DEAR JOHN

John Cowan on par­ent­ing ev­ery­day he­roes

Parenting - - In This Issue - John Cowan

Bul­ly­ing is ter­ri­ble. There are lots of ways to bat­tle it but one of the best ways – and one I par­tic­u­larly like – is to en­list he­roes.

A hero is an­other kid who will step up and de­fend the vic­tim. Re­search shows that when a peer in­ter­venes in a bul­ly­ing sit­u­a­tion, the bul­ly­ing stops within 10 sec­onds, 57% of the time1. I am not talk­ing about the cap­tain of the 1st XV or the big­gest per­son in the school. I am just talk­ing about an­other reg­u­lar child who steps in and de­fends the vic­tim. Why is it so ef­fec­tive? I think it’s be­cause it spoils things for the bully. Most bul­ly­ing hap­pens be­cause bul­lies are try­ing to win their peers' re­spect and ac­cep­tance. When they find out that their peers ac­tu­ally dis­ap­prove of what they are do­ing, they will stop really quickly. When the crowd boos in­stead of ap­plauds, the bully is be­ing taught a very valu­able les­son.

He­roes can tell the bully to stop. They can help the vic­tim walk away. They can re­cruit friends to help the vic­tim. They can be­friend the vic­tim. They can get an adult.

Where do you find he­roes? In­side the hearts of most kids. Just like any kid can be a

Where do you find he­roes? In­side the hearts of most kids. Just like any kid can be a bully‚ al­most any boy or girl can be a hero.

bully, al­most any boy or girl can be a hero. It has to be ap­pealed to and in­spired, but that heroic na­ture, that be­lief in do­ing the right thing, is there in­side of good kids. So par­ents, in­spire your kids to be he­roes. They don’t need to have lots of mus­cles – they just need com­pas­sion and courage. They don’t need to use their fists, just their pres­ence, sup­port for the vic­tim, and a few words to let the bully know that it isn’t work­ing, that the vic­tim is not alone, and that the bully is not im­press­ing any­one.

I was talk­ing to the deputy prin­ci­pal of a school about how they deal with bul­ly­ing. The school has many strate­gies but one of their most suc­cess­ful is shoul­der tap­ping a boy (it was a boys’ school) who has dig­nity and mana, and chum­ming him up with the boy be­ing picked on.

To set your kids up to be he­roes, here are some qual­i­ties to cul­ti­vate in them.

Courage

It takes guts to be a hero – you risk be­ing made a tar­get of bul­ly­ing. It can hap­pen, but not of­ten be­cause a hero who steps up usu­ally has the ul­ti­mate bully re­pel­lent – poise and as­sertive­ness. The true na­ture of courage sur­prises many chil­dren. It is not an ab­sence of fear­ful emo­tion but rather the moral force to act even if you are feel­ing afraid. Courage can be taught in all those scary sce­nar­ios chil­dren face – when they go to the den­tist, fly in a plane, get an in­jec­tion, need to make a speech at school, stay at a friend’s home or take on some other chal­lenge. Em­pathise with the un­com­fort­able emo­tion but ex­press your con­fi­dence in them. Tell them, “You might feel a bit scared but that’s okay. You are feel­ing an emo­tion, but if it is the right thing to do, you just go straight on and do it.” Fear can rob your chil­dren of more trea­sures and ad­ven­tures in life than any­thing else. Let them know that feel­ing the fear, but act­ing any­way, can be won­der­ful.

Strong ethics

The com­mon fea­ture of just about ev­ery tar­get of bul­ly­ing is that they are dif­fer­ent in some way from the group the bully wants to im­press – a dif­fer­ent race or cul­ture, shorter, taller, older, richer, poorer etc. For your child to learn that it is wrong to bully, they have to be­lieve in the huge value of ev­ery sin­gle per­son. This is some­thing they learn most from you – your com­ments and ac­tions are in­cred­i­bly po­tent in­flu­ences. They pick up a lot – the com­ments you make dur­ing the news, your at­ti­tude to­wards peo­ple of dif­fer­ent races, the stereo­types and prej­u­dices you ex­press. At times we need to be ex­plicit. Tell them clearly about your be­lief in the im­mense value of ev­ery­one.

Con­fi­dence

Your chil­dren may want to help but they also need to be­lieve that do­ing the right thing will be worth­while. One of the best ways to learn this is through sto­ries. Many tales like The Hob­bit have big, strong ‘he­roes’ – but point out that the real he­roes in the story are the hob­bits – smaller and weaker, and yet act­ing with true courage.

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