Alien characters, self awareness, and more. In this episode, Andy and Adam are joined again by Justin Bullard, Founder and CEO of MPath Productions, to discuss the value of developing empathy skills and emotional intelligence in children. What’s the value of monster or alien characters in terms of connecting with kids? Plus, hear what are the emotional differences between kids and adults... are there even any?
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Hi. I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello. I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi. I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the School of School Podcast.
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All right, everyone. Thanks for joining us for another episode. Today, we're talking about the value of developing empathy skills and emotional intelligence in children. And not just me and Adam, but we also have Justin Bullard with us. So, Justin, come on quick. Quick word. Say hi, first of all. Hi.
Hi, guys. Hi. Yeah, Justin Bullard, founder and CEO of Mpath Productions. And our mission is to create empathy through entertainment.
So, why entertainment? What does entertainment have to do with emotional intelligence in children? How do you develop empathy and emotional intelligence in children with entertainment?
Well, I think entertainment is so incredibly powerful. I think that, especially when it comes to kids, the best way to reach them is to have fun and to not just put lessons in front of them and make them learn. But you want to give them activities and outlets that are entertaining first. I think for me, especially, I use as a touchstone Jim Henson's Sesame Street, the monsters of Sesame Street. That was an amazing show packed full of educational content, learning to read, learning to count, all those sort of basic things. But it was, first and foremost, a fun show, a funny show. And that stuff really, really sticks.
I think, especially in sort of today's world, kids are just bombarded constantly by endless entertainment. My gosh. I can't imagine what it would be like to be an eight-year-old with Netflix. I got to watch a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons and that was pretty much it. There was literally nothing else. And so, I think it's so important to create entertainment for kids that has positive lessons. And not just passive entertainment but interactive entertainment. I think the way I see kids really sticking with something and getting more out of it than they do just sort of constantly brainlessly watching something is to have some interaction to it. So, interactive storytelling, games, that's interactive toys. That's the way to sort of keep them engaged in something and give them these important emotional intelligence lessons through the entertainment side of it.
Adam, what's your take on all this?
I was just going to say, I've seen your work, and I've seen the Alpha Squad. They're cool. They're cool. I'd love... I don't think we've got time now to sort of run through the names then, but I'll leave that. I'll do my research. I'll get online. But I was interested when you're talking about Sesame Street, which I grew up with, loved to bits, and never thought at any point that the characters themselves, because of that they weren't human, gave more scope to, I don't know, understanding of people who are different, who may think differently. And those sorts of things. Was that a really important thing when you were deciding? You're the founder. You're the CEO. When you were deciding on who the characters, you could have made them human. Right? But you chose not to. That wouldn't just be a nod to Jim Henson, I'm assuming.
Did I say John or Jim then?
I hope I said Jim. Yeah. Good, good. Yeah. Sorry, carry on.
Yeah. I've said it before Jim Henson is sort of my hero. He's my idol. I was setting out to develop something. I was sitting there, and I was thinking like, "Okay. One, who do I want to make it for?" And that was my kids. And that's that alpha generation kids, the modern kids, just sort of 2010 and on, that are in this world that's unlike anything we've ever seen before. Constant social media and internet and all of that sort of modern world stuff.
And then I thought, "Okay. Well, what are my biggest inspirations?" And I thought, "Oh, the Sesame Street monsters." First, that's the top of the thing, Sesame Street. Growing up, Sesame Street really meant a lot to me. We moved around a lot, and I sort of was never in one place for very long. And Sesame Street was one of those things that was always there for me. And it was one of these constants in my life. And I thought, "Well, they're monsters. I can't do monsters." And then, it sort of hit me like a bolt of lightning. It's aliens. One, I'm from Roswell, New Mexico, and aliens have been-
It's in your blood.
It's in my blood.
Literally. Yeah, literally.
And then, I realised that aliens have that potential to sort of embody any number of things. Right? Much in the same way that Oscar the Grouch is about being grumpy and wanting to be left alone. And sort of the grumpy guy with the heart of gold. Aliens can embody that same sort of thing. And we have a bunch of characters that... One, our sort of main cast, Captain Pi, she's the leader of the squad. And she's about compassionate empathy, the understanding what people are feeling and trying to do something about it. Her foil is this character named Omega, and he's a cognitive empathy. He understands things but doesn't feel it and uses it to manipulate.
And then, we have other characters that embody things like dealing with ADHD. I actually, personally, have suffered from ADHD, and it took me a long time to realise what that was and why. And the interesting thing is I think if I've had a monster on Sesame Street that had that sort of baked in there, maybe I would've realised before that I was sort of dealing with that. And I think that there's just so much awesome potential to have characters that embody any number of things in an inspirational, inclusive, and fun and respectful way. So, man, I just love it.
