A Grown Man and An Animated Tiger: Lessons Learned from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

I glance at my iPhone.  The display reads:  8:00 A.M.  It’s time for Daniel Tiger. I push the power button on the television and set the channel to our local PBS station.  A small, round-face tiger, wearing a red sweater, appears on the screen and sings,  “It’s Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a land of make-believe, won’t you ride along with me? Ride along! Won’t you ride along with me?” Henry, my toddler son, smiles and directs his attention to the singing tiger. “Da-na,” he says.

I sip my coffee and read the news headlines on my iPad.  In the middle of an article, I hear Daniel announce: “Dad is taking me and my friends to the clock factory.  And YOU’RE coming too!”  I wanna go. Daniel, along with his father and friends, walk into the clock factory. The walls are covered with fancy clocks displaying moving arms. “Hey, do you want to make-believe with me?” Daniel asks.  Of course, I do. I follow the animated tiger through a sparkly, clock fantasy examining up-close cogs and wheels.

After the exciting exploration, Daniel’s father calms us with the episode’s mantra:  “give a squeeze, nice and slow, take a deep breath, and let it go.”  I take a deep breath.  And let it go.  “Da-na,” Henry says. Fast forward. Daniel’s father teaches us how to count on a clock face, which leads to chime time, a magical time involving synchronized chiming.  The clocks sound while lights flash. I want a job at the clock factory. I wonder if they offer benefits.

My wife and I refer to Daniel Tiger as “DT.”  It’s our go-to show in the mornings. DT is practically a family member. If you are not up to date on children’s television, (neither was I until the last year) Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is based on the classic children’s show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  DT is the son of the original Daniel Striped Tiger from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe; the other characters who play with DT, such as Prince Wednesday and Katerina Kittycat, are also children of original characters. The show aims at preschool-aged children, and focuses on teaching them emotional intelligence and respect for others through basic lessons like sharing and speaking kind words.  You know–neighborly behavior.

So, here’s the thing:  I love DT not only because he offers creative, virtuous lessons for my child, but also because he reminds me of the values I need to be a kind, generous, and moral person. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood intends to speak to small children, but at it’s core are universal values and behaviors appropriate for people at every stage of life. And let’s be honest, we all need an occasional reminder regarding neighborly behavior.

In some episodes, I feel like the playful, computer-generated tiger speaks directly to me.  What does this say about me? I don’t know.  I think it says I am an imperfect human being that often forgets the behaviors necessary for a well-lived life. You know how when you go to church (maybe you go to synagogue, mosque, or temple) and find yourself spiritually fed by the children’s lesson more than the sermon?  This is how I experience DT.  There are days when I need a deep, thoughtful, and reflective teacher, but there are also days when I need DT’s simple, yet wholehearted, message to feed my soul. There are days when I need someone to speak not in parables, but in direct, concrete words.

I believe the world would be a better place if everyone watched an episode of DT in the morning. Below, I want to share with you a few of my favorite lessons.

All feelings are okay.  It’s important to embrace the range of feelings we experience–from sadness to joy to anger to disappointment.  Expressing our emotions allows us to be fully human.  Sometimes emotions are frightening and get pushed down inside us.  We need supportive friends to help us feel safe and comfortable with our feelings.  All emotions are not only okay, but an essential part of our humanity. Check out DT’s soothing song about feelings from episode “Someone Else’s Feelings.”

Empathy is necessary. In the episode, “Empathy at School,” DT teaches the importance of intentionally placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, and how it can go a long way in preventing damaged relationships. It’s a simple, preventative act that moves us outside ourselves and connects us to the humanity of others. Refusing to honor the feelings of others contributes to the never ending cycle of emotional, physical, and spiritual hurt in the world. We empathize not only to avoid creating pain, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

You gotta find a way to play together. Living in a neighborhood requires compromise.  For the best interest of the neighborhood, we need to recognize our way of doing things may not always be the most helpful approach.  Perhaps the way we are familiar with worked in the past, but it no longer works.  We need to listen to others and consider their approach.  Finding a way to play together is necessary to promote a joyful and playful neighborhood. (DT demonstrates comprise in the episode “Daniel Plays At The Castle.”)  Easier said than done, but it’s the only way to live in a real neighborhood.

Feelings, empathy, and playing together are a few of the topics explored. If you tune into the show, you will find endless wisdom.  DT and friends constantly remind children and parents about the importance of neighborly behavior. In fact, when I wake in a foul mood and act like a toddler, my wife straightens me out.  “Go watch DT and calm down,” she says.

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