Taking initiative when you’re scared.
Showing respect for someone when it’s not the cool thing to do.
Being grateful in the midst of bad luck, setbacks and hurt.
Being honest even when it might get you in trouble or be uncool.
Making a responsible decision when you so badly want to be irresponsible.
Remaining appropriately confident in the face of unwarranted criticism or failure.
Showing compassion when everyone else refuses.
Making an independent choice when you’re terrified.
As with ALL of our character traits, courage takes practice.
Mrs. Kay always says “Practice makes easy.” I love this so much. It is infinitely better than practice makes perfect, because we are not aiming for perfection (and those who do will only face disappointment). We are aiming for habit. We are literally paving little roads in the brain, whether it’s the motor skills to play a note or the courage to stand up to our peers. The more we practice, the more the pathways between the neurons myelinate, aka pave a road that becomes easier and easier to travel.
We talk of building character–it’s a slow process that takes years. When our kids don’t show character, we should hold them accountable, but not be too surprised. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are upstanding, kind, successful adults. We practice, we have setbacks, we practice more, and gradually we bloom.
This may be the most straightforward virtue to teach your kids. It’s deeply linked to mental health and contentment and there is a lot of science supporting its practice. Some of the virtues we value go in and out of style, but gratitude is currently fashionable. You can find gratitude references, life hacks, and suggestions all over the internet, in mental health/wellness magazines, Ted Talks (this is one of my favorites), etc. but they all come down to practicing it daily. Literally practicing it every day.
Make lists of things you’re grateful for in a journal, at dinner, in the car after school, write them down and put them in a jar in the kitchen, etc. A benefit of doing it daily means that you (and your children) move past the general good in your life like each other, a home, food, clothing, etc. and begin to notice the small things that happen each day. An encouraging word from a friend, someone who helped you with a project, a stranger who let you step ahead of them in line, someone (maybe you don’t know who) hung your coat up when it was on the floor. As we get really good at it, we can be grateful for good that comes out of hard situations: your scraped knee revealed the quick, kind, concern from a peer, your struggles with math has taught you a good work ethic, a tight budget has taught you to think through your priorities, hurt feelings have helped you be more empathetic to others.
The research shows that as we do this, our brains literally change and become more positive. We begin to see good everywhere and develop a lifestyle of gratitude. This is why there’s a link between mental health and gratitude; your brain tells you that you have lots to be happy about and that makes you happier!