Adults are Supposed to be Brave

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the significant adults in a child’s life, you’ve probably already discovered that your role is not exactly what you think it is.

A few months ago, I spent a day on the beach with my sister’s three kids – my Neephs.

After some time, my nephew had finally spotted a crab, and was busy explaining how I should pick it up.

“Why don’t you pick it up?” I enquire, hoping to be off the hook.

“’Cause I’m scared to,” says the little D.

“Well, then, so am I,” I say.

“But Aunty Nana, adults are supposed to be brave!”

It was a priceless opportunity, I thought, to give him a lesson in how adults aren’t always brave.

But we were there with his father, that day, and it wasn’t long before he was plucking some poor creature from the shallows and little D was giving me that look.

Great, I think, now I’ve just given him a lesson in how girls aren’t always brave!

Until that moment, it never occurred to me that our relationship was in the least bit gendered.  We were just people, fellow introverts, sharing a common fear of humans and other things that bite.

Clearly, I wasn’t the best person to be teaching him lessons about bravery 🙂

But it did lead me to question how we teach kids things.

The lesson, in fact, probably had nothing at all to do with bravery, and more to do with respecting natural boundaries.  A lesson in ‘live and let live’.  In co-existing with other creatures.

It would have been a simple lesson for a boy whose first response to others’ touch is often “Go away!”

All I had to say was “How do you think the crab would feel?” and he’d have gotten the point of empathy and kindness.

But even then, once Daddy came along to show him how it’s done, I suppose the lesson would have been that empathy and kindness is for girls. Grrrr.

Where did it all go wrong?

It used to be that Fairy Tales were the source of all things wise, where communities passed down lessons to their kids on how to coexist.

So I consulted with the Brothers Grimm, and it turns out, a little bit of healthy fear is not so bad!

Photo by samlevan courtesy stock.xchng

In “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”, it seems the whole village knows what it is to shudder, except for one boy.  His inability to fear is a source of great shame, and eventually, he is cast out of home.  In his mission to learn how to shudder, he encounters seven swinging corpses, and a haunted castle filled with creatures of the night, his cousin’s corpse, a beggar and some body parts.

Not knowing how to fear, he starts off being kind to all the ghoulies.  The best is when he tries to warm his cousin’s corpse.  Instead of being grateful, the cousin turns into a zombie and tries to strangle him – to which the youth retaliates in kind!

Instead of learning how to fear, the youth learns how to fight.  In the end, his ruthlessness wins him a Princess and a place in the kingdom.  It is finally up to his new wife to teach him how to shudder, which she does by throwing a bucket of cold water on him in the night.  Cold shower, anyone?

The moral of the story, according to moi, is that communal life requires the skill of knowing just a little how to fear, and of respecting your place in the scheme of things.  What’s scary is that progress, in the world outside the home, seems to depend on a foolish and callous bravado.

Photo by Karen Barefoot courtesy stock.xchng

Is this the kind of brave we want our little ones to be? I can’t help wondering what will happen when little D no longer feels okay to admit that he’s afraid.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m looking forward to next week, when Brave hits our cinemas here in Oz.  Tune in then for my take on a modern tale!

In the meantime, I’m curious to know your thoughts.  Can bravery go too far? Should boys be braver than girls? How do we teach our kids empathy without making them weak?


  1. says

    OMG, Alarna, that Grimms fairytale is pretty scary! Wow! You ask a lot of good questions. No, boys shouldn’t be braver than girls, although that’s what’s been taught throughout history. There are lots of good stories out now about girls who are brave, too. But there comes a time when common sense needs to kick in and we need to act only if it’s right thing to do. Acting brave but doing stupid things to prove it would be a good lesson to teach our kids.

    That’s a cool photo of a gargoyle. I look forward to hearing your review on Brave next week!

  2. says

    Great post! First off, I love how you tied in the Disney movie Brave; secondly, I think boys and girls should be brave equally. Just because the gender is male doesn’t mean that the bravery level has to be higher. On the other hand, I feel that subconsciously we think that men are just supposed to be stronger to protect the women and whatnot–we fall back to our old ways. Hmm…this can turn into a heated debate hahaa

    • says

      Hi Bena! So good to see you here 🙂 Yes, there are a lot of layers to these questions, aren’t there? Our world has become a lot more complex, I guess, and with it our ideas about things like bravery. Love to know your thoughts on the movie 🙂

  3. says

    Haha! Superb COOL post sissa. 🙂 😀
    I think, there is no need of any comparison for the bravery rule in between boys and gals! God creates both these genders in an equal and well dependent way. If we went through our fore fathers age, it would be a remarkable proofs for these queries. Anyway, it’s a matter of fact that men dominates women in most of the cases these days and perhaps I’m not a part of this thought. As days or months or years passed, there occurred some sort of changes in all aspects in b/w these two genders though. It’s quite natural as my brain restricts to think in such a way since the I’m also a part of this society know?
    Have a great day ahead. Cheers! ❤ \m/ 🙂

    • says

      Hey Rahul, great to see you here! We’re definitely all products of this society that seems to have skewed the genders somehow. Can’t blame anyone for that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t question things, though, right? 😉

  4. says

    Enjoyed reading the above post, Alarna. It took me back to thinking about my childhood and now. On the count of being brave; there is a fine line between being brave and venturing into the realms of being foolhardy, one is healthy, the other is not. The first is being aware of and evaluating the risks, then compensating to do the right thing (kind of looking before you leap). The latter lacks much of the first and is some what adhoc, and not about being brave.

