Is your child a real scaredy cat?  With every noise your house makes, he reacts by crying, hiding under his bed or in the closet. He won’t go into the swimming pool or to a friend’s house. Climbing in the park or going on rides at amusement parks – don’t even think about it! So, how do we help him become brave? We want him to face new things, to trust himself to handle different experiences, and to use his body rather than freezing up.


Is there a recipe for bravery?


Before going into some strategies that can help this child, let’s look at the reasons that some children are less brave than others. Probably the number one cause is the child’s temperament: his nature that is present from birth and as much a part of him as his eye color or other facial features. Some children are, by nature, more fearful, anxious, or reactive than others. They need some special handling in this one area of their lives- just the way other children may need special care in other areas, like learning or attention.


Interestingly, some children are not born particularly fearful but pick up their parent’s anxiety. The Mom who declares jumping down the steps as too dangerous, doesn’t take the training wheels off the bike, or won’t let her child climb in the park without monitoring each step, transfers her anxiety to her children. Even if Mom tries to restrict her anxiety to her own person and not project it on her child- the fearful atmosphere can affect her child. Our children pick up on our cues and learn about the world by observing us.


Ironically, sometimes the absence of anxiety in the parents – a helter-skelter whatever approach towards life can cause anxiety.  In a home where there is no structure or consistency, where anything can happen and does happen, a child can become fearful. Will we be on time to school? Will my uniform, homework signing, lunch be ready? Will my mother remember to pick me up when there is no busing? In the absence of a secure, predictable environment, children can develop excessive fearfulness.


We want to determine- to the best of our ability- which of the above best describes our child and then act accordingly. There are also some strategies that are universally helpful that we can discuss.



-Teach self- trust – the trust we develop in our own bodies and abilities.

  Helping children try new adventures teaches them that life is meant to be experienced and enjoyed. Though we may be nervous when the child climbs higher on a jungle gym, we shouldn't project it onto him. Rather, we should encourage him to follow his own instincts in handling this new activity. We should not introduce the idea of being scared, but if he brings it up, we can encourage confidence by saying things like “Good job!”


-Maintain a balance between fear and bravery, the feeling and the action.

Fear is a normal feeling – and often quite healthy when it warns us of potential danger ahead. Bravery is not the absence of fear: it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyways. Petting the animals in the children’s zoo may feel scary, but with our support the child can try it and actually like it.


-Encourage the new and different- try new things, experience the different.

Avoid getting stuck in a rut because it feels safe and comfortable. Try new foods.

Experiment with the everyday- take different routes, bike instead of walk, match different outfits, visit new friends. When we encourage our child to embrace and enjoy newness, rather than retreat into the safety net of the old ways, he becomes more comfortable with the unknown.



Read books about children who are brave. We can talk about times when we were scared and managed to overcome our hesitation. By narrating encouraging words when we face a scary situation- such as running to our car in a thunderstorm- we help our child navigate the situation. Be mindful to notice and compliment the child when he takes the plunge and quells his fears.


The child will probably never become a daredevil, but that is not our goal. Our aim is to help him face his challenges with courage and equanimity. By creating a supportive environment, we can provide him with the opportunity to develop, grow, and have confidence in himself.



Dr. Sara Teichman is a psychotherapist and family counselor- formerly of Los Angeles- currently in Lakewood, New Jersey. She maintains a private practice where she sees adults, children, and adolescents. Dr. Teichman can be reached at 323 940 1000 or