Parenting Tips From Your Favorite Neighbor: Mister Rogers
You'll be happy to know that Fred Rogers, the host of the PBS series, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” was indeed the genuine person you had hoped him to be. Last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” already highlighted this fact, but an upcoming movie about him, starring none other than lovable Tom Hanks, will prove that point even further.
Set to release on Nov. 22, 2019, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” follows Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist played by actor Matthew Rhys, who is actually based on real-life “Esquire” journalist, Tom Junod. Not considered a “biopic,” the movie focuses on the friendship that formed between Rogers and Junod, who was tasked with interviewing the TV host in 1998 and credits that time with Rogers as giving him an entirely new perspective on the world.
While this sentiment will translate well to audiences this holiday season, Mister Rogers' ideals have always been at the forefront of parents' minds. After all, several generations of kids learned the important lessons passed down from their friendly neighbor — and those still ring true today.
Mister Rogers' Impact on Child Development
Believe it or not, it was Rogers' hatred for early television programming that actually led the Latrobe, Pa., Presbyterian minister to use it in a more meaningful way, as both a platform and conduit for his life's work: the emotional development of children.
Through the show, he came into our living rooms nearly every weekday from 1966 to 2001 to share his views on life, love and childhood, helping generations of kids to understand the language of the world around them. In the show, there were no judgments, and kids were instead given a safe haven to be themselves through the Land of Make Believe. And when those kids became adults, they passed Mister Rogers’ life lessons down to their own kids.
His Influence Lives On
Even though Rogers passed away in 2003, the messaging from Mister Rogers has never really gone away. The show still airs in syndication, and parents continue to draw from its influence on how to raise their children.
Here are some of Fred Rogers' tips for parents who may need a little guidance.
Share a Comforting Message in Times of Uncertainty
Mister Rogers had long shared something his mother had imparted to him as a child, but the quote gathered considerable steam with the advent of social media.
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” Mister Rogers remembers. “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."
Look for the Helpers
Parents sometimes struggle with what to say to kids who may be too young to understand the weight of a situation they may witness on the news or in real life. That lack of understanding may not only make them curious, but frightened by what they hear or see.
Asking a child to look for those who are lending a hand may make them feel more in control and at ease during a crisis or tragedy.
Show Your Children You Love Them Just as They Are
All kids have doubts. As they learn to navigate the world and build relationships, they often question their every move, sometimes right down to their very existence. Giving children unconditional love gives them the best opportunity for growing into the healthy adults who will know how to support their own children.
According to Mister Rogers, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Encourage Your Children to Play
In today's world, play has taken somewhat of a back seat to technology, but it remains crucial to developing a child's passions. When Mister Rogers was a boy, he was frequently bedridden from various illnesses, so he learned to play with what he had at his disposal — his imagination.
In the recent documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” he recalled being sick in bed and imagining that his bent knees were mountains. His imagination and passion for play as a child later influenced the idea behind “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” and, within it, the Land of Make Believe. There, the characters were allowed to express their emotions regarding real-life topics in a setting children could not only understand, but also could feel safe in witnessing.
Nurture a Creative Spirit
“When we treat children's play as seriously as it deserves," Mister Rogers says, "we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
Forgive Your Children — And Yourself
While it's certainly rewarding, no one ever said parenting was easy. There are days in which you and your kids may not see eye to eye, but it's important to get past them and remember they're still learning to find their way in the world, as are we. If you find yourself holding a grudge, let it go. Keep in mind that, for both kids and adults, life is a series of learning experiences that never end.
Forgiveness is not something that comes readily to us, but on those days where you "just can't," take a breather. Be forgiving to yourself and your kids. You're setting the stage for how they deal with disappointments down the road, and, as Mister Rogers says, "Like all of life's important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”
Teach Your Children to Show Love and Compassion to One Another
The adage "love your neighbor as yourself" was one of the main concepts that ran throughout “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” According to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Mister Rogers believed the number "143" to be code for "I love you" (based on the number of letters in each word). He even maintained his weight at that number throughout his life as a nod to the concept. He showed love to everyone that came on the show and, by doing so, taught kids to honor each other's differences with compassion.
Mister Rogers invited François Clemmons, a black actor who played a police officer on the show, to cool his feet in a pool during an episode of the series during the late '60s, when racial tensions were at an all-time high and segregation was still practiced in many areas of the country. In real life, Clemmons is gay, but Rogers, a life-long Republican, embraced him as a friend nonetheless.
