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Monday, February 28, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage."
~ Thucyidides

Is this what we see happening in North Africa and the Middle East right now? 

Sunday, February 27, 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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

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.

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  • 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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Friday, February 25, 2011

Healthy Attachment Between Parent and Child

Copyright Renata Osinska, Dreamstime.com
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! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: What do you think was your most courageous moment?  Which of the six types of courage were you using?
Don't be bashful, please share...no doubt you will inspire someone else today!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: Did you have a favorite legend, myth, fable or folk tale as a kid? Have you ever retold it to your kids? (p.s. don't worry if it doesn't have a courage theme!)

Care to tell us what the story was...and inspire another parent to tell their child the story?

Monday, February 21, 2011

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.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

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?)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

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.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Fear makes the wolf bigger than it is."  ~ German proverb

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is Intellectual Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the third 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 intellectual courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Intellectual Courage

"Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood."— Marie Curie
"The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking."—  John Kenneth Galbraith
"If you believe everything you read, you better not read."—  Japanese proverb

Intellectual courage means being willing to grapple with difficult or confusing concepts and ask questions, being willing to struggle to gain understanding and risk making mistakes.  Sometimes what we learn challenges previously accepted ideas, or contradicts teachings of family or cultural group.  Intellectual courage will be required more and more in the future, as complex structural problems of the environment, economy, and society challenge conventional problem-solving.  Intellectual courage means being intrinsically motivated to learn and question, rather than extrinsically motivated.  Given the information explosion of recent decades along with easy and indiscriminate access to it, being a critical thinker will only become more important, not less.  Being passive recipients of information, forgetting to track sources or cross-reference data can quickly turn even the brightest minds into moldable mush.  Integrity and authenticity are interwoven with intellectual courage; it means telling the truth no matter how uncomfortable.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach intellectual courage in ourselves and our children...READ ON!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shout Out

Welcome to readers in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia and Spain!  Thank you for joining us, and please share the blog with fellow parents, teachers and friends. 

Courage Quote of the Day

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
Andre Gide


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shout out

Thank you to our friends in the Pacific: Japan, Singapore,  South Korea and Australia!  We really appreciate the way you've been spreading the word!  We've been hearing from your friends!  Please continue to share the blog with other parents, teachers and friends and please leave your comments: we love to hear from you.

Shout out

Thank you to our friends in Ireland and the UK for sharing this blog with your friends!  We really appreciate the way you are spreading the word!  Would you consider passing it along to a fellow parent, a teacher, or your head of school today?  Thanks again.

The Journey Our Kids Are On

If you don't know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don't know the stories you may be lost in life. -- Anonymous (Siberian) proverb

A few months ago our Waldorf school hosted a master teacher from Denmark to advise the school on our early childhood programs. In an open forum with parents, this teacher was asked “What is the biggest difference you see between European parents and American parents?”

Without hesitation she replied, “Fear. American parents are full of fear.”

She went on, “Look around you. This town is beautiful. You have natural places and safe streets. This is a perfect place for children. What is there to be afraid of here?”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Keeping up with the blog

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What is Social Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:
This is the second 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 social courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Social Courage

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."  Winston Churchill

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Social courage is standing up tall, being able to greet the world with your head held high, feeling comfortable in your own skin.  Social courage means not conforming to the expectations of others, being willing to show your true self even if it means risking social disapproval or punishment.  It means being able to express opinions and preferences without checking to see if they are in line with "everyone else's" opinions and preferences.   It helps us apologize and move on.  It is not about attracting or craving attention, it's about not minding attention.  It's about asking for what you want or need and offering what you see others want or need. For parents, it means not comparing your child's achievements with another child's achievements; for teens especially, it means understanding peer pressure and standing firm against it in its destructive forms.  Social courage often involves helping others, developing a charitable consciousness, and acting on behalf of otherswhether anyone else can see or not.   Social courage is also involved in both leading and following.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach social courage in ourselves and our children...READ ON! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: If you didn't let a physical fear stop you, what might you try?  In other words, what do you want more physical courage to accomplish?

Bungee jump? Trek the whole Appalachian or Westcoast Trail solo?  Join an aid group in a disaster area or war zone?  Learn to skate, swim, snowboard?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Tell a Story

Man is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose, a cause, an ideal, a mission and the like is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story -- a story that is basically without meaning or pattern. --- Eric Hoffer, philosopher

There are many folks out there who believe they can’t tell a good story. Yet people are natural storytellers – it’s in our DNA. Everybody has told stories, but perhaps they didn’t think of themselves as storytellers at the time. Parents should start thinking of themselves as storytellers. It’s okay!  You don't need heaps of social courage to talk to your own kids!

