06 Dec Building Resilience With Daniel Tiger
Key Takeaways for Parents
By the time Daniel Tiger had made his cartoon debut on PBS Kids, Lila Hembree was in preschool in northern California. She and her older brother frequently squabbled, but one day, in the middle of a heated argument, she surprised him. “Let’s just calm down — take a deep breath and count to four,” she told him earnestly. Later, when her mother heard Lila singing to herself, she realized that sage advice came from a Daniel Tiger song: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar/Take a deep breath, and count to four…”
If the lyrics remind anyone of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, that’s because Daniel Tiger descended from that beloved children’s show. Fred Rogers, who hosted the show from 1968 until its end in 2001, believed that television had a responsibility to children. The creator of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Angela Santomero agrees. Santomero is a television executive who co-created Blues Clues, SuperWhy, Creative Galaxy and other shows familiar to parents. As a child, she was a “crazy fan” of Mister Rogers, and it’s no coincidence that the little tiger’s parents – Daniel Striped Tiger and Mom Tiger – were sock puppets in the original Mister Rogers neighborhood.
Like Mister Rogers, Daniel Tiger has caught the attention of educators and researchers not only for teaching empathy but for sharing the tools for resilience.
In one episode, Daniel Tiger deals with the idea of death when playmates grapple with the loss of a goldfish (a situation all too familiar to many parents). As Santomero told the Atlantic.com, “We imparted the same strategies that you would use with a preschooler in any of those situations: following their lead, answering just the questions that they’re asking of you, acknowledging the feelings that they have about it, and creating some coping skills for them.”
Trauma was also a theme in Daniel Tiger’s two-part special on superstorms, which repeated the mantra You have grownups here to keep you safe. “We did a ‘look for the helpers’ approach to those types of situations,” Santomero said.
In other words, parents, too, have a starring role on the show. Unlike the clueless or absent parents in tween’s TV wasteland, parents in Daniel Tiger are key to all the lessons the show teaches so well.
“The end goal is mastery”
In one episode known as “Smushed Birthday Cake,” Daniel Tiger is disconsolate to find his cake mashed up when he gets it home from the store. His father holds him and empathizes with his disappointment, then sings a few lines from a song: “When something seems bad, turn it around and find something good…” before helping Daniel Tiger solve this seemingly impossible problem. In her book Preschool Clues: Raising Smart, Inspired, and Engaged Kids in a Screen-Filled World (Touchstone, 2018), Santomero traces what happens next:
Dad Tiger: “Tell me something that you like about birthday cakes?”
Daniel Tiger: “That they’re not smushed?”
Dad Tiger: “What’s something else that you like about all birthday cakes?”
Daniel Tiger: “That they taste yummy?”
Daniel continues to puzzle out a possible solution to his conflict.
Daniel: “Maybe the cake still tastes good even though it’s smushed?”
The episode is on its way toward a good resolution. “As with everything we try to reach in our shows, the end goal is mastery,” Santomero writes. “We want preschoolers to be able to ‘own’ this conflict-resolution strategy and apply it in their real lives for themselves.”
“Parents should watch the show with their child”
For the best outcomes, parents should watch the show with their children, according to Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a child and teen clinical psychologist licensed to work in Connecticut and New York. To this end, the PBS Kids website offers a section on Daniel Tiger for parents, discussing how the show’s researched-based episodes, along with imagination, creativity, and “catchy, musical strategies, reinforce social skills necessary for school and for life.”
“It’s a wonderful show, and I love it that it teaches empathy, kindness and self-regulation,” Greenberg said. “It shows children you can tolerate your emotions; you don’t have to take action because of them.”
Greenberg added that the show may be especially valuable for parents who find it hard to control their own emotions and find themselves yelling or “losing it” on a regular basis. It’s hard for children to learn how to regulate their emotions, she said, when their beloved parent is modeling emotional dysregulation.
“It may seem easy for parents to be as respectful, loving, and comforting as Dad Tiger, but for many people it is not,” Greenberg concluded. “For people who were traumatized and are parenting with ACEs, dealing with their children’s anger and disappointments can be very challenging. It might really help to watch the Daniel Tiger show with their children — it’s a private, gentle and non-threatening way to learn these skills along with them.”