We all love characters. From Oliver Twist to Elsa we rally around them and follow their journeys with awe. There’s hardly a dry eye when Simba loses his dad and gets banished from the kingdom. We held our breath when Merida was scampering to reverse the curse on her family. Characters and their stories don’t simply entertain us. They also take us on intense journeys heightened with different feelings and emotions. What can we really learn from these talking animals, well organized toys or badass princesses? Let’s find out.
Explore and understand feelings
A single character can help us explore a wide variety of feelings. We all experience more than one emotion per day. However, for instance by following the story of Z, an ant trying to reconcile his own individuality, in less that 1.5 hours we are exposed to an array of feelings. We can witness joy, surprise, fear, frustration as well as loneliness, rejection and loss. Thus, characters can help little children find out about unfamiliar and difficult feelings, and begin to understand what they are all about.
Learn to express emotions
Even us adults sometimes struggle to express our emotions. We have a hard time dealing with feelings such as disappointment or embarrassment, and may try to repress them ourselves. As a result, we may try to shield little kids from feeling these emotions, by for instance always letting them win or assuring them no one saw them fall. This is where characters come in real handy. Whether it’s in an animated movie or a picture book, the overly exaggerated expressions and emotions shown by protagonists provide excellent learning moments. It is much easier to learn how to express these feelings by looking at or listening to the characters experience them. Moreover, this could be used as a starting point for a conversation on the importance of expressing feelings in a constructive way, as opposed to explaining the same in isolation and out of context.
Relate from a safe distance
One of the most wonderful things about characters is that they help us to explore topics and emotions from a distance. Children can learn how to deal with monsters under the bed or death of a loved one, without it actually happening to them or someone they know in real life. It’s much easier to say ‘This character has real trouble controlling his temper. What can he do about it?’, as opposed to ‘You have a problem with controlling your temper’ to the child himself. Thus, we can talk about characters in a way we can’t about ourselves.
Develop emotional literacy
Using characters we can discuss feelings that children haven’t experienced yet. This can help them to develop their emotional literacy in a non reactive way. For example your little one may be getting ready for the first day back at the kindergarten after the summer break. A story about meeting new people can help her understand feelings such as excitement and anxiety. Moreover, what if the characters in the story are new to a school, the city or even the country? What if some of them look a little different and are worried about being bullied? Characters enable kids to empathize and explore what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Children can learn that they are not alone in experiencing certain life events or a set of difficult emotions. Most importantly, characters prepare kids for the future, by empowering them to tackle challenging experiences they may face.
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