Telling a story well takes a little preparation. A little. Here’s my advice.

1. Pick a story. If it’s a story from your own past, you already know it. If you are searching for a traditional story, take advantage of the Internet and the public library to find a story that suits your needs. Read the story a few times. If you can find different versions of the story, even better.
2. Decide what element or elements of the story you want to highlight. Is it the physical courage of the hero? The moral courage? Emotional courage? What about the story appeals to you? Is it from your cultural tradition or a different one? What drives you to select this story for your child?
3. Spend a few minutes with a thesaurus and reacquaint yourself with all the wonderful synonyms and metaphors for courage and fear. Reflect on your own experiences of courage and fear and try to feel again the physical sensations you experienced. You can add these to the story to bring it to vivid life.  Keep reading for more Storytelling Tips!

Friday, February 11, 2011

What is Physical Courage?

   Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the first 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 physical courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Physical Courage

"If you worried about falling off the bike you'd never get on."  Lance Armstrong
"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer."  Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."  John Wayne

Physical courage is the type most people think of first, the one that allows us to risk discomfort, injury, pain or even death—running into burning buildings as a firefighter, facing an enemy on the battlefield, undergoing chemotherapy, climbing a mountain, protecting a child from a dangerous animal.  We are right to be wary of pain: pain tells us where our boundaries and limits are.  However, sometimes there are things more important than pain, and our physical fear becomes a border to be crossed.  Physical fear is often blown entirely out of proportion: pain is often greater in anticipation than in fact, and that dread can become an insurmountable barrier.  Physical courage also involves recognizing that your body is how you participate in the world; keeping it healthy, strong, and resilient prepares you for all kinds of challenges,  not just physical ones. 

This inspiring video from TED.com gives us a great example of a woman confronting seemingly insurmountable barriers through physical courage.  It's about seventeen minutes long; if you don't have time now, please watch it later.  It's well worth it.  Teaser: she rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean!

Here's another compelling video about physical courage that challenges our assumptions about what it looks like.  It's only ten minutes long:

Physical courage looks like:

Lack of physical courage looks like:
  • holding back or hiding
  • giving up after one failed attempt
  • clinging to unhealthy habits
  • being a couch potato
  • avoiding physical challenges
  • ignoring the doctor's advice to change some of your lifestyle habits
  • allowing a prior injury or frightening experience to scare you out of trying a new sport or activity
  • shrinking back from a doctor or dentist 
  • shying away from new foods, activities, games
  • using food/alcohol/drugs to dull sensation or feelings

Physical courage sounds like:
  • "I'll try it!"
  • "I'm okay!"
  • "I can do it!"
  • "Look at me!"
  • "Let's go outside."
  • "Can I pet your dog?"
  • "I love my hair!"
  • "Watch what I can do!"
  • "No thanks, I'm full."
  • "No thanks, I don't smoke/drink."

Lack of physical courage sounds like:
  • "I can't do that."
  • "I might get hurt!"
  • "Don't do that!  You'll break your arm!"
  • "It's too hot/cold/wet/dry/squishy/slimy/dirty."
  • "Boys don't dance."
  • "Girls don't play rough."
  • "I just washed my hands!"
  • "It's too far/high/deep/big/steep."
  • "I'm fat/ugly/slow."
  • "I had a bad day—I need chocolate/a drink/a cigarette."

Grab Some Lion's Whiskers!
Here are some tips for helping develop physical courage for you and your kids:
Posts related to physical courage: The Journey Our Kids Are On, Two Parables from Rumi, Go Climb a Tree, 5-Minute Courage Workout on Navigating the Neighborhood, 5-Minute Courage Workout on Playing with Fire, First Steps on the Path, Mental Pathways of CourageLet's Talk Dirty5-Minute Courage Workout: Talking Dirty, Dancing Through the Pain, Part 1,  Dancing Through the Pain, Part II, Perseverance: The Courage of a SpiderThe Way We Hold Our Babes,  Fenrir; Big, Bad Wolf Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, Quitters, Campers, and Climbers:  Which One are You?, The Black Belt Wall, Running Plan B

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

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

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mental Pathways of Courage

Courage doesn't always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow. 
~Mary Anne Radmacher
I’ve defined the word courage with a dictionary, and with the help of my kids, so now I ask myself: “What does courage mean to me?”  “Do I have courage?” “When have I been courageous in my life?”

