Monday, March 7, 2011

Promoting Expressions of Care... Or... Where Has Mister Rogers Gone?

My daughter posted this You Tube feed and it really touched me:

Mister Rogers Defending PBS to the US Senate in 1969

I admit that in my house we occasionally made fun of Mister Roger's sappy low-budgeted show, and laughed as Eddie Murphy spoofed 'Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood' on SNL, but there was something warm and comforting about watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood.   More importantly, there were kids from disadvantaged and troubled homes who needed his soothing, reassuring love and constant commitment.

This clip shows Fred Rogers passionately championing public television and the need to promote "Expressions of Care" while demonstrating that angry feelings can be "reasonable and manageable."  My daughter (in her 20's) who grew up watching Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and the occasional Mister Rogers, wrote the following reaction: "As a child watching his programming, I didn't quite realize how profound that man was, but man did we loose a leading light when he died."

Just look, listen and feel his passion!  It is breathtaking.  Where are our champions today?

Let's talk about bullying. It's time to model and teach our bullies more appropriate expressions of conflict while empowering their victims to speak up and not feel embarrassed.  Gifted kids should not need to hide their gifts for fear of ridicule.  New kids, kids of different ethnicities, sizes, and colors.  Rich kids, poor kids, just plain different kids should not feel they have to hide who they are. My kids, for example, should not have had to attend Johns Hopkins University's CTY (Center for Talented Youth) to feel like they belonged. Their schools and clubs should have been able to. Schools, athletic teams, social clubs need to focus on social as well as academic or athletic goals. We need to teach our kids to how to effectively communicate needs and desires and to feel compassion for those who may not be like them.  There are two blogs I came across that do just this, you may want to take a look at them:
Now let's talk about graphic novels, and violence:  Fredrick Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent (1954) which protested the harmful effects violent imagery in mass media and comic books had on children. [Ironically, the early superhero comics were about standing up to bullies and fighting for the voices of the 'little guys'.] Wertham called television "a school for violence" and his book helped spark a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry that led to the "Comics Code."   Comic book publishers were to submit their works to the CAA (Comics Code Authority) and those "acceptable" publications would receive a seal of approval.  This almost killed the comics industry until recently.  Now authors, publishers and readers are finding that comics are not just for adults and there are some truly wonderful, nonviolent fiction and nonfiction publications for kids of all ages.

Yes, there are still violent graphic novels published.  There are also very violent novels, movies, plays, music and music videos published and produced as well.  It is up to us to promote the positive messages and argue the negative ones. 

The Answer as I see it: We need to validate angry feelings while modeling and nurturing appropriate acceptable means of expression.  And while Rodgers' puppetry, educational /video clips, even his clothing are now way outdated, his message should not be.  We need to promote "expressions of care" in the way we behave, in how we communicate, in the shows we watch, the books we read and the songs we sing.

What we can do as parents and teachers:
  • It is really important to validate feelings.  
  • If your child or student is angry, insulted, upset, embarrassed, overanxious, etc. acknowledge those feelings - even if you feel they are unwarranted.
  • IF  unwarranted, first, calm him or her down.  Once calm, talk in a soothing voice pointing out concrete examples of why he or she may be overreacting.  Listen carefully to what they are saying.  Continue to acknowledge their feelings while discussing other possibilities.
  • For a young child, help him or her express feelings.  You may want to role play responses (with puppets, dolls, legos, train characters - whatever they will best relate to, find 'fun,' and least threatening).
  • Brainstorm possible solutions and ways to respond.  For a young child who is reluctant to talk about this, you may want to role play with puppets or dolls.  When role playing help show your child how to use their words.
  • When brainstorming, or as a followup, you may want to discuss favorite book, movie, television characters who have dealt with similar issues.  Discuss how they resolved the problem.  Did it really help? Why? Can the strategy work for your child?
  • These discussions should be held privately with your child or student.  They can then be discussed later, more generically in the classroom as a whole - possibly using story characters (so students involved are not embarrassed or further upset).
  • If the problem continues, you may want to seek further help from school or medical professionals.
  • If you see bullying, name calling, shoving, break it up.  Don't let it go.  Talk to the parties involved.  
  • In your classroom do a lot of group work, mixing up students - helping them learn to work (and hopefully) respect each other a bit more.  Supervise group work carefully, monitoring dialogue between frequently targeted kids whenever possible.
  • If you find your child has been bullied, talk to him or her about it.  Talk to the teacher or responsible adults (coaches, playground/cafeteria supervisors - where appropriate). 

These are only a few suggestions.  I'd love to hear what you do.  Let me know how you are promoting expressions of care with your kids.  Let me know how you are dealing with violence and bullying.  Let's learn from each other while supporting each other - while shaping future Fred Rogers'!


  1. I'm so excited to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Rogers! It's like a dream come true!

    ...I grew up in Pittsburgh, otherwise known as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. I actually met him once at my mother's doctor's office.

