Treat the little ones in your care with kindness, as Mister Rogers did, and it’s bound to show when they become caring and kind grow-ups.
For my generation, Mister Rogers was a grown-up friend we could count on to teach us lessons about life, tragedy, change and how it’s possible to be loved as whole, imperfect humans. When he showed up in our homes, he wore familiar cardigans and spoke to us like we mattered. He valued our opinions, feelings, joy and the way we made sense of the world around us through play, song and exploration. Hearing the simple song lyrics, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” brings me back to my childhood and reminds me of the comfort I felt when the kind adults in my life who made me feel safe spent time with me.
"Human relationships are primary in all of living. When the gusty winds blow and shake our lives, if we know that people care about us, we may bend with the wind … but we won’t break." -Fred Rogers
One of the most important lessons Mister Rogers gave us was that human relationships are powerful. He taught us that we can cultivate deep connections with children through simple, everyday interactions. What’s more, Mister Rogers developed these relationships with children like myself (now grown-ups), and his impact transcended the television screen. If you treat the little ones in your care with kindness, it’s bound to show when they’re grow-ups too.
We can learn a lot of things from Mister Rogers about how to develop caring relationships with children and teach them to do the same with others, whether we are their caregivers or teachers. Here are just a few.
Bond with Music
Since Mister Rogers earned his college degree in music composition, it’s not a surprise that over the course of his life he wrote the melodies and lyrics for more than 200 songs. Through music, Mister Rogers taught children around the world that it’s okay to have good days, bad days and everything in between. He supported us in feeling accepted and valued. His song, “It’s You I Like,” is a wonderful anthem for children that teaches them that they are worthy and extraordinary just the way they are.
“But it’s you I like
Every part of you
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new
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
It’s you I like.”
Music helps children work through big feelings and brings us together in community, whether in person or through a screen. Research has proven that humans have a dedicated part of our brains for processing music. Moving, dancing, and singing with young children release endorphins and ultimately brings us closer together. Listen to more Mister Rogers Songs with the littles in your life here.
Value the Whole Child
It’s vital for children to understand that they are loved and appreciated even when they make choices that hurt others. We all make mistakes and that doesn’t mean we are loved any less. Mister Rogers disrupted perfectionism and the unhealthy good vs. bad labeling that we often perpetuate with the young children in our lives. He reminded us that being different is wonderful. He also reminded us that even when we feel like we messed up, or we’re sad or full of fear, there is only one person just like us in the whole wide world. And that person matters and is absolutely whole and complete just as they are.
This message transfers to everything in a young child’s life. We can support children in understanding that their value is not contingent upon school performance, fitting in, pleasing others, staying inside the lines, or fulfilling a certain dream of their caregivers. Simple phrases of encouragement such as, “I like you just the way you are”, “I’m so proud of the person you’re becoming” and “Everyone makes mistakes, let’s fix this together” can support young children in feeling seen, heard and valued.
Model Life-Long Learning
Mister Rogers modeled the importance of keeping a sense of wonder and curiosity. He was open about his love of learning and taught us that we’re never too young or too old to learn more. Instead of pretending like he had all the answers, he was authentic in not knowing everything. If he didn’t know something, he asked. He said, “Did you know when you wonder, you’re learning.” On Mister Rogers, we met doctors, dentists, barbers, and teachers. We learned about the different interests and talents of the people in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Caregivers and teachers can support children in becoming life-long learners by encouraging them to wonder.
Here are some simple prompts to use when a child asks a question you don’t know:
- “That’s such an interesting question. Where can we find more information?”
- “What a great wondering. I’ve been wondering that, too. Let’s see if we can find a book to help.”
- “I’m not sure the answer to that brilliant question! Maybe we can ask ____. She’s a doctor and our neighbor. She might be able to help us figure that out.”
- “When we have questions, where can we look to find answers?”
Teach That All Feelings Matter
Teaching children that it's important to be open and honest about their feelings was vital to Mister Rogers. All feelings. When Daniel Tiger felt sad like he didn’t matter and he was a mistake, he worked through his feelings by singing and talking to Lady Aberlin. Most importantly, though, no one told him not to feel a certain way. They supported him in feeling his feelings and moving through them. Other episodes explored complex feelings like jealousy. When King Friday felt jealous because Lady Aberlin received a precious plant that he didn’t have, Mister Rogers explained jealousy in a way that kids understand. He said, “it doesn’t matter what you have or how many — it’s you as a person that I like.”
Caregivers and teachers can show children that feelings are valid by listening and working through them together. Watch the videos on Mister Rogers Neighborhood about exploring feelings with children as well as having simple conversations about difficult topics, like this one with Elmo and JR Martinez. Songs like “All I Can Do Is Cry” and “Belly Breathe” can also support children in talking about and finding healthy ways to work through difficult emotions.
Mister Rogers believed that children deserve to know the truth about what’s going on around them. He showed us the importance of talking to kids about difficult topics in developmentally appropriate ways. Although he recognized that adults have a hard time navigating these conversations, his real and compassionate demeanor provided us with a glimpse into what it means to truly be vulnerable and honest with the children in our lives who rely on us for safety, trust and care. He handled topics like divorce, death, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy with great thought and love. Caregivers and teachers of young children can watch videos from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” about talking honestly about difficult subjects.
"The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand." -Fred Rogers
Learn More About Fred Rogers and Supporting Children
- Fred Rogers Center: About Fred
- PBS: Celebrating 50 Years Of Mister Rogers
- PBS Parents: The Timeless Teachings of Mister Rogers Neighborhood
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
April Brown (M.Ed.) is a trauma-informed specialist, writer, curriculum developer and instructional coach based in Putney, Vermont, with her family. She has a decade of teaching and educational leadership experience in both mainstream public education and alternative education in the United States and internationally. She’s passionate about exploring how to disrupt structures that perpetuate systems of oppression and address unbalanced power dynamics at home and school so learning is empowering for all children. She’s an advocate for kids. This article was originally published by PBS SoCal, January 27, 2021