You Are Special: Reflections on Mr. Rogers
By Hillary Chaney, LMHP
I recently read a book about Mr. Rogers (the “Won’t you be my neighbor?” guy). While there were several takeaways amidst the charming anecdotes, I was most deeply moved by the description of Fred Rogers creating his “neighborhood” show to provide a safe place for kids and families that might not have a safe space to turn to when they felt overwhelmed. His words continue to echo in my thoughts, because there is so much simple wisdom in them for us as parents, and as people.
“The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive, regardless of circumstance, lie in that child’s having had at least a small safe place (an apartment, a room, a lap) in which, in the companionship of a loving person, that child could discover that he or she was lovable and capable of loving in return.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.
This is so brilliant! This is one emotionally intelligent guy. He just simply got kids. But why would kids need a safe space? Don’t they understand how lovable they are naturally? Sadly, not always. Life is hard for kids. They are always falling, spilling, questioning, and in turn, getting certain reactions from bigger humans that they so longingly look up to. Sometimes, that reaction is out of empathy, sometimes it is out of frustration, and sometimes it is out of caretakers’ own experiences of being small.
“How we dealt with our own earliest experiences has a lot to do with how we cope with the ones that come later—and with how we help our children encounter their first challenges…Feelings from childhood—both the pleasant and the tough—never go away. They may get hidden, but they’re always part of who we are.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.
The reactions kids get from their caretakers influence their understanding and experience of being lovable. Children learn to predict their caretakers’ reactions by 11 months old. 11 MONTHS! From not even 1 year old and on, kids are able to predict and avoid certain reactions from caretakers, and other people with whom they come in contact. They also create beliefs and definitions for themselves as humans.
I am lovable.
I am cherished.
I am important.
I am an inconvenience.
I am a disappointment.
I am unlovable.
These definitions or beliefs about themselves go with them into adulthood and impact EVERYTHING. The confidence to try out for a major role in the school play. The ability to speak in front of a group of people. The strength to mend a broken relationship. The determination to put all their effort into graduating college.
“Even though, as empathetic parents, we try our best to ‘remember,’ we can’t understand the world exactly the way we once did as little children, or see the world the way our children are seeing it now. We have all been children and have had children’s feelings, but many of us have forgotten. We’ve forgotten what it’s like not to be able to reach the light switch. We’ve forgotten a lot of the monsters that seemed to live in our room at night. Nevertheless, those memories are still there, somewhere inside us.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.
The environment that our kids grow up in will not be perfect. We can’t protect them from everything negative and avoid everything that could hurt their feelings. We can’t control ourselves completely with regard to overreacting, getting angry, or feeling uncomfortable. Circle of Security Parenting™ would teach that we only have to meet these emotional needs 30% of the time in order for our children to be securely attached. That’s less than half the time, so you’re likely doing great as far as growing a secure child!
“In thinking about family times together, I realize that I have come back to the very best reason parents are so special. It is because we parents are the holders of a priceless gift, a gift we received from countless generations we never knew, a gift that only we now possess and only we can give to our children. That unique gift, of course, is the gift of ourselves. Whatever we can do to give that gift, and to help others receive it, is worth the challenge of all our human endeavors.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.
You are special, and you have A LOT to offer as your child’s parent. AND your kids are special and have a lot to offer you. It’s a beautiful thing.
To talk to a therapist about childhood patterns that you see playing out in your parenting or to attend one of Hillary’s “Circle of Security Parenting™” classes, please call our office at (402) 639-2901.
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud on Unsplash
Hillary is a licensed mental health professional with experience working with foster kids at Boys Town. She also has many years of therapy with clients who have experienced significant trauma. Along with that, she and her husband have foster multiple children…all teens.