Adventure Parenting Learning Risk

Learning How to be Brave

Jumping off Savin Kuk in the mountains of Montenegro
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Learning how to be brave: a lesson for parents & kids

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Do you trust your kids? With their own life? Really? It’s harder than it sounds. I thought I was a relaxed Mum when it came to adventure. But when my daughter started to risk assess for herself, I panicked. A seven year old girl was surely too young to make an informed decision about her own safety and skills. Wasn’t she? We both had a lot to learn about how to be brave…

 A North Wales Zip Wire Challenge

The first time I’m not very brave.

We are in Bethesda, North Wales; a stunning region filled with activities for families. We are about to go on the longest and fastest zip line in the northern hemisphere. Hannah can’t ride it. She’s too young and too small. Or so we’ve been told by e-mail. But then the owner gives us special permission, providing Hannah is strapped to her brother on the same line.

“Okay,” she shrugs, before I have a chance to decline. We are in a group of fifteen, most of the them adults. I believe she is too young handle this extreme ride. Even Barney from Blue Peter seemed terrified on his inaugural run. But it seems churlish to say no to a practice run on the Little Zipper. Check out how she handles that.

Then we get swept up in the adrenaline of the ride, and the fun of climbing high above Bethesda slate quarry in a tractor and trailer to the Big Zipper. I think there’s a chance Hannah will change her mind when she sees the drop. But I don’t have time to think for long. Before I know it, I am being strapped in, the cable is being released, and am flying down the mountainside, wind at my cheeks and the devil at my feet. Check out this video and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

It is only when I am released from the harness that it really dawns on me how steep and fast it was. And at the same time I can see my daughter, strapped to my son, shooting towards me, blasting over a cliff side and deep lake at 70mph like a Barbie pink bullet. I realise I am shaking. Is it too late to say no?

But Hannah is very brave. And learning how to be even braver.

Is it a bird or is it a mum? Flying on the ziplina at ZipWorld Bethesda

Hannah summons her courage as she contemplates the Big Zipper at ZipWorld Bethesda

Four Seasons of Tests

Four times over the last year, my daughter has tested herself. And me. It takes nerves of steel to see us through these tests. On both sides. But we are learning a lot about ourselves. Valuable lessons for life. We learn that she is resilient, and confident and capable of more than either of us knew. We learn to trust in her decision making and abilities. We learn that she can say yes to adventure, and that I don’t have to say no.

A Slovenian Scooting Challenge

The second time I’m not very brave. But I am starting to learn.

It’s a month later. We are in Slovenia; in the Julian Alps. I’m not sure I want Hannah to scoot 800m down a mountain near Bovec, on a bike without pedals, on a hairpin road without sides, in light traffic. I’m not sure she has the necessary skills. She certainly doesn’t have the experience, she’s hardly ridden a bike on her own and has never set eyes on a Monster Roller Scooter.

Hannah Monster Rolling

Hannah Monster Rolling into town. She can do it!

It only dawns upon me that this is what I have signed her up for as we drive up and up the mountain, onto an old military track, in the afternoon traffic. What if her little fingers can’t work the brakes? What if she falls off the mountain? But there’s no way she’s going to be left out of scooting; it’s her favourite playground activity. She grabs the handlebars and jumps on. I am about to object, and then I remember the zip wire. But I can’t watch this time. I leave her in Stuart’s care. And just look at how she takes the hairpin bends in this video. I’m not the only one concerned, as you can hear from Stuart’s voice.

But Hannah is very brave. And learning how to be even braver.

The Boys were Knights; Hannah was a Damsel

Back in the 17th century, Shakespeare thought he knew about primary school kids and ‘their shiny morning faces,’ ‘creeping unwillingly to school.’ He hadn’t met my boys though. From day one they would have climbed a beanstalk and fought a giant every day to get to preschool. They’d scale a rainbow if they thought there might be pocket money at the end. But Hannah was different. More timid and shy. More ‘I can’t’ than ‘I can’. She learnt to swim late, clung on to stabilisers on her bike long after she needed them. Panicked when put under pressure. Until now. Little by little, saying yes is building her confidence. How could I stand in the way of that?