    It's pretty much the high point of my childhood. So thank you, for this incredibly unexpected little moment of nostalgic bliss. :)

  2. s Discussion

    Kari O'Driscoll Permalink Reply by Kari O'Driscoll 7 hours ago

    What a great subject! I have two daughters, ages 8 and 11, and we are revisiting this subject almost daily as the hormones begin to ramp up for my eldest daughter. I have posted a "flier" in the hallway between their bedrooms that reads as follows:

    * There is no right or wrong way to feel about what happens in my life.
    * In safe situations (emotional and physical) it is okay to tell others how I am feeling, even if my feelings make me appear vulnerable.
    * Upset feelings are healthy and normal.
    * Good people can have bad feelings.
    * I am the ONLY person who can say how I am feeling.
    * It doesn't matter if others approve of how I feel because my emotions are mine.
    * Negative emotions are important and must be discussed.

    That being said, they also know that the house rules apply to feelings - we must show respect for each other with our words and bodies and being tremendously upset does not give anyone the right to harm another person. Anytime they are feeling overwhelmed with emotion (generally they can tell when this is happening because they start to feel it in their bodies as tears or shaking or flushing, etc.), they are absolutely free to excuse themselves from the situation and go explore what led to those feelings. It may be minutes, hours or days before they are ready to talk, but we encourage talking and, if and when someone slips up and hurts someone else by acting out on their emotions, they are encouraged to apologize sincerely and admit their mistake.

    It's hard, but I take my cues from JoAnn Deak and Brene Brown (both wonderful women writers) and encourage my kids to acknowledge their emotions for what they are without labeling them as "good" or "bad."

  3. The more I read of your post the more grateful I felt for the school my kids attend. I have ardently defended the school as an incredibly nurturing place to teach kids, and it is because of the validation and encouragement the kids get for emotional expression. Here is the mission of the school:
    A Focus on Learning

    At Valley Crossing, we believe all children can and want to learn. Toward that goal, we take the Responsive Classroom approach to creating a safe, challenging, and joyful educational environment. Responsive Classroom seeks to teach students appropriate ways of getting along with each other as members of the community

    The seven guiding principles of Responsive Classroom are:

    •The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
    •How children learn is as important as what they learn: process and content go hand-in-hand.
    •The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
    •There is a specific set of social skills that children need to learn and practice in order to be successful: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
    •Knowing the children we teach - individually, culturally, and developmentally - is as important as knowing the content we teach.
    •Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach. Parents are our partners.
    •How we, the adults at the school, work together is as important as our individual competence: effective schools begin with the adult community

    This social piece is so much more important to me for my elementary school-aged kids than the academics. I want to arm them for all that is coming down the road.

  4. I don't blame you for being grateful. The mission sounds wonderful and yes, I agree, the social learning is really important as it prepares them to gracefully meet challenges and will help them interact more effectively with others as they pursue their needs and interests. Thanks for sharing!

  5. And another thing...Oh my gosh, Kari, I LOVE the idea of the list you have here. I have three kids, a 10-year-old boy and two girls ages 8 and 5. We spend a lot of time validating and listening to how everyone is feeling in our house, but I have been admittedly nervous about how things will go when my girls (and my son) start to feel the onslaught of hormones.

    Without a visible list, I make it clear to our kids that we will listen to how the other people in our house might be feeling and that there is no right way to feel about a situation...just an appropriate way to react.

    A typical conversation might sound like this:

    "So, you are sad that dad is going to be gone tomorrow...Is that what you are saying?"

    "Yes," sad kid would reply.

    "Okay, but is it okay to punch your brother because you are sad?"


    "What is an okay thing to do when you are sad?"

    "Cry, talk, take some time alone..."

    It is an evolving conversation.

  6. Since the link to my blog doesn't seem to be working above my comment, for those who are interested, you can find more of my writing at The Writing Life -

  7. Meryl - so much here to think about. You raise many interesting points (and I need more time than passing periods to address them!) Just stopping in now to say thank you for your comments re: Feynman, and I'd be delighted to have you refer to my blog. He is a delight. I shall return - time for class :)

  8. i work with kids...doing counseling and what you are doing is spot on...we really do need to validate the feelings and teach kids how to talk about them...that is where i start with a lot of the kids i work with...

  9. I love that clip, just hearing Mr. Roger's voice rushes me back to my childhood. I saw him once at the Rose Parade. And I agree that children (and frankly people) need to know how identify and own their feelings while also recognizing that they live in community. My actions will effect people around me.

  10. oh, i like this, meryl... i love how practical, and how compassionate, your words... i'm so glad you linked. we come together as a community every wednesday/thursday to share "imperfect prose." peace to you, e.

  11. Great Meryl! I miss the Mr. Rogers days myself. I believe our kids are really missing out and it is up to us to recall these great lessons