When my daughter was two, she had a Happy Place: a playground bordered by a small stream and towering oak trees. But when it was time to leave, she went to the Mad Place, fast. The screams. The kicks. The tears.
We had recently discovered Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, including an episode where Daniel does NOT want to stop playing. As it happens in every episode, his parents sing him a strategy song. So one evening at the park, I tried something new. I took a deep breath and broke into song: “It’s almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do.”
My daughter looked at me with big eyes, and then calmly said, “I choose slide.” That was it. I was stunned.
As we calmly headed toward the car, another mom caught up with me and said, “You watch Daniel Tiger, too? I sing those songs all the time. I seriously think it’s a parenting show disguised as a kids’ show.”
Stop, Go and Breathe
How many of us sing Daniel Tiger songs in clutch parenting moments? And which ones do we sing? In my unscientific poll of a few dozen parents, the overwhelming favorite was the Potty Song: “When you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!” (Daniel Tiger’s Stop and Go Potty app is also a helpful tool!)
Multiple parents shared that this song was a “huge help” with potty training their kids. “All my kids, regardless of potty training status have loved that song,” said Caroline. “It’s a good way to remind them to finish the process before going back to play.”
My friend Lacey, a mom of three girls, modified the song to emphasize the all-important “wiping” step of the process: “We sing ‘Wipe, Flush, Wash, and be on your way!’” Several parents admitted to still humming the song long after potty training has ended. “Yeah, that one really sticks with you,” said one parent, sighing.
After the Potty Song, the second most-mentioned song was the Mad Song — which is a beautiful metaphor for the challenges of raising littles. Janalyn told me, “We could not have handled tantrums without ‘when you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.’”
Keep Trying, You’ll Get Better
Parents use all kinds of strategy songs to help navigate life with small children. Jen plays “Clothes on, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on shoes, and off to school!” for her son in the morning to remind him of the routine. Adam sings, “We gotta try new food cause it might taste good” in an operatic falsetto to encourage his three kids at the dinner table. And another busy mom I know pulls out “When you’re sick, rest is best, rest is best” — even with her teenagers — as a family reminder to prioritize self-care when illness strikes.
My friends Erin and Kathy both showed their kids the doctor’s visit episodes when they were preschoolers to prepare them for what to expect, especially for shots. Even though her kids are older now, “I still sing to them ‘Close your eyes, and think of something happy’ when they start to feel scared,” said Kathy.
When one of Erin’s kids entered a tantrum stage, she created her own call-and-response strategy song, inspired by Daniel Tiger. “We would sing it in the car, and I would say something like, ‘Do we cry when we can’t do something?’ and she would say ‘No!’ and then she would come up with the better solution, like, ‘We ask for help!’ Then we would both sing the hook, ‘That’s what big girls do!’”
And then there are the times we sing the songs to ourselves. “I use Daniel Tiger for my own emotional regulation all the time,” said Caroline. “Like ‘Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time…and that’s okay!’” My friend Beth said, “I use ‘If something seems hard to do, try it a little bit at a time’…honestly more for myself than for the kids!” Recently, Anne’s four-year-old turned to her grandma during a game and said, “Keep trying, you’ll get better! That’s what Daniel Tiger says.” (Find even more songs with the free Daniel Tiger for Parents app.)
Find Something Good
Laura’s family has loved the introduction of Chrissie because it has offered “such an awesome way to talk about how we are all different in so many neat ways, but we can still have so much in common.” Another parent shared that she struggled with how to explain to her children that a close relative was transgender: “The kids simply said to me, ‘Mom, just like Daniel Tiger said: it doesn’t matter what you wear or how you do your hair, you’re still you!’”
Andrea uses the “turn it around” song to help her kids reframe disappointing moments. She said, “There was one episode where Daniel’s birthday cake was smashed on the way home, so they sang something about ‘turn it around and find something good’ — because even though it was smashed, it still tasted good. We used that song to cope with stuff that went wrong — to try to deal with feelings and not have a meltdown every time.”
This morning, I used that song with a grumpy five-year-old who spilled milk on his favorite shoes. “This is going to be the WORST DAY EVER,” my son cried, as I pushed his feet into some old sneakers on our way out the door. As we drove to school, we talked about how days have ups and downs. Good moments and bad moments. “Do you remember what Daniel Tiger says when his birthday cake is ruined?”
He grumbled and mumbled, “Turn it around and find something good.” After a very long pause he added, “Hey, mom! I just remembered that I get to be snack helper today. That’s something good!”
Building a Parenting Tribe
Last week, I was working on this article in a crowded coffee shop. The woman next to me was showing her two-year-old a Daniel Tiger song on her phone. She looked a bit sheepish as she explained that her son was starting a new preschool and was struggling with separation anxiety. “I’m showing him the ‘Grownups Come Back’ song. Maybe it will help?”
I was grateful for this moment of solidarity with a stranger on a Friday morning, as we shared some of the challenges of raising little ones. Caring for children is emotionally and intellectually challenging, and parents need a strong tribe of support. I am happy to admit that Daniel Tiger — and the brilliant Fred Rogers, who first gave voice to Daniel and some of these strategy songs — is part of my tribe.
Deborah Farmer Kris is a writer, teacher, parent educator, and school administrator. She works on parenting projects for PBS KIDS for Parents and writes about education for MindShift, an NPR learning blog. Deborah has two kids who love to test every theory she’s ever had about child development! Mostly, she loves finding and sharing nuggets of practical wisdom that can help kids and families thrive — including her own.