I was one of the millions of children who considered this man a neighbor. Everyday I would listen for the tinkling tune of piano keys so I could watch the camera slowly pan over the fascinating model buildings and cars of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I adored the show, King Friday and Henrietta Pussycat, the chiming language of the trolley, the working stoplight that adorned the wall, the fish and the videos of things being made (brooms and crayons were my favorites), but mostly I just loved Mr. Rogers. I liked his sweaters, his strange and comforting accent, the way he seemed to speak directly to me.
However, I didn’t recognize the simple brilliance of the show until I had kids of my own.
Mr. Rogers helped me navigate teaching my kids to use the potty, gave me sweet songs to sing them to sleep with and provided our family with an entertaining platform to spark discussions about making mistakes, having nightmares and sharing with friends. Most of all the show supported the way we’ve decided to raise our kids.
Can you imagine Mr. Rogers spanking a child? Or yelling? I could see him being stern and setting boundaries but not using shame as a means of control or hitting a child.
“Discipline means different things to different people, but I like to think of it as a way adults help children develop self-discipline. Developing self-control is a gradual process for children and when we set limits on their actions and behavior, we’re slowly teaching them to set those limits for themselves.
It can be very frightening for children to have no limits — to feel that no one will stop them from hurting themselves or other people. Discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment. It can just as well mean a grownup’s loving way of controlling children’s behavior until they can exercise that control by themselves.” -F. Rogers
This is the definition of gentle discipline. It is not a lack of rules or children running wild just as it is not strict punishments or breaking a child’s spirit. It is just like holding their hand until they are ready to cross the street by themselves.
Unfortunately, I am no Mister Rogers. I lose my patience, I get annoyed, stressed out and flat-out angry at my kids.
Yesterday was one of those days, I was trying to wash the dishes so that dinner could be cooked on time. It had been a fussy day for everyone and it was turning into a tantrum day. After snuggling, hugging, explaining I have to do the dishes and why, nothing was swaying the child wailing at my feet that I needed my arms for washing and therefore could not use them for holding. The back-carry in the baby holder was refused and I resigned myself to finishing up as quickly as possible while my headache grew larger and more onerous with every passing minute.
The pitch of the wailing had increased, the volume swelled and I could fell the yell rising inside of me. I was about to open my mouth to say something loud and sharp when a song came into my head unbidden.
What Do You With The Mad That You Feel? suddenly popped into my brain. I thought the lines: “It’s great to be able to stop, when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and do something else instead and think this song.” So I sang them aloud, then I sang the whole song from beginning to end.
The child stopped screaming.
We sang a lot of songs together.
The dishes got done.
I didn’t have to yell.
“…parents help children by expressing a wide range of feelings — including appropriate anger. All children need to see that the adults in their lives can feel anger and not hurt themselves or anyone else when they feel that way.” – F.R.
I am a better parent and a better person thanks to Fred Rogers.