Research shows preschoolers who watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood develop social and emotional skills

Daneil-Tiger-putting-on-his-sneakers copy

Parents, take heart. Not all TV is bad. New research finds that watching America’s favorite tiger can be good for your developing child.

You remember Mr. Rogers, don’t you? The red sweater. The shoes. The songs. Your kids may not know who he is, but they likely know who Daniel Tiger is. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the animated descendant of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and features children of several characters from the original Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

In order to be successful once they enter elementary school, it is essential that kids develop certain social and emotional skills during their preschool years. A lot of things can help kids develop these skills. Researchers at Texas Tech University wanted to see if watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood could also help.

In the study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Children and Media, 127 preschoolers watched 10 episodes of either Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or a nature show over a two-week period. Children who watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood exhibited higher levels of empathy, self-efficacy (basically, confidence in oneself in social situations), and the ability to recognize emotions than those who watched the nature show. There is a kicker, though. In order for kids to benefit from watching the show, their regular TV-watching experiences had to be accompanied by frequent parent-child conversations about media content.

In other words, it is the combination of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and parents’ involvement while watching that seems to make the difference. This appears to especially be true for younger children (ages 4 and younger) and low-income children. When we take frequent parent-child conversations about media out of the equation, kids don’t seem to benefit as much from watching the show.

What does this research mean? This means that certain educational TV programming is becoming sophisticated enough that they have the ability to maintain a child’s attention, they are developmentally appropriate, they have characters with whom children can identify, and they use teaching techniques that help kids learn.

It also means that parents need to be intimately involved in helping reinforce the lessons taught in educational TV programming. It is not enough to plop your kiddo in front of the TV and expect them to become academic and social geniuses. The lessons in the show need to be reinforced by regular parent involvement.

In addition to teaching social skills, the show also teaches certain skills that preschoolers often find difficult, such as potty-training, trying new foods, and brushing teeth. It does so through songs that reinforce the lessons. In other words, the legacy of Mr. Rogers lives on in this cartoon remake of one of the classic shows of our generation.

71 comments

  1. YES!!! We love Daniel Tiger in our house and he has some great lessons, even for adults. We often sing and recite the songs when a situation comes up: “When you feel frustrated, take a step back, and ask for help!”

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  2. Daniel Tiger is a great show that teaches children that emotions are good and normal — we just need to learn how to handle them. It’s also at a slower pace than some other children’s tv, so my son can follow along without getting worked up. I hope more programming like this follows soon!

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  3. It would be great to hear a bit more detail about what kinds of conversations/questions are most helpful when, say, a 2-3 year old are watching.

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    • Hi Ella, Using the “when you’re feeling frustrated” as an example, the conversations I’ve had went like: “Wow, Daniel’s really frustrated, huh?” “Do you ever feel like that?” “I remember this morning, you were so frustrated when you couldn’t get your shoe on. When you asked for help we were able to work together to get it on, right. Just like when Daniel Tiger was frustrated and his mom helped.” “Sometimes I get frustrated too and need your help. Like when there were toys all over and I asked for help picking them up yesterday.” And then throughout the day when she got frustrated just singing the little jingle to remind her that she should ask for help.

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    • There are a few songs to manage kids’ feelings on their own. When they are sad, upset and jealous.
      My son started to sing the songs when he felt sad , upset.. and it was really helpful to control his negative feelings. Strongly recommend it!

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    • Watch Mr Rogers videos on YouTube. Every one has a theme about children and discussions for them – from fear of going to the doctor to learning about food and cooking to dealing with a friend moving away.

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  4. I just can’t get with this. I grew up on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Educational or not, I can’t get down with an overgrown house cat.

    Lol no seriously, interesting read and I’m happy the legacy of Mr. Rogers has been “rejuvenated”. Are they going to do a study to see if this works on adults too? I imagine some adults could use these life-changing skills! HaHa

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  5. my son loves daniel tiger. i like the episode where he gets a baby sister. it was helpful in trying to explain that my son would be a big brother soon. also, my son is afraid of me leaving him when he goes to soccer practice and i ask him to remember on daniel tiger when they sing “grown ups come back”

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  6. As a grandparent, I watched Mr. Rogers with my children and am glad to watch Daniel Tiger with my grandson. It is gentle on the soul

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  7. This is great, but it would be more accurate and helpful if your title included a mention about parental involvement and discussion. This appears to be a key component and with so many people only reading titles or first paragraphs of articles – and this one already being shared widely on Facebook – it would be beneficial if that was highlighted in the title as well. Also any idea if they compared kids who watch Daniel Tiger to kids who spent that time reading with their parents? If not, it seems that would be an important issue to address and one that might impact practical takeaways from this study.

