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I’ve always known the importance of having a good teacher for your child, and while teaching can happen both at home and in school, I always try to find ways to improve myself as well. One of my heroes, Fred Rogers, is a constant source of inspiration, comfort, and just a general sense of positivity.
Fred Rogers was a huge influence on me growing up, and I’m hoping to pass on my positive experience with Mr. Rogers to Erin by playing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as often as I can! Mr. Rogers actually consulted renowned child psychologist Margaret McFarland with all aspects of his show, just to ensure that everything he says, does, and shows in the Neighbourhood will positively affect children. What a thoughtful man!
It’s no surprise to us who grew up with his calm, soothing voice and that familiar sweater vest that Fred Rogers actually revolutionized the way parents in the country and around the world would raise their kids. Here are some things I learned from Mr. Rogers:
Make Children Feel Comfortable
Mr. Rogers was big on making children feel comfortable with themselves, their emotions, and the world around them. Sometimes, children can be strange: they’ll be crying and bawling about something completely obscure one minute, then suddenly laugh out loud because of something random. That’s because children, especially younger children, are experiencing many emotions for the first time, whether it’s sadness, happiness, anger, disgust, or fear.
One of the first things Mr. Rogers did was help children be comfortable with themselves, and most importantly, teach them that their bodies are natural and no part of it is disgusting. From unabashedly showing off his feet (something that many kids find icky about themselves) to teaching them that bodily functions are okay (although I doubt he would have sung the Diarrhea Song!), Mr. Rogers always tried to tell kids that they are okay, that they matter, and that they are loved.
Voice is Important
There’s no denying that one of the trademarks of Mr. Rogers is his smooth, soft, but clear voice. This was no accident; Fred Rogers studied children’s psychology extensively and found that a monotone, well-regulated voice was the most calming, soothing, and trustworthy voice that a person can use for kids.
But it wasn’t just his voice as Mr. Rogers; Fred did the voices of many of the other characters in his show, from X the Owl and Henrietta the Pussycat, to King Friday XIII to Lady Elaine Fairchilde. Every voice he used was designed to invoke certain things from children, but always with the explicit influence of Dr. McFarland.
By keeping his voice as serene as possible, Mr. Rogers ensured that kids will trust him, enough so that his lessons on respect, humility, patience, and above all, kindness, would be embedded deep into their psyche.
Talk About Controversial Things
Mr. Rogers was no stranger to talking about controversial and often times sensitive topics in his show. Whether it was racial segregation, where him and African-American Officer Clemmons share a foot bath together, to having Daniel Striped Tiger ask what the word “assassination” meant, Fred Rogers didn’t treat children as less intelligent.
Fred Rogers knew that children were impressionable, but he also knew that children were smart; maybe children didn’t have as big of a vocabulary, but they understand concepts, ideas, and most especially, emotions. He knew that children picked up on the latter more quickly than the written word –Rogers understood that children knew something was wrong; they just couldn’t vocalise it yet.
Producers and writers working with Mr. Rogers always mention the fact that he was difficult to work with because of his perfectionism and his particularly thorough attention to detail, with Mr. Rogers even coming up with 9 “rules” to follow whenever you want to talk to a child:
- State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.
- Rephrase in a positive manner.
- Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.
- Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.
- Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.
- Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.
- Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.
- Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.
- Rephrase your idea a ﬁnal time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.
“Positive reinforcement” was Mr. Rogers bread and butter, and he always repeated, with certainty, clarity, and sincerity, that “I like you just the way you are”. If there is perhaps, no greater teacher than Fred Rogers, who valued genuine emotional intelligence and human empathy, kindness, and respect.