When I was a little girl, I loved watching ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ in the mornings. I would sit cross-legged in front of the television, with whatever my mother had cooked up for breakfast that day, and settle in to watch Mr. Rogers. I would watch him come out and start the show the same way, changing into his iconic sweaters and house shoes. I couldn’t wait to see that little train go into the land of make-believe, where I watched Daniel Striped Tiger ask questions that, as an incredibly shy little girl, I was too nervous to say out loud. And I loved hearing Mr. Rogers sing about how much he enjoyed being my friend, because I was so very glad he was mine.
When I heard about the documentary, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Fred Rogers and ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ I was pretty excited. Not just for the nostalgia factor, but I was excited to hear about Mr. Rogers’ philosophy on working with children with respect and kindness.
I was not prepared to feel SO MANY FEELINGS. As I sat ugly crying in the theater, because Mr. Rogers had taught me that it was okay to have big feelings, my mind jumped from one thought to the other. I was thrilled that Mr. Rogers and I shared so many ideas about how working with young children can help heal our current culture, which prizes our own advancement more than the well-being of others. I was anxious about how I could continue to share Mr. Rogers’ legacy of love with the young children and families that I work with. But mostly I was overwhelmed by the sheer goodness Mr. Rogers’ exemplified.
So aside from urging everyone and their mother to go watch this amazing movie, I thought I’d share some ways you can immediately start living like Mr. Rogers would want us to. Although they are aimed at how to work with children, these are things that we can, and should, do with everyone.
Treat everyone like they have inherent value. The films shows clips of TV segments and columns by people who thought that Mr Rogers was an evil person because he told children that everyone is special. First off, that is bonkers. Second, everyone is special. Everyone has their own unique background, experience, and self that makes them who they are. Honor that, and tell your children how special they are.
Be consistent. I’ve said this one before, and I’ll say it again. Children feel safe to explore and learn when they are around adults that are predictable and environments that are secure. Mr. Rogers did this by opening the show in the same way every day; you can do this by giving your child consistency in their routines and interactions.
Talk about feelings. Children, especially very young children, don’t know what all of the emotions they are experiencing are, or how long they are going to last. Talk about the feelings you see them going through. During a tantrum, say, “I see that you’re mad. I like to take deep breaths when I’m mad, like this.” When they are sad, tell them “You feel sad. Sometimes I feel sad, but it goes away after a little while.” It’s never too early to start labeling emotions.
Model the behavior you want to see. One of my favorite quotes in the movie is something that Mr. Rogers says during a commencement speech at Middlebury College in 2001:
“In fact, from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”
As parents of toddlers know, children are always watching and copying what you do. You are responsible for showing children how you want them to act, and how you want them to love.
Give children enough time to process. We all need time to think sometimes. Children need more. Revel in the quiet moments; give children enough time to listen to what you’ve said or done, process it, and then respond. Waiting is hard, I know, but we all need it.
It all comes down to treating others with empathy and being kind to others. And young children deserve to be taught these things in an intentional manner. Run, don’t walk, to go see this movie. And remember, as our good friend Mr. Rogers would say,
“I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself
It's you I like.”
Comment below with how you encourage empathy and kindness in your children. Need some help figuring out how to live Mr. Rogers’ legacy in your own life? Contact us here!