Teaching kids to be brave
For children, the world is a large and unknown place filled with wonders waiting to be discovered. While some young explorers embrace the new and unknown with exuberance, timid and shy children are often scared and worried by unfamiliar situations. Life’s adventures start to feel a bit like the torture of being made to eat overcooked brussels sprouts every night. It can be difficult to convince a shy child to move outside his/her comfort zone, but it is an important step toward independence and growth. There are many children’s books that have characters dealing with fearful feelings. These stories show children that their emotions are common and universal. So, if your child is in need of a little booster shot of bravery, here are a few books that can help bolster to his or her confidence.
Brave Irene (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $9) by William Steig, ages 4 to 8 and
Outside Over There (HarperCollins, $13.25) by Maurice Sendak, ages 5 to 9
Both of these stalwart children’s authors have created characters who must take matters into their own hands and confront the harsh world alone. In Brave Irene, Steig introduces readers to a young girl whose mother falls ill while sewing a dress for the duchess. Irene has to save the day by delivering the dress for her mom. It won’t be easy since there is a big snowstorm raging outside her door.
In Sendak’s book, the heroine is Ida, another young girl who must assume responsibilities she does not feel fully ready for. When her younger sister is taken away by goblins, Ida reluctantly sets off after her.
In both books, the authors use a more sober tone rather than the whimsical one found in most of their other books. The stories capture the fact that facing difficult circumstances is serious for children and should be acknowledged as such. Sendak’s piercing and haunting story grasps the psychological struggle that children face when confronting a frightening situation and Steig beautifully demonstrates the strength that can emerge when someone we love is relying on us.
Courage (photo above – Houghton Mifflin, $16.50) by Bernard Waber, ages 3 to 7
Here is a book dedicated entirely to the topic of courage. Whether it is resisting grimacing before trying a new vegetable, trying to break a bad habit or simply holding on to your dream, the author shows that courage comes in all shapes and sizes and merits recognition. The book explains to children that even if they don’t feel brave, they can perform acts of courage daily. It allows them to realize that they may be braver than they ever thought and to build their confidence from that. Ultimately, it teaches children that every day they will encounter situations where they can choose to respond with courage and gumption. By choosing the courageous way, children learn both self-respect and the respect of others.
Sheila Rae, The Brave (Greenwillow, $8.99) and
Wemberly Worried (Greenwillow, $23.99) both by Kevin Henkes, ages 3 to 7
Few authors capture the feelings and experiences of the timid child better than Kevin Henkes. His adorable and charming mice characters are irresistible to readers and perfectly convey the shy heart that lives inside some children. In Sheila Rae, The Brave, it is Sheila’s sister Louise who is the quiet, timid one. In contrast, Sheila is the brash one, who forges ahead at every turn, rarely taking into consideration the potential consequences of her spontaneity. When Sheila chooses a new and unfamiliar way home one day, she suddenly finds herself lost and scared. Thankfully, Louise has followed her and it turns out that she is the one who knows how to get them home. Here Henkes shows readers that courage exists within all of us, even if it is not necessarily an explicit part of our personality. And in fact, sometimes in the most difficult moments, it is those who we never expected to step up that do.
In Wemberly Worried, Henkes infuses his story with a classic worrywart. Wemberly is one of those children who is concerned about everything and anything, so imagine how the wheels in her mind start spinning out of control as her first day of school approaches. Will the other children like her? Will she fit in? Wemberly’s trepidation gets worse and worse and her imagination veers off into catastrophic thoughts. That is until she finally makes it to her first day of school and finds a kindred spirit in her class who has many of her own worries. As the reader discovers, sometimes facing fears is a little easier when you’re two rather than trying to go it alone. It’s a classic story that emphasizes how courage can develop when we are willing to share our worries and fears.