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Teaching Students to Follow Their Hearts to Do What They Know is Right

by Sarah Davies, School Psychologist


Courage Tool

Concept: Courage is having the inner strength and bravery to do the “right thing” even when it is difficult. When we feel troubled by our own or others' behaviors, it takes courage to use our Tools when others may not be using theirs. Helping children to have courage lets them explore the unfamiliar. Courage, from Latin cor (“heart”), means to act with “heart”. Acting with courage is following one’s heart.


Tagline: I have the courage to do the “right” thing.


Hand Gesture: Place one had over your heart. Gently pat your chest while breathing in deeply, internally saying “Grow strong heart. Grow Strong.”


Icon: The work lamp is a metaphor - the light with a strong cage around it is like the heart with our rib cage protecting it. In addition, shining a light in the darkness helps us feel safer and stronger, and allows us to see things the way they really are; it is easier to use our Tools when we see clearly what we are afraid of, and understand why it scares us. We can use our heart - the lamp inside us - to illuminate the darkness and give us courage



When we think of courage, most of us think of adults who bravely face great danger or difficulty, such as soldiers, firefighters, front-line workers, and police officers who unselfishly risk their lives for a cause. Young children are often first exposed to courage through superheroes who perform amazing feats against immeasurable odds or in fairy tales where knights in shining armor slay dragons or princesses who face insurmountable hardships with kindness and compassion. Most children grow up valuing bravery and wanting to be heroic.


In fact, many times our children have to confront issues at school and at home that seem dangerous or difficult and require great courage from them. These range from feeling fearful and vulnerable in front of people or in the dark alone, to living in financial insecurity, dealing with a divorce in the family, or facing the death of a loved one or a pet. It is empowering to acknowledge the courage it takes to be brave and do things when we are afraid. The Courage Tool helps us do that.


Yet there is another aspect of courage also associated with being brave -- an aspect that we want to encourage. It is the courage to follow our hearts, even when others oppose us or it goes against popular opinion. As adults who work with children, we are aware that children's vulnerability to social pressure changes at different states in their social development. Girls and boys may go through these stages at slightly different times, yet at one time or another, children will feel an overpowering pressure to be cool and accepted. If we support elementary students in embracing and expressing courage, the middle school years (when social pressures intensify) might be more manageable and enjoyable.


In our teaching of the Courage Tool, we explore with our students when and why we may need to be courageous. We wonder what courage means to them and how it might help. The visualization is used while teaching the tool. It helps students remember the benefits of following their hearts. This is a visualization that can be practiced at home:

Place both feet on the floor, your hands on your knees, sit upright with your head balanced easily… let your eyes gaze on one spot or close them if you like… take three slow belly breaths with one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart… and remember that your heart is where your courage is… imagine having the courage to tell a friend that you care about them… or the courage to tell someone to stop playing rough on the playground… or the courage to ask someone to give you some personal space… notice how good it feels to have courage… now take another breath… and feel how good it feels to know you have inner strength within you… whenever you need it…. (longer pause)... when you are ready, wiggle your fingers and toes and bring yourself back into the room fully awake, aware, and ready for what is next.


The Courage Tool is the twelfth tool in the ToolBox, as it allows students to put together all the things they learned from using the other Tools and follow their hearts to do what they know is right. They come to have self-confidence in the ToolBox inside them, and to believe in their own capacity for self-awareness, reflection, empathy, patience, words, and listening skills to empower them to follow their hearts.


Other ways we can model courage for our children:

  • “Going First”. Follow your heart by speaking up about the things that matter to you most, even when it may feel hard.
  • “Going First”.  Model courage by letting children know if you are nervous or anxious about something and telling them how you are using your Courage Tool.
  • Use the hand gesture of one hand lightly thumping your heart to remind your child to open their heart to do the “right thing" - standing firm with kindness.
  • Help your child explore their inner felt-sense of knowing what is right and following the heart to stand up for what is “right”.

Here is a resource that lists many books, for all ages, that explore fear and courage:

30 Inspiring Picture Books about Fear and Courage