Princess Proofing (Part Three) :: Practicing Empathy

7 years ago

Welcome to Princess Proofing 101 ~ there is no prerequisite for this course, and it is open to all parents of girls and boys.  If you are still dusting off pink or purple glitter and swearing that the stuff should be labelled a biohazard, but you use it anyway because "princesses are sparkly", this might be the series for you.    If *you* chose to coat your skin in glitter because youlove the way it shines, carry on. Because it is all about the choice.

Check out the introduction post if you wonder what all this is about (and keep in mind, I have a tendency to type with tongue firmly in cheek)~ this series is meant to take a fun but intentional look at the challenge of raising a child in a princessified (yes, it is a word, I swear it!) culture.

 {{empathy (n)  the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person's feelings.}}

Chances are, that when your child watches a movie, or reads a book, they empathize (identify) with the main character~ the Princess.  And that is they way it is intended.  When we watch Snow White, we are expected to follow her story and see through her eyes.  To support her, care about her and understand her.  We know she is The Important One.

Charlotte Milchard as the Queen

 But what if we watched the movie through Grumpy's eyes?
And felt the imposition of this girl on his ordered bachelor existence?
Or followed the Wicked Queen through her waning beauty and the pains of aging and seeing her power slipping away with her good looks and the favour of her Mirror?
Or considered how the huntsman must feel being asked to remove the princess' heart?

While stories are written to draw us into a particular point of view, it is an excellent life lesson in developing empathy to consider the others in the tale.

Admittedly, the others are often drawn thinly, especially the villains, who tend to be flat, simple characters.  But what does that tell our children? That some people are just bad people and they should be rejected, dismissed, judged.  That we should cheer at their failures and laugh at their demise. Ouch.

When my daughter was 3 1/2,  we went to see a local stage production of The Wizard of Oz.  When the Lion threw the Wicked Witch into the fire, the whole theatre burst into spontaneous and joyful applause.  Rowan turned to me, with tears in her eyes, and asked why everyone was happy that the 'lady got hurt'.

If our children only read through the eyes of the princesses they are given a view of life that is more than a little skewed.  Where the bad stuff is only backstory in a life destined to be saved by wealth and handsomeness.
That life only really begins, or matters, when one gets kissed, or married, or comes into their throne. 

But even the princesses have more depth than is often considered! Check out Bunmi Zalob's funny and insightful series of posts "If They'd Had Mothers". And I will give props to 'Tangled' (the movie) for at least offering some angst and resentment on the part of the princess locked int he tower!

An excellent exercise for broadening our children's points of view and growing their innate empathy is to invite them to hear or view a familiar and beloved story from another vantage point.  Watch the Little Mermaid from Sebastian the Crab's perspective.  Talk about what might drive the Sea Witch to such villainy.  Consider what other choices characters could make.

I am not talking about psychoanalyzing the folks that populate these stories (ie. Ursula would be kinder if she loved herself more) but simply entering, imaginatively, into their points of view as we are able to understand them from the evidence presented.

The Wicked Queen isn't *mean* to Snow White just because she is a 'bad person', but rather she is clearly jealous and terrified of losing her position.  Have you ever felt jealous? How did it feel in your body? How did it make you act? What did you do about it? What could you do about it? What could the Queen have done differently? Share your own stories that relate to the topic.  Explore how jealousy makes us feel and act.  Offer the opportunity to understand that everyone gets jealous, it doesn't make us a bad person... but we have choices about how we will handle the feeling....

It can be as simple as asking 'What do you think Jaffar's mommy would think about what he is doing?'~ remembering that even bad guys have mommies!

When we draw our little princesses out of their glass slippers to remember that this moment, standing in the cinders matters, too, we offer them a fuller, more meaningful understanding of life.

Practicing empathy means practicing being a compassionate and caring human being who recognizes and values the humanity in other people.

Practicing empathy makes life more complicated, absolutely.  People are not 2D cut outs, good or bad. Princess or villain. People are complex and confusing and beautiful and frightening and wonderful.

Just like us.

••What do you think?  Please add your thoughts and comments to the comments for this post!••

1) Don’t call me Princess
Get outside and get dirty.
Practice Empathy ::Consider other points of view
Share the classic Fairy Tales
5) Be Creative (act, sing, dance, make...)
6) Develop a variety of interests
7) Keep toys simple and open ended
8) Avoid the Pink Aisle/ Resist the Hype
Keep child’s play child friendly and child focussed
10) Love the Rainbow
The Real Thing
12) The Fairy Cheat


Lori @ Beneath the Rowan Tree

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