The first show I let Toot watch when she was a baby was Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I knew that it was a reincarnation of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood so I figured it would be a good place to start. Little did I know, it wasn’t just going to teach my child about feelings, it was also going to teach me how to be a better parent.
I could have just sat her down in front of the TV and zoned out myself. (Which sometimes I do, because let’s face it, Mommy needs a break.) But I found myself paying attention to the themes and teaching style of the show. And I focused on how Daniel Tiger’s parents handled situations. I don’t know if that was the intent of the people making the show. But if it was, well played, producers, well played.
So here’s what I learned.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
The number one thing I took away from the parenting style of the Tiger family was to acknowledge your child’s feelings and allow them to feel.
Telling your toddler “I see that you’re mad,” will increase their vocabulary and allow them to associate a word with how they are feeling. They’ll be able to communicate to you with words in the future.
Also, acknowledging their feelings helps them understand that what they are feeling is normal and okay. Toddlers are just starting to feel big emotions, and they don’t know how to process them yet. When you affirm what they’re feeling, you can help them process it.
One episode’s theme is “If you can’t get what you want, stomp three times to help yourself feel better.” Yes, I get that you don’t want your toddler to throw a tantrum. But that’s why you limit the stomping to three times. (if you can. I mean, toddlers don’t usually do well with limits early on.)
So your kid starts wailing because they can’t have ice cream or something. Sing the lesson song to them. (Yeah, they’re all little songs and sometimes you have to sing them in public. Cringe-worthy but it works.) Acknowledge that you understand they want it, but they can’t have it, and they might be feeling mad. Allow them to feel the anger and stomp three times. Then move along.
Ok, so it doesn’t always work 100% because toddlers. But if it can save you from a full tantrum, it’s worth a shot.
Eventually, they’ll learn how to do this on their own. Hopefully by their early twenties.
Communicate your own feelings to your child
Kids have to learn that other people have feelings, too. Empathy is important. So how do you teach empathy? You have to literally tell your child what you’re feeling (in simple terms. Kids have simple feelings. You can’t really explain “Mommy is feeling contempt and regret right now,” to a two-year-old.)
I’ve had to get used to telling her that I’m mad or sad and even when I’m happy. You forget as an adult that toddlers don’t know how to read emotions or pick up on nonverbal cues like we do. (They’re also very bad at sarcasm.)
Sometimes she’ll tell me “Mommy’s sad,” when I’m not really sad. So I just correct her and say “Mommy’s just tired.” So she learns to understand that there’s a difference between being sad and tired. You can be sad AND tired, but not all the time. I’m usually more annoyed when I’m tired because I’m not sleeping when I should be at 5:30 in the morning.
I’ll explain to her why I’m feeling certain things, especially when it’s her fault. “Mommy is tired because you woke me up at 5:30 in the morning.” I’m hoping she learns that her actions affect my feelings. “Hoping” being the keyword there.
Mom Tiger and Dad Tiger are the most patient parents in the world. There have been times where I’ll yell at the TV like “COME ON, DANIEL.” (In my head.) And there’s Dad Tiger being all perfect-father-figure and being patient with the kids. So I’ve learned to let the little things go and calmly coax her into getting her shoes on or coming down the stairs.
Allow your child to solve their own problems first
One of the themes from the show that I sing to Toot all the time now is “Try to solve the problem yourself, and you’ll feel proud!” This is probably because I’m lazy, and I don’t want to get up to find her baby doll or help her climb up on the couch.
She’s learned to be so much more independent because of my laziness! And she does feel proud when she solves her own problems. “I did it!” is our new favorite phrase to shout. She gets very frustrated when she can’t do something. I found out that if she’s trying to do something and getting mad, it helps to say “almost!” Her mood brightens instantly. It’s suddenly a game and she’s going to win.
Now she wants to do everything herself first. If she absolutely can’t do something or it’s taking too long, I will give her a little help rather than just do it for her. She lets me know when she needs help. She says “help you!” (We haven’t quite got the pronouns down yet. lol)
Each episode has a theme that they repeat about 30 times in the course of 20 minutes. Repeating the lesson helps reinforce it. And kids just love repetition. That’s why they want to watch the same movie over and over again. LET IT GOOOOO. But repeating lessons is a good thing. You want them to get that stuck in their heads.
An interesting teaching idea that I’ve picked up from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is to repeat the previous lessons. Each episode has one central theme that they talk about, but they will often reference other themes from previous episodes. So even though Toot knows we’re nice to Kitty and we don’t pull his tail, I still repeat it while she’s petting him. Just because I told her two months ago that Kitty doesn’t enjoy a rambunctious tail tug, doesn’t mean she won’t just forget in the middle of softly petting his butt.
Dad Tiger and Mom Tiger often make fools of themselves for the sake of fun. I’ve been learning to let my adult perception of weird go and just be silly with Toot. You spend your entire teen years and most of your twenties (aside from the drunk parts) trying NOT to be silly. Being silly is uncool. Well, now that you are a parent, you’re officially Uncool™.
So Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood taught me to be a kid again because Silly Mommy is a lot more fun than regular mom. Toot’s giggles are louder and harder when I’m being silly. Her dad does a really good job of being silly. I’m still learning how to play and pretend without feeling weird.
Do you watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with your toddler?
And what do you think your child has learned from Daniel Tiger? Did you use to watch Mr. Rogers as a kid, too? Let me know in the comments below!
You can watch Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood on Prime Video for free with a Prime subscription. It’s not available on Netflix anymore. Sad face. But Amazon Prime Video is good, too. Especially if you have a Fire TV Stick like we do. Then it’s right there on the menu!
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