Just last month a documentary about Fred Rogers and his famous T.V. show hit the big screen. The film, entitled Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has been a box office hit and has received rave reviews from almost everyone.
It appears that Mister Rogers is just as popular now as he was when his show was airing.
As a parent and pediatrician, I have great respect for Fred Rogers and what he modeled in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He has set a great example for parents and kids alike. And even though his show ended years ago, he left us with many invaluable lessons we can pass on to our kids and continue to learn as parents.
Mister Rogers made kindness central to his program. Who was his “neighbor”? Everyone. Through the guests he had on his show and the stories he told, he taught children that everyone deserves kindness no matter where they were from or what they looked like. Everyone is your neighbor.
Mister Rogers taught children that everyone deserves kindness no matter where they were from or what they looked like. Everyone is your neighbor.
As one reviewer said, “The most radical thing about him was his unwavering commitment to the value of kindness in the face of the world that could seem intent on devising new ways to be mean. ‘Let’s make the most of this beautiful day,’ he would sing at the start of each episode. He made it sound so simple, but also as if he knew just how hard it could be.”
This is a lesson that adults need just as much as kids.
Mister Rogers was aware of children’s complicated emotions and instead of trying to make them feel better or giving them cliché responses, he addressed their emotions and talked through them.
As this reviewer said, “What Mister Rogers tried to teach us — how to navigate ‘some of the more difficult modulations’ in everyday life — might now be classified as emotional literacy. He acknowledged that anger, fear and other kinds of hurt are part of the human repertoire and that children need to learn to speak honestly about those feelings, and to trust the people they share them with.”
Watching Mister Rogers’ calm and logical rationale can help all parents when they’re exhausted by their child’s emotions and unsure of how to handle them.
Before he died, Mister Rogers recorded a heartwarming message for his fans who had grown up watching him. In it, he said, “I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are.”
This is one of the most important things your child needs to hear from you. They need to know you like them, not for what they do or what they look like, but simply because they are who they are. If your compliments consistently focus on their appearance or performance, you will end up raising a child who becomes focused on her appearance or her performance—both of which do not determine her true character or value.
Your children need to know you like them, not for what they do or what they look like, but simply because they are who they are.
Instead, like Mister Rogers, compliment who she is. Talk to her about her character, how she is strong, brave, independent, kind—the parts of her that are innate and won’t change. Make sure she knows that you like her, just the way she is.
Mister Rogers has so many more lessons to teach us. These are just a few. I’m grateful we had him for the time that we did. As the generation that grew up watching him, let’s keep his legacy alive by sharing the kindness and neighborliness with our children that he shared with us.