Fred Rogers was fantastic with children. Kids loved him and he loved them right back. He really was as wonderful as he acted on screen, which was my biggest takeaway from his recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. It brought about a lot of reflection and made me consider: what advice would he have given me about raising my kids? Then I realized he didn’t have to; he had lived out his message. His life lessons and parenting tips were in every episode, in every interaction, and in every word he exchanged with each child. Here are 5 messages from Mr. Rogers that would be helpful in any household:
1. Slow Down
While the world sped up around Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show maintained a calming, methodical pace. Other cartoons and children’s shows centered on explosions and action, while Fred Rogers would pause and sit in stillness and even silence on the show. One episode even demonstrated how long a minute was by setting an alarm for 1 minute and simply watching the time pass.
Show your children the value of calm and stillness, as well as the benefits of a steady and predictable routine. Fred Rogers was early to bed and early to rise, maintaining a consistent weight of 143 for decades by going for a swim every morning and being intentional about his diet. His swimming was leisurely, not for time or speed, but rather for health and enjoyment. He carried this principal of routine from the swimming pool to every other aspect of his life, which produced a relaxing and likable presence to everyone around him.
2. Engage with Your Child
One of most striking elements in observing Mr. Rogers’ interactions with children is how engaged he was. Every child was treated as if they were giving a State of The Union Address while Mr. Rogers listened carefully and attentively to their every word, always maintaining eye contact while each child spoke.
The challenge before us is much greater than in the decades of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood; cell phones alone demand more attention than any gadgets of the past. The explosion of technology and marketing may have made true human connection much more difficult, but I believe Mr. Rogers would be the same today – looking us straight in the eye and expecting the same of us to our kids.
3. Tell Your Kids, “I Like You As You Are”
This memorable Mr. Rogers song has a truly timeless message. Our kids should be given our love and affection regardless of their abilities or mistakes. Sure, there are times to withhold approval for misbehavior, but underneath it all should be a crystal clear foundation of unconditional love.
The effects of a child not “feeling like they are enough” are devastating and can follow them all of their lives. We may feel that they are enough and even assume that they know that, but without clearly and consistently expressing it to them as they develop, we may be setting them up for bouts of depression and pain.
4. Walk With Them through the Hurt
It’s such a natural thing to equate protecting your child with hiding pain and reality from them; we want to put them in an invisible bubble and not let the real world in. The real world comes regardless, and if we have not opened the door of sharing then they will be forced to confront the harsh realities of life on their own. From divorce to dealing with death, Mr. Rogers carefully, and thoughtfully, helped prepare generations of youth for some of the life’s toughest challenges.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” -Fred Rogers
Talk about it. Whatever “the hard” is in your child’s life, face it with them side by side and talk them through it. In doing this, it is not only about their emotional health; it’s about creating sons and daughters that have empathy and compassion for those around them. It’s about giving them the capacity to have depth and meaning in their relationships.
5. Don’t Put Down Your Tiger
For over 30 years Mr. Rogers was a beacon of hope and goodness, a rare constant in a changing world. His Tiger puppet was a weapon with which he pushed back darkness and hurt. No matter how much pain and anger swelled up around him, he never stopped proclaiming the message of goodness and hope. There are times in parenthood that children test our resolve and challenge our will to stay the course. Kids are bombarded with negativity and darkness in movies, music, video games, and social circles. Unfortunately, within all that, we are the last place they look for guidance. One of the greatest takeaways available from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood is the impact just one person can make with an unfaltering goodness that offers hope to those around us.