    A time when I was four (growing up out bush in the north here), when we as kids are still testing our boundaries, I took to playing with a trapdoor spider, not hurting, just playing, drawing lines in the dirt near it. Not knowing that the spider was not happy about what was going on I kept going, until my elder brother (by 6 years) spotted the situation and rescued me (a brave hero, this was the story I have been told over the years).

    Another story, this time from around seven, eight years old, the bravest person (old friend, tomboy, blood brother) my own age at the time was Emily. We had been climbing trees, and at the time I fell and got tangled up in a rope. So I’m there hanging upside going into a bit panic as I could not reach back up to untangle. Emily calm as, worked out a way to get back up above me, take the weight of rope, and free my foot while giving me a hand up to right myself (this is the way I remember it anyway).

    A third story, caught somewhere between brave and fool hardy, involved my two younger brother and I. We were visiting family in Maroubra, Sydney. The brothers were around 13 & 12, I was 16, we had been allowed to out of the house to go for a walk, so we headed for the beach (coming from the bush, what else would we do). But instead found this expanse of bare rock. Some how we decided to race along the top of it with my two younger brothers having a head start. It was not until passing over the top of (while looking down) a metre and a half wide split in the rock, that what we were doing was a bit foolhardy. I yelled at my brothers to stop and come have a look, it looked to be at least a couple of hundred feet down to the sea water at the time (maybe it was more or less). The brave decision we made there and then, was we were going to stop running across the rock.

    I have a fourth about a well, but I’ve probably written too much already.

    The question should boys be braver than girls? I think it is an individual thing. I have a friend whom has rock climbed (I climb too on occasions) various locations around the globe. What she climbs and cruxes she overcomes and works her way through, I know I am not brave enough to attempt. So I believe it is an individual aspect to life, being brave in different situations.

    I don’t know about teaching empathy, but I think is something for the individual to learn within a community/family, by experience examples/stories from varying perspectives. We pass on what we know, as do others, and as part of a child’s learning processes they will sort through what will work best for them when they encounter different situations. I don’t think you should of held back with D, as he is still learning and the more rounded his experiences with the world, the better equipped he will be for any situation or decision he makes in life. When children ask us questions, they just want us to be honest with our answers. An answer in a story format rather than just reasoning alone will help too. Like with the picking up of the crab and how that would be an intrusion on the crabs life; reverse the roles, a giant crab picking up little D, how would he feel. That way D can sort the reasoning from the story himself (apart from the fact that we don’t seem to have any giant crabs on earth, but some are big enough) as to how the crab might feel if someone picked the crab up.

    Sorry for the long comment, your post just got me thinking a little.

    • says

      Long comments are always welcome on my blog, Sean! I love that it started off a thought process…

      You are fortunate to have had people looking out for you in those moments of ‘foolhardy bravery’ as a child! And it’s great that you had the opportunity to explore your world… that’s important for a child.

      I was always too cautious to get into much trouble, but I had a brother who didn’t know his limits. Not sure who rescued him – I think he was just lucky.

      As for D, since that day, I have always regretted not going into the full explanation with him. Especially, because he is a child who welcomes explanation. It wasn’t so much a case of holding back, as not being able to think what to say soon enough! A lesson learned for next time 🙂

      • says

        Yes, fortunate days.. but still cautious when the occasion warrants, maybe more these days.

        Some people are like that, lucky. I fell down a 7m well in long grass at work once. Walked away with just a graze under the left elbow and every muscle in my body aching the next day.

        Love how being by the sea can make us feel like that, slow down, relax our speed of thought, no need to rush. While children, they do want to explore and find out about everything. A little mayhem with the sea air 🙂

        Growing up out bush, we were often taught the pros and cons of different animals early, and to leave well enough alone, including those on the coast. I still remember being told about Blue Ringed Octopus, Stone Fish, and Cone Shellfish. “They might be pretty (cool) looking, look like a funny rock, and be an interesting shape, to pick up and examine (play with), but they are all going to hurt you if they are disturbed.”

        (Dad grew up on stations out west, and mum on dairy farms along the coast.)

        All the best with your nieces and nephews for next time 🙂

  5. says

    hello, Alarna… just dropping by to say am going to tag you, ha… i hope it’s alright… 🙂 am gonna come back to give the mechanics of the nomination. thanks and wishing you well. 🙂 ~ san


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