Growing Courageous Kids. Today I’m excited to have my friend Rebecca on my blog sharing how we can use our family histories to impart courage in our kids. I love this topic! I love history and especially family stories. I hope that once you read her tips, you’ll be eager to dig into your family history, too!
Growing Courageous Kids: How Your Family’s Story Strengthens Young Hearts
by Rebecca Price Janney, author of 19 books including Easton at the Forks
I’ve been interested in my ancestry for a long time but never really did much research until a few years ago after watching an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” My parents didn’t know much about our family background, and when I asked my grandmother, she didn’t even know her own grandmother’s name, or where she came from. Needless to say, there was a lot of ground for me to cover!
I am a historian and gladly took on this challenge, aided by Ancestry.com and other genealogical websites. I also am blessed to live close to my family and started using libraries there to uncover the mysteries. The discoveries I made changed my life, especially my perception of who I am, and out of that experience came my first novel for adults, Easton at the Forks, just released by Elk Lake Publishing. Better yet, know our story helped me impart courage to my son in ways I couldn’t imagine.
A Small Soldier’s Story
During the time I was researching my family history, my little boy became ill and faced a medical procedure that caused him no small amount of anxiety. He did, however, want very much to triumph over his fears. His time came for the test, and he stood taller as he bravely informed the technician, “My Grandfather Peter was shot and imprisoned by the British, and if he could go through that, then I can do this.”
The “Grandfather Peter” he referred to is actually my son’s seven times great grandfather, who lived way back in the 1700s. During the American Revolution, he served as a colonel in Northampton County, Pennsylvania’s “Flying Camp.” (They were like “minute men,” a rapid response team ready to “fly” to the aid of General George Washington whenever he needed their help.)
Grandfather Peter led his badly outnumbered battalion at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776 where he lost the majority of his men and ended up being wounded and captured. The British released him in a prisoner exchange after six months of harsh treatment. What an amazing history to uncover! Grandfather Peter’s story is helping me in growing courageous kids! Grandfather Peter’s example has helped me through some of my own difficult experiences, and I soon learned it was important for my son.
Why the Past is Important in Growing Courageous Kids
One recent study concludes the best thing we can do for our families is to develop a strong narrative of our family. (Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us,” The New York Times, March 15, 2013)
Child psychologist Sara Duke, who works with learning disabled kids, agrees, “The (children) who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”
Duke conducted a study in which she asked children 20 questions, such as:
“Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?”
“Do you know how your parents met?”
“Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?”
She also ran a series of psychological tests. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
She’s also discovered in times of national trauma, like terrorist attacks, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
While I haven’t conducted any experiments, I can vouch for the truth of what she said by monitoring my own, my son’s, and my husband’s responses to obstacles and illness. Why does knowing our family history have such an effect on growing courageous kids? Here are two reasons why:
1. Courage Can be Passed On
When we find out about grandparents who fought in wars or supported the cause on the home front, we’re encouraged by their strength and patriotism. When we find out a relative overcame a debilitating illness, or lost everything in the stock market, we learned how they survived and realize we can as well when our own hard times come.
My husband tells the story of his grandmother, who raised ten children in a two bedroom house during the Depression and World War II. Although they usually just had something simple to eat for supper, like beans, she’d send a child to the neighbors’ to make sure they had food before her own family sat down to eat. Scott learned compassion through her example, putting the needs of others ahead of our own, and gratitude for one’s blessings.
2. Kids Learn, “I’m Part of Something Bigger”
Knowing our family narrative also helps children realize they’re part of something much bigger than themselves. Put in a Christian context, children learn they aren’t the be-all and end-all of their lives—life really isn’t all about them.
Instead, life is about the God who created them for His own special purposes, the God who never lets them go, who knows the plans He has for them, plans that fit into His own larger salvation narrative for the world He created. That God can be trusted.
When the great slave liberator Harriet Tubman faced humanly impossible situations as she led hundreds of her people to freedom in the years before the Civil War, she would tell herself, “God has never abandoned me in six troubles. He’s not going to abandon me in the seventh.” Harriet never “lost a passenger” in her mission to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. God proved himself faithful to Harriet and He’ll provide himself faithful to you, too.
Our ancestor’s stories are generally full of similar accounts of people going through very hard times, but whose faith in and reliance on God gave them courage, and even joy, to face an unknown future. When hearing these stories, kids learn God can do something bigger in their lives, too.
How Do We Impart Courage?
Here are a few ideas to help your children connect with their ancestors’ stories and gain strength and courage from them. Drawing upon your own creativity, the possibilities are infinite:
- Have them interview older family members about tough times they knew and how they overcame hardship. Maybe these are grandparents or great-grandparents who lived through the Vietnam or Korean Wars, or even World War II or the Great Depression.
- Make a list of questions for older family members, especially grandparents, and write them in a notebook for the relatives to record their answers. Ask questions like, Where did you grow up? What were your parent’s names? Did you have brothers or sisters? What did you want to be when you grew up? What was your house or your school like? We did this when our son was a baby, and now that two of his grandparents have died, these books, in their handwriting, are especially important to us. We love the story Papa Janney told when asked, “What was your most memorable Christmas present as a boy?” He wrote, “The year I got 26 cents.” That story put gift-giving into perspective for our impressionable son for whom 26 cents is just so much loose change on the kitchen counter.
- Maybe a family member accomplished something unusual or overcame a big obstacle, like my oldest cousin who triumphed over childhood polio and became a rocket scientist. Again, have the person tell the story to your children.
- Have relatives break out photo albums and scrapbooks, and have them tell stories as you look through the contents. Perhaps creating your own set of photographic memories and stories can be a family project.
- Attend family reunions. If your family doesn’t have one, you could start planning your own. My husband’s family is very good at this, and we enjoy connecting the generations when we get together with far-flung relatives.
- Do your own family tree. Use websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
- Watch ancestry shows together on TV, and compare others’ experiences with your own. These shows always provide opportunities for discussion.
- Visit a library where your ancestors came from and do research; likewise, cemeteries make good field trips. Your kids can create a photographic narrative, blog, or written account of what they discovered.
- Does your family’s community have a historical society? If so, you can be sure there will be events and celebrations for you to attend to learn more about the communities in which family members lived.
- Visit a church where your ancestors worshiped.
Again, the possibilities are vast for connecting your kids to their family narrative. Somewhere out there is your own “Colonel Kichline” and a story meant to strengthen and encourage you and your kids.