I have to confess that when I started writing the first book in The Smart Princess Series, my focus was on the role models and examples my daughter was seeing in the ‘classic’ princess stories. I thought better role models and empowering inner beliefs were the most important to her growing up confident, happy, and healthy.
I still think those are critical, but now I see at the time I under estimated empathy.
While empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, sometimes is dismissed as a ‘nice to have’ element, new research show that empathy has a surprising role in kids' happiness, well being, and success.
And what’s important for us parents and caregivers to realize is that empathy is not a trait we are born with according to research in the book Unselfie. Empathy has to be taught, and it’s a talent that kids can cultivate and improve.
So, if the research shows that empathy is a positive indicator of not only happiness and health but also reading and math test scores, critical thinking skills, success and performance - how do we teach it?
The book Unselfie identifies four crucial fundamentals for developing empathy:
1) Emotional literacy: Recognizing and understanding feeling and needs of ourselves and others
2) Moral Identity: Adopting caring values that guide integrity and activate empathy
3) Perspective Taking: Stepping into others shoes to understand that person’s feelings, thoughts and views
4) Moral imagination: Using stories, films and emotionally charged images as inspiration to feel with others
There are various ways to help teach your child empathy using the 4 fundamentals mentioned above and Unselfie has suggestions. But for a princess obsessed loved one, the Smart Princess books offer several examples that can help you talk with them about emotions and empathy.
While Smart Mulan has the most focus on kindness and empathy of the books in the series so far, there are useful examples in the other books as well that can be conversation starters with your loved one:
1. In Smart Cinderella on page 22, after her step sisters rip up her dress, Cinderella has her face down. Here an option is to ask your loved one, “What do you think she’s feeling here? Why do you think she’s feeling like that? What do you think she is thinking right now? If we were in this story what could we do to try to help her feel better?” Then on the next two pages as Cinderella remembers what her parents told her, her expression and body language changes a lot. This is a good place to ask the same questions.
2. In The Smart Little Mermaid on page 13, the Little Mermaid is thinking about the people that have been polluting the ocean. Here an option is to ask “What do you think she’s feeling right now? Why is she feeling like that? Can you think of a time when you may have felt the same way that the Little Mermaid feels?” Then on page 36 when her dad uses his magic, the Little Mermaid has a very different expression that can be discussed.
3. In Smart Sleeping Beauty on page 24 she is frantically mixing right after the mean fairy pricked her with the needle and Sleeping Beauty knows she will fall asleep soon. Here an option is to also ask, “What do you think she’s feeling right now? Why is she feeling like that? How would you feel if you were Sleeping Beauty?" Then on page 29 the Prince finds out what happened. Here an option is to discuss the same questions about what he is feeling and thinking. Then on the next page when he reads the note his expression changes. Here is a good place to talk about how he feels now and why.
4. In Smart Beauty and the Beast on page 13 we see the beast with the words “The beast seemed gentle to her, and it also seemed sick and scared”. Here, if the beasts isn’t too creepy for your young one (we tried to make him gentle looking…) you can ask how he looks like he is feeling. “Why do we think he’s feeling that way? How would you feel if you were the beast here?” Then on page 22 as Belle is explaining to the crowd that the Beast is the Prince. “What does it look like the Beast is feeling now? What do we think he is thinking?”
5. In Smart Rapunzel on page 15 Rapunzel is looking at a test tube of soil. An option here is to ask how she is feeling and why? “Have you ever felt that way? Why?” Then two pages later there is an image of two farmers. “How do they look like they are feeling?” Then on page 23 the Prince tries to introduce himself. “What does it look like Rapunzel is thinking?” But on the next page when the Prince explains to Rapunzel what’s going on in the kingdom her expression is very different. “What does it look like she is feeling now? Why did her expression change? What do you think she is thinking?” Then on page 32 when Rapunzel finds her parents they are hugging. “How do we think they feel? What are they thinking?”
6. In Smart Mulan on page 6 and 7 and again on 13, the story talks about empathy. Here an option is to talk about how the people with Mulan on these pages are feeling. You can talk about each one and their expressions and body language. “What does it look like they are feeling on these pages? What is Mulan trying to do to help them? What do you think she might be able to say to them to help them?” Another option here is to them ask your loved one of times in school they saw someone feeling similar. Did they understand what that person was feeling or thinking? Is there something they may be able to do next time to help?
As in the previous topics, the key is to use your parenting superpowers to make them relatable to your loved one!
So that is our 3 part series. We hope you found it useful and that you enjoy using the books and example to talk to your loved ones about their incredible brain and amazing potential!
We’d love to hear if these have been helpful. Please message us and let us know. Even just a ‘Yes’ reply back would be great! Getting replies makes our day!
All our best,
PS – if you prefer to read physical books with your loved one, books 1-3 are available HERE. The others are coming soon.