John Cowan on parenting everyday heroes
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.
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.
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.
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.