Despite a wealth of new research and a swathe of well-meaning interventions, bullying remains a common problem in British schools. That won’t change until we look beyond the ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ labels and teach kids the importance of being kind, writes the anti-bullying campaigner and acclaimed children’s author, Natalie Savvides.

Children's author Natalie Saviides with her family

Children's author Natalie Saviides with her family

I have always loved writing. I’ve written diaries since I can remember, documenting every aspect of life that had any kind of effect on me. I wrote about thoughts, feelings, emotions, events, hopes and dreams, everything. And whilst, as I got older I had imagined maybe one day publishing those diaries, turning them into a kind of guide for girls growing up (which I indeed did), I never thought I’d be writing children’s books! Yet here I am writing an article about my new series of children’s books, Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat – it’s cool to be kind.

Everyone always says that when you have children your life and perspectives change dramatically. Everyone also finds this concept hard to conceive until of course it happens, which it absolutely does! So whilst I never thought I’d be doing this, since having my two children and observing them interacting with their peers and others there seemed nothing more natural to do. I had no stronger desire than to do all that I could to make these children as happy as I could, aware that when they were not in my hands, it was largely out of my hands. So other than do all that I could educating them in the home, I realised I had to make a bigger impact on all children to keep them happy outside of the home! I would write about their little lives and all the things they do and show how to interact with kindness towards each other to make everyone happy and that’s what I did. I created two characters and wrote easy, fun stories around them to help the children engage with each other in a better, more positive, kinder way.

The first inkling came to me in my son’s final year of nursery where a couple of the other boys had clubbed together and were leaving him out. Life experience…, yes, strengthening… yes, character building… yes, but heartbreaking for a mum… YES! After pondering the situation and how best to manage it, I rested on the fact that he had other friends and was leaving for big school soon anyway. Then the real trigger was after some weeks of absolutely loving ‘big school’ scooting off singing how it was the most awesome school in the world how much he loved it, to crying every night and morning not wanting to even go in. Why? Because another little boy had decided to start being mean to him. It was awful, and I felt so helpless, he had done nothing wrong and his little heart was suffering so much. After much chat with the very helpful teachers and talking through everything the best I could with my son, I realised I had to do something.

I wanted to address the bigger picture – not just the isolated situation. This is a problem. You can dance around the topic as much as you like but it is bullying and bullying has to stop. Bullying has become a very real epidemic in this day and age, both physical and mental, creating many extremely serious problems amongst youth of all ages, only made worse by the addition of social media. Kids cannot escape it. We need to tackle this problem before it gets even more out of control. My view is that bullies do not become bullies over night, but that the seed is there from the very start of their social interaction. I decided to tackle the problem from the root by creating a vehicle that would appeal to the youngest age group – and this would be cartoon characters! I created two heart warming, fun loving, upbeat characters to convey the message of kindness, to show children in very simple, understandable ways how to act with kindness to each other, what to do and how it makes us all feel better, with the constant message ‘its cool to be kind.’

Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat are the first true mascots for these important educational messages and the kids are loving them! Anti bullying – Pro kindness. Both Henry & Henrietta, who are indeed big hearts, are teaching children the right thing to do and illustrate how happy it makes us all. Their motto ‘it’s cool to be kind’ carries the message on into the world. By parents, teachers, carers raising awareness of these books to their children, reading them, discussing them and making them a part of the lives of the next generation we will be taking a big step forward in making the world a happier place for our children to grow and flourish in.

Children are the agents of social change and we need a shift towards kindness. The years from birth to six years old are the most important period of a child’s education, the most critical stage in the development of character and their PSED (Personal social emotional development). Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat are targeting this audience to instil the message and moreover make ‘it’s cool to be kind’ a way of life!

Natalie Savvides is a staunch anti-bullying campaigner whose series of Henrietta and Henry Heartbeat books focus on imparting positivity, good behaviour and kindness among young readers aged up to six years old. Meet Henrietta Heartbeat (Austin Macauley Publishers) is available now on Amazon UK priced £9.99 in paperback. Meet Henry Heartbeat, the second in the series, will be published in the UK in January 2019. For further information about Natalie Savvides and her work, go to www.nataliesavvides.com.

Q&A with Natalie Savvides

Female First sits down with the acclaimed author Natalie Savvides to chat more about bullying and the inspiration behind her new series of children’s books.

Tell us about your new books and the characters within them.

My new children’s book series is Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat: It’s Cool to be Kind. The books are about the Heartbeat family that introduces itself in more depth as the new books come out. The first two books Meet Henrietta Heartbeat is the introduction one of the main characters Henrietta and the second book is the introduction to the other main character Henry and should be out early next year. Henry and Henrietta are brother and sister and live by being kind, accepting, tolerant and loving to everyone they encounter making the world a happier place to be in. Henrietta loves to sing and dance, is always smiling and teaches her friends how to be kind to others, whilst Henry loves playing sports particularly football and also always smiles and teaches his friends how to be kind.

Your son was ostracised by his peers at nursery. How did that make you feel and to what extent did this influence your decision to write the books?

Fortunately, this was just one small isolated episode at what was otherwise a very happy time for him – but the incident hit him like a ton of brinks and thus it did me too. I noticed how he just didn’t know how to behave when people didn’t want him around as he simply was happy to be with and entertain everyone! He wasn’t prepared and didn’t understand… I was obviously very hurt as any mother would be – and I tried to explain what I could – how it wasn’t his fault etc But, as every mother knows, it’s not easy to explain things and for them to be understood by such young children so I decide I’d be better off trying to change the circumstances somehow!

Q: Did you raise the situation with his nursery carers and what did they say?

Yes, they said I should not be overly worried about it and see if it continues, whilst they focused on encouraging the children to all play together – lucky it didn’t cause him too much trouble but from my point of view I didn’t like or understand why children would do that so I wanted to try and teach them how everyone is happier when kind to each other.

Do you think carers and educators are doing enough to protect children from the three main forms of bullying: face-to-face, covert and online?

I think they are doing their best probably although it’s difficult to say. I do think they need a helping hand in the form of a mascot or a tool to help transmit messages of kindness – this is where Henry & Henrietta come in as valuable vehicles of the message of kindness and educators of positive behaviour.

Is it possible, do you think, for schools to implement ‘kindness’ into their internal policies and protocols? How would this work in practice?

Yes I definitely believe this is possible – I think as in recent years (…..) education was introduced for teens – I feel there is need for lessons in kindness. It would be easy to do and there is a wealth of material to cover. I also believe kind behaviour should be recognised and rewarded in the same way that good academic or creative behaviour does.

What’s next for you?

Next for me is focusing on raising the awareness of Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat as kindness ambassadors and anti-bullying mascots! This will also include getting the rest of the series published and distributed far and wide. As I mention in point 1, I’m looking forward to introducing the other members of the Heartbeat family in subsequent books. My children and their friends were particular keen to meet Mummy & Daddy Heartbeat, so these are currently in the process of being trademarked in order to get them out to the public soon! I am also in the process of developing some Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat ‘it’s cool to be kind’ merchandise to promote the message of kindness via different means. Watch this space!


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