“WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO TALK ABOUT how brave and special our daughter is.”
These words are part of a recent note to Room 4 families from Jenna and Richard, the parents of a new child in the class. Their message explains that their daughter has been in treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia and asks families to be mindful of about sending children to school with illnesses.
It’s touching that this two-year-old’s parents want to introduce her to her new friends as brave, rather than just asking them to be compassionate about her illness. Their message highlights the question of how we awaken and celebrate courage in children and introduces an important answer: we start by noticing the ways they are brave and talking to them about what courage really means.
In this era of idolizing superheroes, children’s idea of what courage is can be full of distortions. Children believe that superheroes are invincible and never afraid. Their fearlessness is epic and tends to be aggressive, even if directed toward helping others. We don’t allow superhero play in our preschool because it inevitably leads to fighting and hurting.
It’s important for adults and children to discuss what bravery is really like in everyday life. How does it feel? Often people do things that require courage, like being honest, giving a report in front of a class, or even for a young child to say good-bye to a parent at the preschool door.
Telling stories that highlight the ability to be courageous provides important role models. It’s also important to look for times when children are being brave and point them out. We don’t want to push children to ignore their fears, but we build their inner resources by helping them be aware of the times they are able to move beyond them. When children are faced with a challenge, we can encourage them by reminding them of all the times they have summoned courage and grown in ways that make them proud.
In their letter to other families in the class, her parents, Jenna and Richard, wrote, “The Meher Schools and its families are a very special community. We are incredibly grateful for your consideration and helping to protect her as we get closer to her cure.”