Not too long ago I came across a meme that asked "How much therapy does it take to be as patient as Daniel Tiger's mom?" I got a good laugh out of it because Mom Tiger is always calm and knows how to solve everything with a song — she is, in short, patently unrealistic. I began to wonder, could I ever be that patient and, most importantly, would the techniques on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood even work in the real world? Unlike the question that has plagued me since childhood (How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?) I was determined to find out, to the point of actually trying it myself.
If you're familiar with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, which is based on characters from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the parents use songs to help children express how they're feeling, work through various emotions, and problem solve. There are songs about calming down when you're mad, asking for help when you're frustrated, trying new foods, and even going potty. Although I was skeptical about taking advice from a fictional character who wasn't even of the same species, one thing I've learned since being a parent is to keep an open mind. Most of the songs are stuck in my head anyway, so I thought, why not put them to use? I decided to parent like the Tigers for a month.
My first attempt to parent like the Tigers was in tackling potty training. We had been having some trouble in that department for quite a while, and so I thought it would be the perfect way to test out parenting like the Tigers. I made sure to watch the potty-training episode with my daughter as often as we could and memorized the potty song ("Stop! And go right away"). We sang it every time she went to the bathroom. At first, my daughter seemed excited and was happy to hear a familiar song. It was working. She would sing the song when she had to go to the bathroom. She even did all the steps Daniel did in the episode. But then the song lost its appeal and we were back to square one.
She must've recognized that I was frustrated and she starting singing a song from Daniel Tiger about being frustrated.
I felt pretty naive for thinking a song would be the answer to all of my parenting woes. I ended up using a completely different potty training technique and had success right away, so I dropped the whole parenting like the Tiger's idea.
But just a short while after our whole potty-training debacle, my daughter used one of the songs from Daniel Tiger on me. On a day when I needed to get work done on my laptop, my daughter refused to play on her own. I tried everything to keep her occupied but nothing was working. I guess she must've recognized that I was frustrated and she starting singing a song from Daniel Tiger about being frustrated. The song helped me explain to her how I was feeling, and that she could help me by playing on her own for a while, the same way Daniel did on the episode when he went to work with Mom Tiger.
Pretty soon, these kinds of incidents were happening more frequently and I decided to give ~parenting like the Tigers~ another proper go. I spoke to my husband about it so we'd both be on the same page and then we began round two.
Over the next few weeks we tried various songs and talked about our feelings whenever a situation arose. We mentioned situations on the show and used them as a starting point to discuss issues and find solutions to problems. When my daughter was angry about having to leave the park and go back home, we sang "When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."
When my daughter was sad I had to leave, we'd sing the "Grown-ups come back" song and used examples of grown-ups leaving and later returning on the show. And after a little while, things got better. Her tantrums didn't last as long or didn't happen at all in some cases. My daughter instead tried to explain how she felt.
PBS has an app for parents with every Daniel Tiger song.
My husband and I were shocked by just how much singing songs from the show improved the way we parented and communicated with our toddler. Of course, we attempted to talk about feelings in the past, but we had never had success until now. And things got even easier when, about two weeks into our experiment, I discovered that PBS has an app for parents with every Daniel Tiger song. Best of all, it was organized by feeling and situation. I no longer had to memorize songs and now had access to more songs than I ever could have imagined.
We continued over the next few weeks and before my daughter's first dentist appointment, we made sure to watch the episode when Daniel went to the dentist and also practiced the song. On the day of her appointment, my daughter was excited. But once she sat in the dentist's chair, things quickly changed. The dentist's tools were a bit scarier than the ones used in the episode, and she cried the entire time. No matter how many songs we sang, tried to talk about her feelings, or mentioned various episodes of Daniel Tiger that we thought could help, nothing worked.
The dentist was unable to thoroughly check my daughter's teeth and we were asked to come back at another time. Tiger parenting didn't always go as planned.
Although parenting like the Tigers is an easy and fun way to help children express how they're feeling and to also help parents communicate with their children about various situations, there are some drawbacks. For one, I noticed if my daughter had not watched an episode with a particular song, she was less likely to be open to singing it and less likely to cooperate. Even if I made up a song on my own, she didn't react the same way she did to her favorite songs from Daniel Tiger. I think seeing Daniel work through a problem helped her to express herself because she knew a solution was possible if Daniel had found a way through it. Knowing the possible outcomes made talking about feelings and trying new things easier. With that said, Daniel Tiger is not the solution to it all — let's be honest, in some situations, a song just won't cut it. Tantrums still happened here and there.
Although parenting like the Tigers isn't foolproof and eventually I know my daughter will grow out of watching the show (though I don't think I ever will), it's opened my eyes to just how important it is for children to see their feelings validated and represented.
Instead of being punished or ashamed, watching Daniel encounter an issue, go through the emotions, and eventually come to a solution allowed my daughter to understand that their are safe and positive ways to express herself.