Encouraging Young People to be Courageous in Challenging Times

June 25, 2020
Encouraging Young People to be Courageous in Challenging Times
“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help.” Said the horse.
“Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.”

Courage is something we often hear in conversation, on podcasts, in songs, but what does it mean? How can we encourage our children and young people to have courage in difficult times? The Coronavirus pandemic has created an environment where courage is needed, more than ever, so what does this mean for young people?

Consider the fear that children could encounter on their first day at school, friendships and relationships to build without the comfort of home. Consider the unknown of transitioning from primary to secondary school. Consider a child or young person who can feel the crushing fear of failure they may feel when asked to, ‘try again’. Consider the conscious and unconscious anxieties which our young people are currently facing amidst the Covid-19 crisis, a context in which there are so many hidden vulnerabilities within society. Obviously these situations are only one side of the conversation, there can be a lot of joy and excitement in these times too. But for many young people, sometimes the fear feels insurmountable.

All these scenarios require a individual and holistic approach from parents, teachers and carers. But facilitating young people to be courageous at a time of uncertainty is crucial for the flourishing of their well-being and the development of other character traits like resilience, wisdom and hope.  

What is courage?

Earlier in lockdown, we spoke to four key workers and asked them what they thought courage was. Here's what they said.

Courage is defined as, as ‘the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation’. Six different types of courage have been identified, physical, social, moral, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. And so, in any given situation or decision-making process, a young person would need to both understand and practice this character virtue and learn to be courageous in different ways. Take, for example, a child from a difficult family context in which they don't feel loved or affirmed and who may feel unprepared to build healthy friendships with others at school. This child would need both emotional and social courage to engage with their peers and a teacher to explain the journey of courage in relationship formation, which is something that would help create intellectual courage in the child.

Facilitating Journeys of Courage in our Children and Young People

The life-stories of many well-known people are beacons of courage and hope to us all. In turn, these powerful narratives are helpful for reflection at times of adversity, enabling and inspiring the younger generation to make courageous decisions themselves. The lives of Corrie-Ten Boom, a concentration camp survivor from the Second World War and Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, for example. You can find out more about inspirational figures such as these by visiting our YLA at home hub.

The world-renowned Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, UK, have also identified a number of inspirational books for children between the ages of 5-12 years old, in which the story’s characters demonstrate courage. Books such as these can be used to naturally discuss the topic, through vehicle of storytelling.

While resources such as these are essential for understanding and facilitating the development of courage in the lives of the children and young people, it is also important to understand that character virtues are both ‘taught’ and ‘caught’—meaning that we must model and create an environment in which courageous behaviour can be practiced without fear.

See what 5-year-old Olivia thinks it means to have courage in the video below.

At the Youth Trust, we've created a range of free, interactive resources for young people to use that explore key character virtues, such as courage. Available for KS1, KS2 and KS3, the resources draw on stories form inspirational people, whilst giving space for young people to reflect on their experiences. View and use the resources here.

Charlie Mackesy speaks so beautifully about courage in his book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help.” Said the horse.
“Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.”

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