When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Many of us know what it means to be a role model, but Angela Santomero knows what it takes to actually create one. The Emmy-award winning creator of the iconic “Blues Clues” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” cartoons, Santomero is a driving force behind educational programming for children. As children are consuming more media than ever, she realizes the importance of creating on-screen role models. According to Santomero, creating an influential TV icon is simple — it all comes down to having quality traits, and being good company. “I want to know that I like the characters my kids watch on TV enough to have them over for dinner,” she says.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Angela Santomero: Wake up my brain, drink a protein shake, shower (does everyone feel that a shower is a mini vacation like I do?!).
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
AS: I ask for help. Delegation and a strong team is the secret.
TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
AS: When I’m multitasking too much, going too fast, and doing too much, it comes out in my body. I get exhausted, lose my patience, and my stress level goes through the roof. The only thing that allows me to overcome it is to take a pause, delegate, slow down, and do some self-care. For so many years, this seemed to be completely counterproductive — how can I slow down when I have so much to do? The truth is, and I’ve learned the hard way, if I want to be a better boss, writer, mom, and wife, I need to take that pause. And the better ideas usually follow.
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
AS: On the Metro-North train listening to Oprah and Deepak’s meditation app.
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
AS: Two ways:
(1) I let out the negativity by diffusing it with humor vs. suppressing it, and (2) I act on the pivot towards positivity and think of others as if they were preschoolers. Why are they acting out? What do they need?
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?
AS: I ask for stories. My favorite way to connect is to dig deeper and connect more to find out everyone’s story. This has changed the way I view small talk — it’s to talk to fewer people in a deeper way.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
AS: Creating more time and space than needed for a focused activity. It took a while to implement and “find the time,” but adding an additional 15-30 minutes in the schedule helps to keep my stress down if I have a lunch meeting, an offsite, or holding time for myself to write.
TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?
AS: A ponytail!
TG: What are three ways we can be more aware of the choices we are making about media?
AS: For our kids, we can look for high-quality shows that engage kids, make them think, and encourage them to “view and do.” Does the show have a good mix of education, entertainment, and engagement? I call it a “healthy green media smoothie.” A show needs to have the right balance of all three for our kids to want to watch it — and get something out of it.
TG: For years, you have been applying everything you know to making media that helps kids learn, develop, and grow. Aside from exposing them to media, how can we help children thrive?
AS: Following our kids’ lead is one of the most important aspects. To thrive, we want to find their passion and want them to be intrinsically motivated to play, love, and do what they do. If they love a certain show — what else can they read, play, or do with that theme? If they love the violin, what other aspects can they learn? If they love math, what books, interesting math play, or board games can we expose them to? Can we introduce the piano to bring out the mathematical elements? If they like to dress up and play, can we expose them to theater, directing, writing, and other aspects of the arts?
TG: You have said that kids’ media should be a bonding experience. How so?
AS: I encourage asking questions about the characters and stories so we can share in our kids’ excitement. At any age, digging into what is interesting to our kids about their favorite shows and their favorite characters will bond us to them, and is also a great way to learn more about our kids’ interests and questions about the world.
TG: A child’s favorite television show characters naturally become their role models, and some of their most influential teachers. What qualities do you feel make a good role model?
AS: I value care, compassion, empathy, kindness, and characters that promote active listening. I want to know that I like the characters my kids watch on TV enough to have them over for dinner!
TG: You have formulated the “recipe” for the most effective way to educate kids via media. Will you share your recipe with us?
AS: My recipe resembles that of a healthy green media smoothie! The show needs to be educational (the greens!), interactive (the protein!), and entertaining (the sweets!). We want to know that our kids are better off for watching a show than doing anything else. It’s a high bar, but media should meet it.
TG: Younger generations are absorbing more and more media each day. What are some ways that we can control screen time?
AS: Like everything else, screen time needs to be in moderation. Scheduled mini-breaks, adding other activities in the schedule, no screen dinner times, and sports are all good uses of our kids’ time away from screens.
TG: Your business is creating television for children, but now more than ever, we need to be careful about what our kids watch. How can we navigate this?
AS: It’s all about the high-quality content. I’m in this business because I didn’t like much of what was on television for kids at the time. I wanted to change that. As more and more shows enter the world, we need to be that much choosier about shows that we watch. Just like food, quality matters.
TG: Your job requires constant creative thinking. Have you ever run into a creative block? If so, how did you overcome it?
AS: I pause! It really works. I almost always end up thinking — will I never have another idea, ever? And then after my pause — BAM! Something really cool pops into my head. It’s usually a question that I want to answer, or an experiment I want to try. And it’s always something that I have to say and want to say to the world!
TG: You are the author of the book Radical Kindness. What is radical kindness, and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?
AS: When people talk about kindness, they’re normally talking about being “nice” — to neighbors, family, co-workers, and strangers. While that’s true, it’s only a small part of it. When you practice Radical Kindness, you don’t just see with your eyes – you see with your heart. You look past the yelling, hostility, and selfishness of life, and pivot towards understanding, giving the benefit of the date, finding compassion, care, and even diffusing with humor. This Radically Kind shift brings the scientific benefits of kindness to you, to others, and to the world around you. And there are many health benefits to bringing the practice of Radical Kindness to your life — such as lower blood pressure, longevity, lower stress levels, etc.
TG: As a mom yourself, what are your main “clues” for positive parenting?
AS: My three clues would be: talking, bonding and laughing. Or attentive listening, communication, and empathy. Or playing, laughing, and listening.
TG: Has parenting changed the way you create? Have your daughters inspired your writing at all?
AS: My daughters have inspired me since the beginning. I was pregnant when Mrs. Pepper was pregnant on ‘Blue’s Clues.” My daughter was giving up her crib for our new baby when Paprika was giving up hers in preparation for Cinnamon. My girls give notes on scripts and storyboards; they’ve helped to cast Josh for the new “Blue’s Clues & YOU.’ Most recently, they’ve helped me create a new live action show for tweens that’s a commentary on social media. My girls have been my muse for as long as I can remember!
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