The following was produced in partnership with our friends at the Disney Princess ‘Dream Big, Princess’ campaign, whose empowered characters inspire girls to dream big and achieve big. For every girl who dreams big, there’s a Princess to show her it’s possible.
As you may have noticed, it’s getting harder to teach kids about kindness and acceptance — and not just because you can’t teach someone to not judge a book by its cover when most reading is done on an iPad. It’s because kids, while naturally empathetic, are equally selfish. The pressure — especially for young girls — to judge their peers based on their looks more than their character is real. So how can you get them to treat others as they’d like to be treated? Take some inspiration from some of the most inspiring, empowered women in movie history: Disney princesses.
In Beauty And The Beast, Belle’s story is all about seeing the good in everyone — even through dense layers of fur. By being kind, Belle learns the Beast isn’t beastly. She discovers kitchenware isn’t just good for cooking, it can be super-friendly (and impeccably choreographed). And even though there’s no good in Gaston, Belle’s still polite when she flat out rejects him. Her neighbors mock her for having her head in the clouds, but hey, she’s staying true to herself. Between this type of role model and some proven parenting science, you should have no problem showing your daughter that being kind is a tale as old as time.
Lessons For Kids
Kids are naturally empathetic, but their young minds are constantly changing, and not always for the better. Fortunately, there are some proven ways to teach your daughter empathy and kindness just like Belle:
Give them an emotional pop quiz. Use flashcards, mime, or even point out people in your neighborhood to explain why people have certain facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Even if you mute Beauty And The Beast, your kid should know what the characters are feeling by the looks on their faces — and yours when you start tearing up during their first dance.
Engage in random acts of kindness. You could welcome a stranger over by singing “Be Our Guest,” but there are less elaborate (and embarrassing) ways. Raising a kind kid starts with you being a model of kindness and giving them chances to join. Volunteering and doing chores is where it starts, but tie these actions to real issues. When you show them how it affects other people, you put your kid in someone else’s shoes. How would they feel if they were hungry? Or didn’t have a home? Or broke a magic mirror because someone didn’t clean up after themselves?
Read the right books. Read emotionally charged stories to help kids learn to understand different perspectives (and Dad’s acting range). It also sparks conversations about feelings and inspires kindness; it’s no surprise that reading is Belle’s favorite pastime. Everyone in town thinks she’s “funny,” but she’s too kind to acknowledge them. She also notes her favorite part of the story is when the protagonist meets Prince Charming, but won’t discover that it’s him until Chapter 3. Here’s where you can teach them about foreshadowing.
Live by a motto. A family motto is a simple, repeatable way to forge solidarity around shared values, like respecting and caring for others. And you can tape it to the fridge! This written reminder to model good behavior at home will really stick out from the finger paintings. Here’s a great starting point: “Be kind to everyone, especially people you don’t know yet.” They might turn out to be a kindly old cook trapped in a teapot.
Lessons For Parents
It’s fairly simple — practice what you preach and model good behavior for your kids inside and outside the house. As you may remember, the townspeople in Beauty And The Beast were all “torch this” and “pitchfork that,” but Beast and his buddies didn’t feel as vindictive. Here’s how to hold a magic mirror of kindness up to your kid:
Awareness is different from understanding. If you don’t know something, don’t say something. Ignorance can lead to saying or doing things you don’t mean — like trying to burn down a castle because you never bothered to find out the beast inside is actually just a guy looking for love like everyone else. Instead, educate yourself about perceived differences, then educate someone else. A father of a child with special needs probably knows more about his kid’s life, and he’d be happy to share.
Closed-off is as bad as closed-minded. Everyone has challenges or situations in life that feel uncomfortable to discuss. Heck, Beast wasn’t exactly a talk therapy kind of guy. But more often than not you’ll find people understand and are willing to lend support like Belle rather than call you a monster like Gaston.
Don’t make it harder than it already is. There is a moment happening right now where brilliant books are being judged by their covers. Gender identity is innate to who people are. So while you can’t change how your kid identifies, you can give them a clear message about it. Be open-minded. Refuse to let your family be peer pressured. And understand that while some of society may not agree with it, if your son wants to be Belle for Halloween (or your daughter want to be a mean Beast), they can be your guest.
All of this seems easy enough in theory, but in it’s often not in practice. You may find yourself making assumptions, being judgmental, and not acting completely prince or princess-like all the time. Keep trying. Show your kids that this is important. And remember: seeing the good in everyone is a better way to go through life than carrying around a pitchfork.
Learn more about Disney Princess ‘Dream Big, Princess’ and follow them on Facebook and Instagram for more inspiration to help girls dream big and achieve big. For every girl who dreams big, there’s a Princess to show her it’s possible.