My kids considered afternoons with Mr. Rogers sacred time. When the theme song It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood started to role, that was their cue to take their seats and reconvene their friendship with the man in the cardigan sweater and well-worn sneakers. For an hour, my kids sat spellbound and learned life lessons from a gentle soul with a soothing voice who assured them they were important and special. Many afternoons, I sat on the couch next to my kids learning how to be a better parent by watching the way Mr. Roger’s interacted with people, especially children. My kids and I cuddled on the couch listening to the wise words of our favorite neighbor. Here are timeless parenting tips I gleaned from Mr. Rogers.
Importance of Listening
Mr. Rogers listened intently to people. In every episode, Mr. Rogers modeled the art of genuinely listening to what another person had to say. Too often, adults dismiss the incessant questions posed by kids as exhausting. Not Fred. He viewed questions as the way a child makes sense of the world. By watching Fred, I learned to bend down low and get on eye level with children, lean in, and listen to what they had to say.
Even the magical neighborhood of make-believe experienced conflict. The characters in the neighborhood of make believe endured some of the same problems that I encounter with my children. King Friday often displayed an unreasonable and demanding side when ruling the neighborhood kingdom. I see some of those same flaws in myself as I misguidedly wield my parental power.
One episode dealt with divorce. Being a child of divorce, I could relate to the words of comfort Fred imparted to children of divorced parents. With the soft, familiar piano music in the background, Fred looked his television viewers in the eye, and his gracious manner assured viewers “that divorce is not your fault.”
Power of Words
My favorite part of the show was the conversational piece at the end when Fred looked directly at the screen and addressed his television friends. At that point, he often conveyed an action point that I managed to integrate into my parenting repertoire. Take angry words for instance, in one episode, Fred suggested “there are many healthy things you can do with your anger. Things that don’t hurt anybody.” Fred then sings a song that is packed with practical ways for kids (and adults) to deal with anger.
“It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that is wrong and be able to do something else instead and think this song. I can stop when I want to and stop when I wish, and can stop, stop, stop anytime.”
I clutched that idea tightly and applied it when I intervened with sibling squabbles. Mr. Rogers directed his viewers to talk about their anger, “even when it is hard at first.”
Beauty in the Simple
The set of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood never changed. I often wondered, over the years, why Fred never updated his television living room. And my guess, Fred felt that children endure so much change throughout childhood a little constancy is reassuring.
Millions of children knew what to expect every time Mr. Roger’s opened the door to his familiar living room. The comfort in the predictability of his next step, going to the closet and exchanging his overcoat for his trademark zip-up cardigan. Through Mr. Rogers, I realized the security that kids find in knowing what comes next. In a world that is continually changing, a little bit of routine is reassuring for children.
Kindness and Compassion
Fred exuded unconditional kindness and encouraged his neighborhood friends to do the same. Fred’s puppet creations helped to demonstrate kindness. In one episode, Daniel Tiger’s feelings got hurt, so the neighborhood puppet friends find ways to exercise forgiveness with one another. Fred reminds his neighborhood viewers that friends often have “hard times and sad times, but friends can come together again and again and build a stronger friendship with each other.”
This perennial wisdom about friendship applies to all of us. Every time I mediate sibling conflict, the echo of Fred’s words swirl in my head, “working through the difficult parts of friendship eventually strengthens the relationship.”
You are Important
Mr. Roger’s showcased careers of all sorts on his show. Every job had value whether you were a cellist in an orchestra or a worker in a factory assembling tennis shoes.
Mr. Roger’s explained that it is just not succeeding that is important but “trying” is worthy of celebrating as well “even if you make a mistake.” I remember he reminded his audience that “as you keep trying, you get better and better.”
One of my kids had a difficult time with verbal and written expression. She would often remain reticent at social gatherings because she could not formulate her words well enough to express an idea or thought to add to the conversation. As a family, we persevered through those struggles, together, and applauded our daughter in her victories however small.
Many times during that difficult season, I would reach back in my memory of television visits with Fred. He often reminded his neighborhood friends that disabilities do not define a person.
The essence of Fred’s message to parents was to focus on areas of competence, “It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
Timeless Parenting Tips From Fred
I remember the day I heard my son talking with someone in the family room. I peered around the corner to see if his imaginary friend dropped in for a visit. After a few seconds, I realized my son was talking about his day with Mr. Rogers. Fred had a way of making his neighborhood friends feel like he was speaking directly to them.
Even as I write this post, my kids check in to see what mom is doing. Word traveled through the house that mom is writing about Mr. Rogers. Individually, the kids peer over my shoulder to reminisce about their favorite episode of the “Neighborhood.”
I am a harsh critic of television, but television for Fred Rogers was a platform to use “every talent that had ever been given to me in the service of children and their families.”
Mr. Rogers made children feel safe, important and loved, but he also equipped adults with parenting strategies to help their kids thrive.
P.S. I only cried three times writing this piece.