the willingness to endure

The word brave has many synonyms: courageous, valiant, valorous, intrepid, heroic, lionhearted, bold, and fearless.

But of all these my favorite definition of bravery is this one: a willingness to endure, even when fear and suffering are present.

When you decide to be brave, you may be surprised what shifts and changes. If you are lucky enough to find a group that celebrates bravery, courage becomes contagious. Stepping out of the shadow of fear, your life takes on heroic urgency.

I want my son to be the hero of his own journey.

The outcomes of the challenges he faces now (at age 11) will build a foundation for the rest of his life. As he grows, he will face larger demands, greater responsibilities, and significant threats to his sense of security. Years as a psychologist have taught me to respect the combination of inner resilience and outer resourcefulness that defy the odds against unnecessary suffering. Resilience is rooted in confidence and is something that each individual develops alone. Resourcefulness arises out of the collective experience and comes as payback from participation in a healthy community. This subtle alchemy of individual self-reliance and collective trust in relationship co-mingle to create a brave soul.

The major task that my son faces right now is to find himself as an individual piece within a larger, more beautiful and creative matrix.

Finding his tribe starts by joining with other kids in group activities. It involves looking to older teens and adults for guidance. Ideally, these older guides appreciate in him a universal and intrinsic desire to be seen, loved, and valued. When they respond with enthusiasm and provide skillful feedback about what it means to be an adult they offer a precious gift.

Our culture provides many examples of a power-based masculinity rooted in repression and aggression.

Bullying at this age is commonplace and particularly toxic. It poisons the fresh innocence of the young person’s need for connection. If a young male has internalized the idea that male power is based in aggression and repression he may accept that being threatened and physically abused are unavoidable aspects of manhood. He may accept that the threshold to manhood must involve a traumatic rupturing.

For girls and women, the challenge is to find a feminine power that is not overly sexualized, at one extreme, or disembodied, at the other.

Women’s bodies are incredibly powerful for their beauty, their ability to create and sustain life, and for their alliance with the rhythms of the earth. Finding a way to celebrate this power and appreciate the subtle ways that women influence and inspire is a great task. It requires us to see clearly that destructive forces can manifest in the feminine. We see harmful aspects of the feminine taking different forms: emotional blackmail, verbal manipulation, and harsh social alienation are examples.

Research demonstrates that the children most likely to deal effectively with bullying are those who have an ally (older teen or adult) to turn to for help.

There is a way through the transformation we call adolescence that doesn’t involve taking your obligatory turn as the victim. Forming alliances with older teens and adults who don’t use power or coercion to establish dominance allows trust to develop. Kids with allies learn that authentic relationship is a vital resource and a protective factor that buffers against the harshness of bullying now and in the future.

Roller-coaster emotions are one hallmark of puberty.

For the adolescent, desperate feelings of isolation, utter confusion and intolerable insecurity can be experienced in rapid succession. Parents may try to steady the family against these waves of emotion, but a larger community is essential to hold the space required to maintain perspective. Conflicts between parents and kids are an unavoidable aspects of adolescence. Being part of a larger group can stabilize the family and help to dismantle the shame and isolation. A healthy group offers opportunities to repair and rebuild when relationships become over-taxed by the intensity of this process.

Compassionate conversation helps the process to unfold more slowly and more gently.

Sitting in circle with structure provided by our skilled facilitators, kids hear that others are going through the same difficult process of transformation. Taking time to pause allows kids to a chance to verbalize personal insights. By welcoming older teens into the dialogue, kids begin to really listen and appreciate that this is a process of growth and development. Through the collective dialogue, parents receive the support they need to maintain perspective and stay connected despite conflict.

Brave Space for Kids is all about turning toward what is difficult, confusing or complicated and trusting that the group has the skillful means to stay in relationship.