The concept of sharing is one of the most challenging yet fundamental lessons that we teach our children. Study after study shows that this skill is the first step in becoming a cooperative, compassionate, and generous person, learning to work on a team, and aligning values with action. Research also shows that an understanding and willingness to share is even critical to learning math as well as being happy.
How can we help our kids develop empathy, generosity, and collaboration? Using The Campfire Method, parents can work with their children on these themes during one of the most intimate and connected moments of the day: storytime.
Take the ancient Aztec mythology from Central Mexico, surrounding the invention of chocolate. An important ritual for the Aztec civilization, there are several different creation myths around its birth, all of which see chocolate as a ‘gift from the gods.’ One of these variations models the concepts of empathy, generosity, and teamwork, as one god elects to share this special food with the people on Earth. I’ve interpreted this story for parents below.
Xolotl, the god of the sickness, and his twin brother, Quetzalcoatl, the god of the life, were always fighting. Whereas Quetzalcoatl loved to interact with people on Earth, Xolotl kept to himself.
Every morning, Xolotl would go to his favorite tree on Earth and eat a special fruit, the cacao bean, that grew in its pods. Xolotl believed that only the gods were good enough to eat this fruit, so he never opened the pods in front of the people who lived around them. But one morning, by accident, Quetzalcoatl stumbled upon his brother, opening the pods and enjoying the delicious cacao bean. ‘That looks delicious–we should share it with the people that live here. They are learning how to farm and could use its fruit,’ he told Xolotl. But Xolotl refused to share, ‘Why would humans eat the food of gods,’ he replied.
Now, Quetzalcoatl was quite devoted to humans and wanted them to keep growing their community and farms so that they could create a great civilization. So, defying his twin, he turned himself into a little blue frog and perched next to the special trees.
Quetzalcoatl started singing his song, telling the children, “Ribbit, ribbit, search these pods for the fruit of the gods.” Soon, all the children came running over, following the frog’s melodic song. But when they arrived, all they found was a large tree with pods hanging off the branches. Unable to get the pods open, they ran back to their village, telling their families that they had found the food of the gods. When the village gathered around the big tree, they began to open the pods, revealing the rich cacao beans! They cultivated the cacao plant, taking the dark cacao paste from the pods and mixing it with honey from bees that buzzed around the trees, to make a rich chocolate drink. They soon became a powerful civilization–the Aztecs–but never forgot the importance of sharing chocolate–always leaving chocolate under the tree for the little blue frog!
By highlighting specific themes and actions, parents can unearth the values of empathy, generosity, and teamwork in this magical tale.
We can understand other people’s wants and needs. Even though he was a god, Quetzalcoatl cared about what happened to the humans and knew they would benefit from the cacao. His empathy helped him see that the humans would enjoy the plant–and that they may even do something special with it (i.e., invent chocolate). By role modeling Quetzalcoatl’s emotions and thought process with your children, you can help them practice using empathy.
Being generous brings us happiness, too. While Xolotl wanted to keep the cacao to himself, Quetzalcoatl generously shared it with humans. He didn’t gain anything concrete from that act, but it brought him the joy of seeing others satisfied–what science calls the warm glow of generosity–and created a domino effect of good actions that resulted in the birth of chocolate.
We can accomplish more as a team. This story opens with Xolotl enjoying the special fruit of the cacao beans all by himself. But the beans don’t transform into the rich chocolate that we know and love until the community gets ahold of it. Take a moment to highlight the power of sharing and teamwork in innovation and invention for your children, using the Aztec people and civilization as an example.
From the research science behind emotional intelligence to its impact on the corporate world, empathy, generosity, and collaboration have been shown to be the most critical skills in career success, relationship satisfaction, and overall happiness. By using role models and guided discussions in stories like the Legend of Chocolate, you can help your children value and adopt these skills, even from a young age.