“When you feel so mad that you want to roar,
Take a deep breath and count to four!”
The little song above is the most used in our house. Sometimes I will use it to diffuse my overly emotional little dude, and sometimes he’ll use it on himself before I have a chance. It doesn’t come from Dr. Sears, or Dr. Phil or even Iyanla Vanzant. Nope, it’s from Daniel Tiger. Yes, Daniel Tiger, the red-sweater-and-sneaker-wearing little cub who is also the star of the kid’s show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
My son has been watching Daniel Tiger since he was almost a year old. At this point, the lessons Daniel and his crew have taught are part of my son like another thread of his DNA.
Daniel Tiger and his catchy little songs have become one of the most important tools for my son to manage his own emotions. In short, Daniel Tiger is my preschooler’s life coach. I’d argue that he’s most preschoolers’ life coach.
If you don’t know about Daniel Tiger, he is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger (now called Dad) from the classic children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was known for using his show to teach kids about things like empathy and being a good friend and neighbor. Daniel is carrying on Mr. Rogers’ legacy, mainly through rhyming songs that get sung several times throughout the 20-ish minute show.
The songs are packaged in a way that makes them fun for their intended audience. The little people are unaware they’re even learning anything. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, when confronted with a situation where they need it, the song becomes a handy tool for them to navigate their feelings.
The kids who are watching Daniel Tiger are at an age when they’re just starting to understand what their feelings are. Anger and frustration are very common themes on the show, as they are in the lives of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. At that age, anger is arguably one of the hardest emotions for them to manage, and by extension, the hardest for us parents to manage too. We don’t want to punish them for expressing a very real and valid feeling, but we do need to teach them how to manage their anger in a way that isn’t dangerous and counter productive.
Recently, one of my friends said that when she became “pissed off” while in the car with her 5-year-old son, he pulled out a Daniel Tiger lesson and made her take a deep breath and count to four to feel more relaxed. Worked like a charm!
Once, my mom called me to ask about one of the Daniel Tiger songs we had heard because she was talking to a friend who was stressed out and my mom thought the little song would help. These are two women in their 50s.
But Daniel Tiger and the other inhabitants of the Neighborhood of Make Believe don’t just teach kids about anger, though that’s a recurring theme. Daniel helps little ones navigate a host of other complex themes of growing up.
When my son was potty training, he would constantly walk around singing the potty song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. He sang it so much, that I would find myself singing it whenever I had to pee, even though I have been going to the bathroom unassisted for 20-something years at this point.
In preparation for the first time I’d be going out for the night without him, he and I watched the episode where Mom and Dad Tiger go out and leave Daniel with a babysitter. As I was walking out the door, I reminded him of what the Tiger parents had told Daniel about grown-ups coming back.
You’d be hard pressed to find a moment in a kid’s life, or a feeling they will have, that doesn’t have a corresponding Daniel Tiger episode. They’ve tackled things from allergies (Daniel is allergic to peaches) to sharing and voting. They go beyond anger and sadness to things like empathy and the complex feelings of getting older.
Kids who are four or five have a sense of independence and want to do all the things, but then they realize that no matter how big they feel, they’re still little. On fruit picking day, when Daniel and his bestie Prince Wednesday can’t really reach any of the fruit, they’re defeated. But then, because they’re still small, they’re able to reach the “special golden pear,” and win the whole dang fruit picking day celebration.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood goes beyond teaching kids lessons; it’s empowering them to go out into their world and conquer it. It gives them the tools they need to interact with their peers, to feel included in their homes (there are several episodes that focus on being a helper) and knowing their unique place in society. The lessons transcend typical kid show themes and show kids that’s it’s okay to just be a human.
Being sad when your friend doesn’t want to play with you is okay. Being angry when you don’t get to play with the toy you want is normal. It’s okay to be a little jealous of your new sibling. When Mommy and Daddy get upset with you, they still love you. It’s okay to make a mistake, but you have to help fix it. These are all things Daniel Tiger teaches our little ones, and hands it to them (and us) in a way that makes the lessons accessible (there are also multiple apps for kids and parents.)
Daniel Tiger has done a way better job at teaching my kid how to manage his emotions than I ever could, and I’m immensely grateful that we live in a time where such a show exists.