I saw my mom and the other mothers do as I was growing up, and my own inner gut feeling of what my children could handle on their own.So I was giddy to see what my little three year old charmer was about to do at that moment. I watched him as he scanned the crowd.'Wait for it, I'm over here, keep looking…'I thought. But the woman I was with was not of the same mind at all.To her credit, she followed her own inner feelings.She looked at me, looked at Devin, waited a few seconds as I watched him looking slightly frantic, but not panicked.And then she acted.She bolted out of her lounge chair, sprinted around the edges of the pool with little steps that were supposed to mean she wasn't running, and grabbed Devin by the hand, pointing to me.He caught on pretty quick and waddled himself over to where I was.And I was feeling like a schmuck.What was I thinking?Obviously it was not OK to let a 3 year old try to find you at the pool.My dear friend now knows what a lousy parent I am.Why did I think that was a good thing to do?She never said a word about it.But to this day I felt guilty.Until this day.Because maybe, just maybe what my gut told me was not such abad thing.I believe Devin would have spotted me, and then known that even if Mom wasn't always where you expect her, she's around somewhere and if you don't panic, you'll find her.We'll never know.But thank you Lisa, for describing what I did as a "Courage Challenge"and not the twisted joke of a tired mother. Makes me sound smart, eh?

  2. Lisa Dungate

    Love the story MaryBeth!Thank you! It takes courage to trust our gut, be real, and tell the stories that expose our vulnerability or may not make us look all that good in another’s eyes. Our goal in providing Courage Challenges and 5-Minute Courage Workouts is to offer opportunities to help discuss, prepare, and practice some of the courage muscles our children will need in life.It is just as important to sit back and watch, not rescue, our children practice necessary life skills on their own.Sometimes we don't know what they have retained and are truly capable of handling, until they are handed an opportunity to practice.It often requires us to move outside our comfort zone to not immediately want to rush in, soothe, and comfort our child when things get uncomfortable, unpredictable, or unknown.That said, often it is those very moments of discomfort that can actually be the most potent life lessons and courage strengtheners.Your friend moved outside her comfort zone in her own way, you in yours…a judgment-free parenting zone often requires recognizing that there are as many ways to parent as there are children to parent.Loving ourselves as parents is as important as loving our children!


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