I read Jennifer’s retelling of The Lion’s Whiskers, and reflect on the times when I’ve had to approach my own inner and outer lions to gain the necessary whiskers, or qualities, to develop the love and respect for myself, my children, my husband, and all who cross my path.  Whiskers I cling to for balance and guidance, qualities that help me to be brave during times of fear, pain, or uncertainty.  I think of the times I’ve succeeded, and the times I’ve failed, in attaining the kind of intellectual, social, physical, spiritual, emotional and moral strength necessary to be deemed “courageous”. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Lion's Whisker

This is a traditional story from Ethiopia, and a beautiful example of emotional courage. I have heard it told various ways – in one, the woman must reconnect with her husband, from whom she has become estranged; in another, the woman must find connection with a stepson, in another, with her new mother-in-law. The variation in these details shows that we can alter stories to suit our audience and our own unspoken needs. Parents can read it a few times, let the story sink in and live inside for a while before sharing it, and then try telling it to their own children, making any change in detail they want. But they shouldn’t read it aloud! They should just tell it in their own words. No discussion is required afterward, but if a child begins to talk about the story, a parent can just follow her lead and see where it takes them. Also, here is a good retelling you might be able to find at your public library. 

A long time ago, a woman in a certain village adopted a boy whose parents had died of a disease. She had no children herself, and she wanted this boy to love her. He was not ready to love her, however, as his heart was still grieving for the parents he had lost. This woman loved him very much already, but she was sad that he would hardly look at her when she gave him his food. She thought she would ask advice from the wise healer in the next village, and see if there was some magic that could make the child love her.

“There is a special drink which I can make for you to give the boy,” said the healer. “When the child drinks it he will love you as his mother.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Defining Courage for Yourself

A few days after Jennifer and I start talking about writing about courage, her daughter (K.) and my own (B.) are seated at our kitchen table sharing snacks and huddled together over my daughter’s new iPod. I ask them, “Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions about courage?”  We’ve had a few discussions about what courage means since I started researching its origins for this blog. I find I get more thoughtful, and willing, answers to my questions when I check in with my kids if it is a good time for them…and if they understand the meaning of my questions.  I ask Jennifer’s daughter, the lovely K., first. “Do you think B. has courage?”  K. answers emphatically, “Yes!”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chapter One: Jennifer and the Lovely K.

I wanted to share this story first.

My daughter had been home with me from Ethiopia for a couple of months. At 8, she was learning English quickly, and I spent most dinners telling her stories – myths, legends, fables, fairy tales – to fill her ears with words and her imagination with ideas. One evening, with my reserve of stories and my energy running a bit low, I pulled out a few flash cards I had made. Each of these cards bore a sticker with words such as “cooperation” or “honesty” or similar virtues, and I defined the words for her and asked her to think of an example for us to write on the back of the card. We came to the word “courage,” and I gave her a brief description,( although this was long before Lisa and I teased apart the six types of courage.) “Can you think of a time when you had courage?” I asked this child who had lost her family, her country, her culture and her language and still managed to smile every day.

Getting to the Heart of Courage

The Merriam Webster (2010) dictionary defines courage as follows:  “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage, ¶1).  It comes from the Middle English corage, from Anglo-French curage, from quer, coer, and from the Latin word cor (¶3). All essentially variations of the origin, ‘heart’: to have heart, to take heart, to be brave of heart.

Since my kids are some of the wisest people I know, and I’m curious what they may have already learned about courage in their lives, I ask them to define courage in their own words.  My teenage son tolerates the interrogation, even taking a moment from his iPod to answer “Courage is: even when the odds are against you, you are able to overcome them to do something brave.  It’s not just trying to overcome.  It is doing something great.  Like in World War II, the American soldiers crashing onto the beaches in the Pacific—against all odds—fighting with all they had…that’s courage”.  We’d just finished a marathon session watching the HBO miniseries The Pacific, so this kind of courage-in-action is fresh in his mind.  My 10-year old daughter on the other hand, mulls over my question—her mind wandering the clouds overhead outside the backseat car window—whilst I wait patiently for her response.  “Courage is being brave even when you are afraid.  It is standing up for what you believe in or for someone you believe in.  Even if you know others maybe won’t like it.”