I suppose, at the end of the day, you want those values instilled in your kids primarily. In the first instance, I guess, they're quality control. Right? They probably get to see everything before anyone else and give you the good, honest truth about... Honesty, that's a very good trait. But also, I suppose, it's a way of developing those values in others that maybe don't have as many examples available to them and that perhaps aren't as accessible as about Sesame Street was in our day. And I guess that's something that you want to put on.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my kids are my number one audience. When I had kids, that is the number one focus. I think my main goal in life is... I've said it before. If you're on your deathbed, and your kids are there and they say, "Oh, dad, you were an amazing dad. You did such a great job." Then, you essentially won. You did it. You won at life. And so, it's really them first and foremost.
And on a larger scale, I think that there is so much potential and so much room to tackle some of these modern-day challenges. And I think kids are ready for this sort of thing. We have a character that kind of represents being on the autistic spectrum. And I think having a representative character that is sort of managing that and is sort of about that. One, it gives every kid that watches it kind of a frame of reference and a little bit of empathy and understanding towards what it would be like to be dealing with that. And two, it gives kids that are actually dealing with that something inspirational. And they can see themselves reflected. It's just super, super important.
Let's talk a little bit about emotional intelligence. When we're talking about emotional intelligence to children, what are we really talking about? How's that different than emotional intelligence in adults?
I don't think it is all that different. I think these are the sort of like the base. The base things are kind of always the same. I think that whether you're a kid sort of understanding why you are feeling something. I think empathy towards oneself is absolutely crucial. Why are you feeling something? Why is someone else feeling something? What are they feeling? Can you do something about it? Should you do something about it? How can you help? Those skills are just as valuable for a kid on the playground or adults in the boardroom.
So, Adam, as an observer in a laboratory called the school. Right? You've had all this wide range of children, parents, teachers that you've had to negotiate with. And obviously emotional intelligence is something that plays a huge role in all those relationships. What would you say are some of the key things? In essence, what I think I'd like to ask is how much self-awareness about your own emotional intelligence is important? Obviously, everyone has a certain level of emotional intelligence, a certain level of empathy, whether they are aware of it or not. How important is it that you're aware of things like empathy and your own emotional skills when it comes to developing those relationships?
It's absolutely huge, Andy. There's a part of the job as the head teacher that was... But by light-years, the most difficult part of the job it involved child protection. So, they're the most vulnerable children in our society and dealing with that. Now, some of those situations that you hear and you're making some pretty heavy judgements. Right? You are judging whether or not, in some cases, were their parents fit along with other people. But those decisions they weigh very heavily as they should do.
Now, some of those situations, I can't empathise with because I've been fortunate. I grew up in a loving household and largely grew up with my mom and she was wonderful and all of those sorts of things. So, you try to empathise, but I think that you've also got to accept your limitations and try to use best judgement . That's quite an extreme situation. But I think that the reality is that we can probably have a bit of an idea about most people's situations. But there's some situations that we can't, and we don't know how that's going to affect other relationships.
So, if it's children, I had one boy in my class, and they were fleeing from Afghanistan. This is years and years and years ago. His father was in the government, and they basically had a price on their head. And they had to get out. Now, when he talked about the situation over there and what they went through to get out, I mean, that's like heavy beyond belief. Right? So, I didn't know how it was going to be socially. I didn't know how those things were going to happen, but I suppose what it comes down to is I think what we have to accept is in the first instance, I can't empathise with everyone because I've not lived their lives. I've not walked in their shoes. And it's ridiculous to think that I'd ever be able to fully empathise with everyone.
But I think that what we can do is sort of identify those basic needs that people need. They need love. Right at the top, they need to be loved and cared for and trusted and all those sorts of things. And I think that if we can keep that at the forefront. Whilst we may not be able to empathise with other people, I think understanding those basic needs and trying to protect them and also trying to get a bit of a handle on it when you have a deficit of one of those. What does it look like? So, if a child's been in a household where there's not a lot of love, what does that look like? And how can we manage that in the classroom to try to manage that and to let them feel loved in a classroom? And those sorts of things.
So, I think being aware of limitations and not trying to think, "Oh. Well, I know what it's like." I think that's probably the biggest thing. I grew up largely with just my mom so single mom. But that doesn't mean that I've had the experience of every child growing up with a single mom. That's just not the case. So, yeah. I think those are the biggest and just at the core of it, yeah, understand those basic, simple needs of the human condition to make people happy.
Guys, I'm sorry to be a real bummer here. But we're kind of running out of time because Justin's got a real job running a real company. So, he needs to go off and have some real meetings, not just have a chat with me and Adam. Listen, Justin, thanks so much for joining us. Yeah. I really enjoyed the conversation. It's given us a lot to think about, the importance of empathy, the importance of emotional intelligence. And thank you all for joining us as well. Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.