The next time you want to be totally surprised, just ask a child to name a hero. Any hero. Some will surely name Superman, because "The Man of Steel" is always pictured helping people with his extraordinary powers.

Maybe one child will pick Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. Many of our young people hold professional athletes in high esteem and think of them as heroes.

Younger children might name Barney (the purple dinosaur), one of the Power Rangers, Batman, or another TV "superpower" character. Older children might think more carefully and name someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rocky, Rambo, Mario Andretti, former Miss America Heather Whitestone, or even Joan of Arc.

How should we choose heroes? Do you remember Scott O'Grady, the American pilot whose plane was shot down over Bosnia? When he got back home and people started calling him hero, he disagreed with them. He said that he was like a "scared little bunny rabbit" who just happened to have his plane shot down.

He insisted that the REAL heroes were members of the helicopter crew who risked their lives to save him.

There's a beautiful song entitled "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler. One line from that song says, "Did you ever know that you're my hero? You're everything I would like to be."

Children are just like the rest of us. We choose our heroes because we admire them for doing something special. Usually, our heroes are famous people whose names are well known. But, our children need to be re-introduced to the idea of what a hero REALLY is.

Here are a few stories that you can tell your children about REAL heroes:

A young fireman in New York City was on the job for only two months when his engine company was called to the scene of a major apartment fire. The building was a mass of flames when the firemen arrived.

The young fireman heard a woman crying, "My husband – he's upstairs. Fourth floor. Please help him." No one else was moving into the building because of the danger, but the young fireman put on his mask, entered the building, climbed to the fourth floor, found the man, and carried him to safety and saved his life.

Another story:

A bank teller on her way to work saw a young child crossing the street in front of a fast-moving truck. The woman ran in front of the truck, threw her body in front of the child, and pushed the little boy to safety. The truck hit her instead of the child.

Another story:

A soldier in France during World War Two saw a friend of his killed by enemy sniper gunfire. Risking his own life, the soldier took his rifle and sought out the sniper, who was hidden in a tree. He shot the sniper and saved many other soldiers' lives.

I honestly don't know the names of the fireman and the bank teller, but I do know that they are real people. I do know the name of the soldier. He is Ivan Remmel, from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, who was one of the World War Two veterans I was privileged to interview for a newspaper series.

If your child needs to identify with a hero, tell him (or her) about these three REAL everyday human beings who did something special to help someone else. These heroes don't fly through the air and change their clothes in telephone booths. They don't "morph" into invincible zords, but their bravery and courage fit the title of "HERO" without a doubt.

Recently, an airplane pilot landed his plane in the Hudson River. People started calling him a hero. He said, "I just did the job for which I was trained." Luckily, he did it well. And, he apparently realizes that the term "hero" is very special.

In today's world, the word "hero" is used too often and without too much thinking. I do not believe that every single soldier fighting in Iraq is a hero. I do not believe that Christopher Reeve was a hero. I do not think that just because you are doing your job in the Armed Forces or were unlucky enough to be hit with a debilitating disease you automatically deserve the title of "hero." But, that's just me. Let me know what you think.

(IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANOTHER EDUCATION AND FAMILY TOPIC WITH DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: jsmith798@sc.rr.com OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.)