In Defense of Daniel

No matter what boundaries we parents swore we’d set (or still attempt to enforce), kids do an awful lot of TV watching. So, as parents to toddlers, we also ingest a ton of the stuff. Some of it’s awesome. Some of it’s pointless. Some of it’s downright stupid. Then, there’s “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”. 

There seems to be a clearly-drawn line between parents who hate-hate-hate “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and those who truly love it. I’ve seen fights erupt online (I’m not kidding) over whether the songs are the “most annoying things EVER” or if they’re useful tools to help our children learn, grow and understand how to deal with life’s little challenges. I’m usually put at ease, at least, by the fact that everyone agrees that we all miss Mr. Rogers, himself and the original show.

Image courtesy of PBS Kids

For those of you who don’t have little ones in your house (and presumably don’t have the opportunity to partake in the PBS Kids’ fare), “Daniel” is a cartoon-based show that loosely utilizes some of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe characters from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to teach the new generation a plethora of positive life lessons. Daniel, himself, is actually the son of Daniel Striped Tiger (the original adorable puppet character) and is about pre-K aged. His friends are the children of other known characters – O the Owl (lives with his uncle, X), Katerina Pussycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (the daughter of Music Man Stan and Lady Elaine Fairchilde), and Prince Wednesday (whose old brother is Prince Tuesday, and parents are King Friday and Queen Sara).

The story lines are simple but incredibly realistic. So many of the topics – potty time, feeling left out, a new sibling, bath time, and many more – are ones that I either see firsthand with our own son or have seen over the years with my younger students.  

As a passionate fan of Mr. Rogers (the man AND the show), I was immediately skeptical a couple years back when Dave happened upon that familiar trolley sound, accompanied by unfamiliar cartoon characters. The questions arose: “Wait, are those the same characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, or…they’re their kids. Lady Elaine’s not a b**** anymore? Get out!” and “What would Fred think?” and “There’s something way too basic yet not at all pandering about this…” So. Many. Questions.

But, after awhile, the questions died down and we all found ourselves truly enjoying the thing. Yes, most of the songs are definite earworms that we find ourselves humming while doing dishes, but that’s the charm. They’re so simple yet so memorable that they fit perfectly into our lives, good for calming down both child and parent when an emotionally-charged moment could be turning out badly. And the GET kids. Like, really GET them. (One reason we’ve finally, after a long-felt annoyance over Caillou, given in. We like it because it’s exactly the stuff a young child goes through, said the exact way a child would.)

Plus, the show is actually produced by the Fred Rogers Company (which is also partly responsible for “Peg + Cat”, which we LOVE; that one’s just as enjoyable for the parents, if not more so). Not only is it funding the project, but it’s letting viewers know that, yes, Fred Rogers would appreciate this and encourage its use. If we can’t have Fred, Daniel’s the next best thing.

In fact, I like to think that Daniel’s “neighborhood” is actually an actualization of the world Mr. Rogers hoped to create. The kids on the show (be they animal or otherwise) are the next generation to reap the benefits of those raised on his ideals of love, acceptance, specialness and patience (among others); just as we were raised with these warm thoughts, we can pass them on through Daniel (as well as through the innate lessons we learned from him). The fact that every adult seems to universally know the exact same song for potty use may seem ridiculous to us as adults, but in fact it’s showing an environment filled with adults who all completely love, support and nurture the children in the neighborhood, giving them the ultimate sense of security. It’s idealistic, but if one can’t have some ideals, one can’t have a future worth looking forward to.

So, sure. We’re Daniel fans. We love that he’s still young enough to have his insecure, need-your-parents moments yet gaining his independence in leaps and bounds. We love that Miss Elaina wears backwards clothes and is boisterous. We love that O the Owl is highly literal and far more into books than playing pretend. We even love the ridiculousness that Prince Wednesday’s brother, although an heir to the throne, works as a babysitter and waiter. It’s all good.

And we’re sure that Hadley’s gaining from that good, in turn.

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