After a Daniel Tiger episode, my kids become considerate playmates and all-around lovely human beings.
At a recent playground outing, the kids insisted, as they often do, that I play rather than sit on a bench. Soon I was cast in the role of "monster," which I tried to subvert by telling my 4-year-old, Maggie, I was too scared to go down the big slide.
Without missing a beat she grabbed my head and turned it toward hers so I had no choice but to lock eyes. "When you're scared/close your eyes/and think of something happy," she sang in her best teacher voice.
Ditties like that have been popping up regularly of late. The other day I overheard potty talk in the toy room, but it wasn't the typical underwear jokes. Instead Maggie and her older brother, Liam, were singing, "When you have to go potty, STOP, and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!"
I owe all this to Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, a PBS show about 4-year-old Daniel Tiger. Remember the "Daniel Striped Tiger" puppet from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood? This cartoon character is his son. (Don't get hung up on the lack of a "Jr." or "Striped"; this Daniel goes his own way, man.)
The show has been around about a year and is geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, but even Liam - a 6-year-old obsessed with superheroes, Star Wars and anything sword-, gun- or fighting-related - asks to watch this blessing of a show.
Each episode is split into two vignettes featuring short, brain-implanting songs with helpful reminders and advice for potentially difficult situations. The songs stick in my kids' heads so well they use these lessons in their everyday lives. "Try new foods 'cause they might taste gooooood," Maggie told Liam at the dinner table the other night.
The immediate aftermath is noteworthy, too. After watching superhero shows, my kids reenact fight scenes and yell about mortal enemies and/or global domination. After a Daniel Tiger episode, they become considerate playmates and all-around lovely human beings.
My wife and I are dumbfounded that our kids request this show from our Netflix queue. There's no good reason they should look forward to watching a cartoon tiger learn life lessons, just as there was no good reason I used to enjoy watching a cardigan-clad man sing while he put his shoes on. Fred Rogers is the godfather of all children's programming that doesn't make you want to chuck the remote at the screen, and some of that magic must have rubbed off on Daniel Tiger.
Anyone who has suffered through an episode of Caillou, named after the whiniest, most unlikeable 4-year-old in television history, knows not all PBS shows are created equal. But more on that next time. For now, give this 4-year-old tiger a try and see if your kids don't surprise you with an offer to help around the house, because, as Daniel sings, "Everyone is big enough to do something."
-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer, often running his mouth about music in various publications. His two kids refer to Bob Evans as Bob Dylan's and still don't know the purple dinosaur's name.