Jumping into the Bay of Kotor at Night

The boys have always seemed more gung ho, but travel experiences have helped Hannah’s confidence grow.

A Montenegro Wild Swimming Challenge

The third time I’m not very brave. But I am continuing to learn.

It is a month later. We are in Montenegro. I am in a canoe, spinning around in the wind. The boys have decided to swim back from our outing to the charming Our Lady of the Rocks Island. I don’t mind; they are strong swimmers and have life jackets on, it’s a short distance to Perast on the mainland, and we have two canoes to pull them out if they get into trouble. Hannah, also in a life jacket, is on an island with her Dad, about to climb into his canoe. Well, she was.

I watch as she climbs into the water instead and starts to swim. I watch as she dunks under and coughs, and grabs the boat. And then as she launches off again, slowly and surely. My seven year old daughter is in the Bay of Kotor, carving a path through choppy waters on the world’s most beautiful butterfly coast line.The wind is spinning me further and further away from her and she can’t hear me shout. But after a while, I am silenced by her courage and determination.

Slowly, slowly she approaches, tired, and swallowing too much water and complaining that the life jacket is chafing around her arms. She is very brave. And she’s learning how to be even braver. 

Learning how to be brave

Hannah is like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon; over and over. Each time she conquers a challenge, she grows visibly, in self confidence, stature, self belief. She learns that she can do more. And it’s deep learning, not the kind you do in school, with a gold star and a graph and a powerpoint slide. At some point in the year Hannah decides she wants to be an explorer and starts keeping a little diary where she records her adventures.

And as she learns and grows, so do I. I start to have confidence in Hannah’s abilities to judge things for herself. It’s not an overnight transformation, I am still a paranoid Mum, but I am more relaxed each time. And what I have realised is that to allow her to learn to be brave, I have to learn to be brave. Most of all I have to stop saying no. Practice saying maybe. And move onto saying yes. It is a hard lesson for me and a steep curve for us both.

But the learning curve doesn’t end here. The next few years are all about letting her move on, and take on new challenges, and make her own mistakes as well as giving her the freedom and confidence to make her own choices. I hope that when the time comes for her to make the big decisions in life, I’ll have had enough practice at being brave.

Family learning to ski in La Masella Pyrenees

Hannah learning to ski. She now knows she can do it, if she tries. And I am learning to trust that she can.

A Pyrenees challenge

The fourth time I’m not very brave. But I have learnt.

It is eight months later. We are in The Catalan Pyrenees. It is our first day of skiing as a family. Ever. Hannah can do a basic snow plough, learnt in a couple of lessons at the dry slope. The boys are a bit more advanced, having had lessons with the school. Our ski guide takes us to the top of a mountain straight away. I wouldn’t have done this but I don’t object. Hannah copes on the long run down, conquering the mountain with tiny unsteady turns.

Later on, Stuart takes her down a red run. I wouldn’t have done this, but I don’t object. Hannah copes, with wider, more sure turns. By the end of the week, the boys sneak her onto a black run. I wouldn’t have done this, but I don’t object. In fact, I say yes, and I come down with her. Thanks to her year of stretching herself, I now know she can cope. And, of course, she does.

Talking Point

Are you brave with your kids? How do you find the courage to let them do their thing? How do you encourage them to be more brave? Or less brave? Do leave a comment with your thoughts, ideas or experience.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Black slope? There you have me, outrun me again. Would I send my kids down one? I guess I would. Would I take it myself? I guess I have courage to learn.

    From a series of tiny impressions I saw it must have been quite the year for Hannah. Went a path like the one our daughter went, and perhaps beyond.

    But can one really learn (and teach) how to be brave? Surely bravery can only be learned by *exceeding* one’s abilities, if ever so slightly, and surely teaching that would only be possible by neglect? You see, I may laugh at helicopter parenting, but when push comes to shove I am a long way from knowing what limits to allow for. Guess I should really follow your learning curve.

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