Image courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions.
The love of Daniel Tiger
October 26, 2023
I have a two-and-a-half-year-old. She is all the things that you think of when you imagine a toddler. She’s very opinionated about everything. Her mood is fickle. She can also give the best cuddles. It’s an age that is both incredibly hard and surprisingly beautiful. It is also the age of Daniel Tiger.
We are not a screen-free family (please don’t judge). Our kids get a certain amount of screen time each day so that I have time to cook or clean or peel stickers off random furniture, all those special parts of parenting that aren’t in the required readings. My older child can watch a show without interruption. My toddler, however, has the attention span of a gnat. This proves difficult when trying to distract her. Thankfully she has developed an abiding love for “Dan Tie”—more commonly known as Daniel Tiger.
For those removed from the toddler stage of life, let me explain. Daniel Tiger is based on the character by the same name as developed by Fred Rogers. Each episode follows four-year-old Daniel as he navigates his friend and family groups in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Daniel has two loving parents and a little sister. But the families in the show aren’t all the stereotypical family. O the Owl lives with his Uncle X. Katerina Kitty Cat lives with her single mom. Miss Elaina is biracial. The show encompasses a wide breadth of families, races, cultures, and in this small part of the world none of this actually matters. People are kind. People learn that it’s okay if they do things that are unique to themselves. Reading is encouraged. Playtime and imagination are mainstream. Children actually listen when you tell them to go potty (maybe this is unique to toddler parents). In other words, it is a delightful reminder of the Mister Rogers Show that captured the hearts and minds of the generations that are adults with children of their own today.
Just as Christ commands us to believe as a child, Fred Rogers, and now Daniel Tiger, keeps reminding us that we won’t always be the best, but we all deserve the chance to try to be the better version of ourselves. The Imago Dei. The one that God sees when God declares us beloved.
More than anything, Daniel Tiger and Fred Rogers taught lessons that teach Christian values of love and empathy, kindness and justice. Rev. William Barker shared at Fred Rogers’ funeral that Rogers was particularly fond of the Psalms, and had memorized Psalm 121. It concludes: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:7-8 ESV).
In his simple way, Fred Rogers embodied Christlike behavior in the way he loved those around him. Everyone was special because everyone was special. Just as Christ commands us to believe as a child, Fred Rogers, and now Daniel Tiger, keeps reminding us that we won’t always be the best, but we all deserve the chance to try to be the better version of ourselves. The Imago Dei. The one that God sees when God declares us beloved.
I love that my daughter loves Daniel Tiger. It’s a slower-paced story and one that I trust is helping her become that better version of herself. I saw the video on social media of the message Mister Rogers gave in response to September 11. It is a message that makes me tear up. He closes by saying:
“And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe…And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.”
I weep not because of the tragedy that prompted this message. I was decades away from being a parent at that point. I tear up because parenting, in all its forms, is hard and it feels like there is a constant drive to be better and follow the newest trend. But Mister Rogers says my trying is enough some days. God says that I am going to keep messing up, but He will love me all the same. Daniel Tiger gives me hope that my children will learn that too.
Dr. Claire Hein Blanton is an ordained Baptist minister in Houston, Texas. She received her PhD in systematic theology and ethics from the University of Aberdeen.