Clemmons says, "He was the first one to say 'I love you.' My father did not say it, my stepfather didn't say it, and there were members of my family that said, 'You cannot be gay.' It made a huge impact on me that [Fred] loved me in spite of those things."
Set Boundaries for Your Kids
Every kid at every age tests the boundaries of what they can and cannot do, and our job as parents is to set limits on children to teach them how to not only live comfortably among other people, but also to protect them from potentially unsafe situations.
While a child may act like they want to be the decision-maker, they are looking to us for answers, according to Mister Rogers.
Discipline Your Kids Lovingly
"It can be very frightening for children to have no limits — to feel that no one will stop them from hurting themselves or other people,” he says. “Discipline doesn't have to mean punishment. It can just as well mean a grown-up's loving way of controlling children's behavior until they can exercise that control by themselves."
Acknowledge and Listen to Your Kids
As Mister Rogers often points out, childhood emotions are equal to those of adults. They are as viable as our own, and their concerns should always be heard and be validated.
Hedda Sharapan, the director of Early Childhood Initiatives for the Fred Rogers Company, says that Mister Rogers encouraged listening, as he felt, “Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”
"We all want to know someone cares and that our ideas, thoughts and feelings are heard," according to Sharapan."Fred said, 'Whatever is mentionable can be more manageable.' In fact, you don't have to offer suggestions or solutions. Just by listening to someone, you’re offering affirmation and validating feelings. And with encouragement to talk more about their situation, people often find their own ways to cope."
Help Your Kids Overcome Bullying
As a child, Rogers was overweight and was taunted by other kids for his appearance. As he grew, he channeled his sadness and anger into his music and, much later, into his life's work.
In “Won't You Be My Neighbor?,” David Newell, aka speedy postal worker Mister McFeely on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” says, "I’ve often wondered if there hadn’t been a ‘Fat Freddy,’ would there have been a Mister Rogers?"
Empower Your Kids
In one episode of the show in which he plays a record of recorded laughter, Mister Rogers says, “As a young boy, I felt that the adults around me were pressuring me to what I couldn’t be yet. 'Act like a grown-up,’ I’d hear them say. Well, I was afraid they’d laugh at me when I tried. So, I found a record like this, and I could make the laughs start and make them stop whenever I wanted to. For someone who hated to be laughed at, it was a good feeling to be in charge of at least this laughter.”
Be Authentic When Talking to Children
Children are keenly aware of insincerity as they have yet to learn its many nuances. What you see from a child is what you get. Fred Rogers acted the way kids do — he was his natural self on camera. He spoke slowly and in simple terms and remained fully aware of who his audience was. These were the reasons his messages to kids were heard loud and clear, but it was authenticity that drove them home.
Kids knew inherently Mister Rogers cared about them. He once stated, "One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away."
Show Your Kids How to Share and Control Their Emotions
On one episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the song, "What To Do With The Mad That You Feel," helps kids understand how to tackle big, sometimes negative, emotions and channel or control them. As parents, we can not only acknowledge a child’s anger, but also help them channel it through healthier means.
Making angry music, drawing a picture or simply expressing the anger by saying, "I'm mad!" can help a child learn to control his or her temper and ultimately diffuse it. As they learn to do so, positivity reinforces them, and their self control will eventually become second nature.
Encourage Your Child’s Uniqueness
Do your children feel different from their friends? Do they worry about their place in their peer group or at school? Encourage them to let their light shine. Let them know that what others may feel are eccentricities are actually hidden strengths that they can use in ways that make them feel good.
Let them know that no matter who they are and what they love, they are loved and supported. There is no wrong way to be. As Mister Rogers once said, "In a way, you’ve already won in this world because you’re the only one who can be you."
Never Forget Your Own Childhood
Fred Rogers was quoted saying, "The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”
In “Won't You Be My Neighbor?,” it is suggested that the docile and sensitive Daniel Striped Tiger was Rogers’ alter ego and a representation of his inner child who was still afraid of the world and how to navigate it. Never forget, in talking to your own children, that you were once in their shoes.
By acknowledging that you too have felt the feelings they feel, you can bridge the gap between your generation and theirs. Remember to try and see the wonder in things, and let go of all the worry.