Courage, as one of the core virtues recognized in the field of positive psychology, incorporates four character strengths—bravery, persistence, integrity and vitality. Courage is the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or difficulties with self-possession, confidence and resolution.
How do we help our children develop these strengths that are called courage?
Bravery is the ability to do what you think is right even if it risks personal injury or sacrifice. Our Founding Fathers exhibited bravery by signing the Declaration of Independence, knowing that the ink at the bottom of the page was a death warrant for treason against the British Crown.
Most of us don’t have to “pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Being brave means being true to yourself. The phrase, “Sei brav” in German translates literally as “be good”. When we are brave, we are good to ourselves by facing our fears and living our dreams. Everyday we practice bravery by living our lives in a manner that reflects our values, character, and aspirations.
Persistence is the ability to get up from being knocked down one more time than anybody else. It is the ability to hold firmly and steadfastly to a purpose or undertaking despite obstacles, warnings, or setbacks. Does it sound a lot like bravery and being true to yourself?
Calvin Coolidge had something to say about persistence. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Integrity comes from the word integer meaning whole. We have integrity when we what we say and do is in synch with our personal beliefs and values. People with integrity “walk their talk.” People with integrity take personal responsibility for their lives and don’t blame others for disappointments or obstacles. People with integrity feel whole because they possess self-awareness while connecting to a higher purpose.
People with vitality bring enthusiasm and energy to whatever task they are doing, however trivial. Vital people exude positive expectations. They focus on opportunities instead of mistakes. They realize that personal growth and challenge cannot flourish in an overprotected environment. A person with vitality is more concerned with growth and development than perfectionism.
To strengthen bravery, persistence, integrity and vitality in our children, we must turn discouragement into encouragement in four critical ways.
We have to show confidence in our children’s abilities by giving them responsibility, asking for their opinions or advice, and avoiding the temptation to over-protect or rescue them from difficulties.
We need to focus on our children’s strengths by acknowledging what they do well, by redirecting strengths to positive outcomes, by concentrating on improvement versus perfection, and by coaching and cheering as progress is made. Encouragement always works better than fear to help a child maintain focus on a goal.
Value each child as a unique person, a person who is on a personal schedule of development. We need to separate personal worth from accomplishment and mistakes.
Encourage independence by helping your child learn to do things for him or herself. It is being independent that develops confidence and leads to interdependence with others.
How to develop courage is simple. Encourage your child.