As parents, we encourage our children to be brave – from when they start school, through to navigating the many challenges of the teenage years. While largely intuitive, research has found courage relates to personal accomplishment and prosocial action for example, advocating for marginalised or vulnerable people. Courage is also negatively related to defensiveness and detrimental acquiescence, that is courage involves adopting an open-mind, challenging biases and defending against immoral and unkind behaviour.

However, courage can be a difficult concept for children (and even adults) to grasp– not least because ‘standing strong’ on the outside does not necessarily mean we feel strong on the inside. In fact, often being brave means standing strong or standing up for something or someone, despite feeling anxious or afraid.

“The brave person is not one who is never afraid. True courage comes when one is faced with a frightful challenge and they choose to stand up to it and move forward regardless of the fact that they are shaking in their boots ” Marie Rayner.

In other words “courage and fear always exist together. It can’t be any other way. If there is no fear, there is no need for courage” - Karen Young.

Yet, courage is more than overcoming fear - it is the acts carried out in the face of fear with a noble cause in mind (not acts that are reckless in nature). As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

As Aristotle argued, courage is not simply whether you face your fears but why we face them. Courage involves persistence, responsibility, and breakthrough. Simply put, it is the act of not giving up and overcoming obstacles to achieve honourable outcomes.

To understand the courageous nature of our actions is to hold a deeper understanding of what our true fears are. We may not speak up when we are morally conflicted, not from fear of being wrong, but fear of being judged, ridiculed, or marginalised. We may not enter a competition or apply for a placement at a workplace or tertiary educational institution from fear of our limitations and fear of accepting our ourselves if we fail.

Then, inherently courage demands risk. As parents we often wish to safeguard our children from pain and suffering, yet too much safeguarding risks opportunities for growth and accomplishment. Our efforts to assuage risk is likely explained by our own fears of mortality, or fear of failing our own expectations as parents. Allowing our children to make mistakes is then courageous.

It is brave when we as parents and teachers self-reflect and embrace reasonable risk for the goal of improving our child/ren’s health, prosperity, and wellbeing. For example, allowing our children to endure challenging experiences, or to experience natural consequences of their decision making, in the absence of our instinctive efforts to minimise the outcome, takes courage. It is equally courageous when children face and learn from their failures.

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

Courage is then present in both big and small acts and can be individually or socially orientated. It is standing up for what you believe in despite potential backlash; it is in acts of forgiveness and compassion; and it is engaging in vulnerable self-disclosures.

Children choose to be brave daily. For example, new students who embrace their school environment, like their first camps, and new friendships. Our boarding students are brave when they express their own needs and the needs of others of the wider group within their new social and cultural environment. There can be courage in letting go of minor and not reacting to unkind, incidental peer interactions.

David Schofield, Head of Psychology at Knox reminds us of the compassion and benevolence involved with courage, writing: Perhaps the most beautiful stories of humanity involve individuals sacrificing their own safety or comfort, to ensure the wellbeing of others. A bystander standing up to a bully’s harassment of a peer, at the risk of becoming the bully’s victim, can be a stunning act of courage driven by a deep care for others. Even more amazing, would be standing up for someone who is not a friend, or perhaps even an enemy! Radical kindness like this requires the ultimate in courage. The greater the care for humans, the greater the likelihood of, and degree of courageous behaviour.

As Headmaster Scott James wrote “We want our students to have strength of character and confidence in doing what is right, to be good of heart and to live a life of integrity” and “just like fear can be contagious, so can courage. When a student takes a stand on what is right, they often give permission to others to do the same. They must have the courage to accept the responsibility they have to all who share their world”.

Try this!

An important part of parenting is therefore teaching our children the value of being courageous - to face our fears and advocate for others and ethical outcomes – even when it feels difficult.

  • Talk to your child about the co-existence of courage and fear, and the value of being brave.
  • Model bravery in your own actions as a parent. Your children are continuously and vicariously learning from you.
  • Encourage your child to step outside of their comfort zone – it can be easier, safer and less anxiety-provoking to ‘play it safe’ but being brave can also be so rewarding and will promote growth.
  • Recognise and reward courageous behaviour, no matter how big or small.
  • Parents can increase their child’s courage and self-efficacy (the belief that they can achieve their goals) through highlighting their child’s past successes in overcoming previous fears.
  • Parents can also engage a discussion of fears, with personal examples and ways to face these fears for honourable outcomes.

Further resources:


Cheng, C., & Huang, X.. (2017). An exploration of courage in Chinese individuals. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(2), 141–150.

Ortiz Fune, C., Kanter, J. W., & Arias, M. F. (2020). Burnout in mental health professionals: the roles of psychological flexibility, awareness, courage, and love. Clínica y Salud, 31(2), 85–90.

Howard, M. C., & Holmes, P. E. (2019). Social courage fosters both voice and silence in the workplace: A study on multidimensional voice and silence with boundary conditions. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness : People and Performance, 7(1), 53–73.