"All About Me" or Empathy? How to Influence the Hearts and Minds of Children
By the time I entered the picture, the work was done. At least on the outside.
From my mother Lynn's training as an American Greetings artist, she knew how to design a girl character for maximum appeal: big eyes, primary colors, long curls, pink cheeks, freckles, and of course, adding a soulful quality that defines definition. Lynn had created a million dollar girls card line for AG, and many years later, decided to create characters of her own ( Blog :The Card Line that Made American Greetings Richer ).
Her goal: to change the world through these three little girls.
How to influence the hearts and minds of children through the triplets? Now it was my turn. But first, I had a little work to do.
Blackboards Are for the Birds
As much as I adored children all my life, I was determined I would never be a teacher. ( Blog: From Merlot to Montessori). I covered my ears whenever my mom called me “The Pied Piper of Children.” She knew my calling. In my then 23 year-old mind, teaching was not cool, not hip, and conjured this picture in my imagination. It wasn't me.
But I have come to find that God and mothers know best. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the company of joyful children calling me, "Miss Kelly."
My wonderful 15-year teaching career was spent primarily in Montessori preschool and elementary classrooms. Maria Montessori’s profound respect for children moved me. It was during those years I realized that teaching reached far beyond academics. The Montessori philosophy of educating the whole child, (not just their brain but their inner spirit), mixed with my passion to inspire students to be kind and empathetic, made a lasting impression.
“…You may be an English teacher, but that is only half of what you teach. Thank you for teaching us more than nouns and verbs. You are always on a mission to help others and encourage us without thinking of yourself. Like the Birthday Triplets, you are brave, kind, and smart beyond measure. These are things that make you a teacher we will miss forever….” Nora, age 10.
I share this excerpt from my student not to shine on myself. What surprised me most at the end of an year-long teaching post was the number of letters to me where students shared the same theme: a sense of gratitude and empowerment that they could make a difference in the lives of others.
I believe that many children are longing for this connection to share their own inner goodness. It resonates with them on a very deep level. They just need to be shown how.
"All About Me" or Empathy?
I recently read a shocking statistic: Since the year 2000, empathy has dropped by 40%. According to Michele Borba, the author of Unselfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, we live in the age of the selfie, the ubiquitous symbol of narcissism. The focus on self, to the exclusion of others, is harmful to our children.
According to Borba, more than the photos themselves, the idea behind them-that we are the center of our world-is the problem, reflecting a decreased focus on others and a lack of empathy. Borba states that these low levels of empathy are rampant in our culture and in kids that's associated with bullying, cheating, weak moral reasoning, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
“...Indeed, research suggests the sooner we learn to empathize, the better off we are in the long run. People exposed to empathy earlier in life have greater and longer- lasting emotional benefits than those exposed to it later, or not at all….Empathetic children and adolescents are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors, like sharing or helping others.” Why We Should Teach Empathy to Preschoolers By Shuka Kalantari
Could a Surprise Birthday Party Be the Answer?
While developing Candi, Cookie, and Coco we were blessed to have the guidance of those in the children’s entertainment industry. The captivating looks of the triplets had strong market potential, but we needed more than cute girls to make the kind of global impact that could influence the way children think and relate to each other. We needed to reach the heart on a deeper level. What was missing? Their essence.
I don’t remember how I came up with the idea of having the triplets celebrate birthdays. Thinking back on my work with preschoolers, I knew how much they adored their birthdays. The children happily chatted away about this special day months in advance and tried to countdown to the best of their abilities. It’s only 32 more days!
After Lynn agreed to the new concept (no easy task to redesign the look of the triplets) I wanted to take it even further. How could we encourage empathy? And thus, the concept came to its full fruition:
The Birthday Triplets bring magical surprise parties to those whose birthdays have been forgotten. It is not until the end of each story or episode that they find out the mystery of "who."
Granny Rosie felt sad. "I should have known that again I'd be spending my birthday alone." From the book, The Birthday Triplets.
Suddenly having three magical children appear can be a bit of a surprise.
...Granny opened her eyes to a marvelous sight. "A birthday party for ME!" she shrieked with delight.
A Sprinkle of Kindness, A Dash of Bravery and a Touch of Being Our Best
In creating the personalities of the girls, we looked for attributes that would most influence children in their formative years.
You're Scared Too?
In the New York Times article,Your Brain On Fiction, the brain does not make much of a differentation between reading about an experience and actually experiencing it in life. The same neurological regions are activated. For children, reading a story where characters are grappling with something similar to their own lives, gives them a chance to almost experience it for themselves and examine it from multiple perspectives. It's powerful.
Below: From the upcoming second book in their series:
The Birthday Triplets and the Happy Horse Race Adventure
“Come back! I’m scared,” the boy howls, teary-eyed.
Candi pulls on the reigns. It was time to decide.
“Don’t stop!” yells a rider. “You’re just about there.
He was mean to us all. Why should you care?”
But deep in her heart Candi knows what to do.
“When someone is mean, I don’t have to be too.”
In their imaginative stories, Candi, Cookie and Coco Birthday experience love, fear, forgiveness, jealousy, curiosity, empathy, kindness and more. It is our goal that, through the Birthday Triplets, children will grow in their awareness of their own emotions as well as the feelings of others. They don't have to wait to be adults to make a difference. It starts now.
"Children can change the world."