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    • I have always thought these types of children shows need adult involvement other wise with just a child his own the characters on this show come off sounding whiny. So does the show Cailou. Sometimes I think shows are going so overboard on teaching about feelings all the time.

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  8. Totally agree, just wait to the toddler is at least a toddler ideally 18 months until they see a screen. My daughter waited that long and she speaks at levels years above her age. She is so advanced and I attribute it to her not having much screen time.

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    • My four year old speaks years above her age group and has been speaking in sentences for a very long time.

      She’s been watching tv and movies the whole time.

      I attribute it to my frequent speaking, singing, and interacting with her.

      She tells me about her shows, she dances along with the fun music, she makes up stories with her little action figures of the Paw Patrol pups, she chooses which Disney songs she’d like me to sing to her at bedtime every night.

      “Screen time” is not the enemy, not engaging with your children is the enemy.

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      • Thank you!!! Couldn’t agree more; same boat here with my 3 1/2 year old son with speaking skills well beyond his age group!

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      • Liz,
        I fully agree with you on this. The “screen” time is still GREAT for growing children (if you put on the right shows to engage them 😉 ); especially for us working moms who are busy when we get home from work.
        I TOO attribute our toddler’s advanced speech and vocabulary to our constant speaking, interacting, and singing with her, whether she fully understands or not! Our little girl has made leaps in her speaking and word combinations in the last 6-8 months. I can see that the shows we let her watch, combined with our continuous conversations and random singings, have aided in her ability to excel. 🙂

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  9. I’m curious about the interaction between parents and children who watched the Nature show. A more valid test would have included parent-child discussion for the Nature show as well. The article lauds the benefits of watching the Daniel Tiger show. Similar positives could result with similar parent-child conversation while viewing the Nature show . Granted, the topics of discussion ( per the age-related subject matter of the show) surely attributed to the positive effect that Daniel Tiger presents, but similar results could be attained through meaningful conversation between parent and child during the viewing of any show geared toward children.

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  10. Excellent show! My 2 year old daughter loves the show and catches the lessons. I’m amazed at how well she expresses herself from what she’s learned through the show. She will tell me she’s frustrated or sad but then sings the songs and knows how to move on. She even sings to her new baby sister (1 month) when she cries, telling her “It’s okay to be sad sometimes, little by little you’ll feel better again”. It’s adorable! It’s been great that Daniel Tiger got a new sister because those episodes help her with her new sister. I’m amazed at the connections she makes to his cartoon life and her real life. She sings, “There’s time for you and baby too”. It’s also helped her with potty training and brushing teeth. As a teacher and parent this show is a great tool to combine with skills you are teaching your child. Couldn’t love it more. I am not a fan of her watching much tv. Therefore, I limit what she can watch. But she’s always asking for it! She really loves the books too and makes her own skits with her Tiger Family dolls.

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  11. […] We love this show in our house! Roland references the episodes often.  I’ve been able to talk him down from a tantrum by asking what Daniel Tiger does when he gets frustrated, and then singing the song with him (“when you feel so mad that you wanna ROAR, take a deep breath, and count to four”). When Juliette was Roland’s age, before she was very verbal, she would use bits of Daniel Tiger scripts or songs to communicate different needs or emotions, for example, singing the potty song to alert us that she had to go.  We just had to pay attention to what she was scripting, and figure out the significance of it in her current situation. I was reading something recently that described Daniel Tiger episodes as basically “social stories,” which, if you’ve never heard that term, are stories of a particular situation or activity, which include specific information about what to expect and/or how to behave in that situation, and why. I would definitely agree with that comparison. In each Daniel Tiger episode, a different situation is introduced, for example, what should one do when a baby sibling messes up their toys, and then it’s reinforced repeatedly throughout the episode using a short, catchy song (“when a baby makes things different, find a way to make things fun!”) That’s just one example of many. I’m truly not surprised to see that research shows that toddlers who watch Daniel Tiger have stronger social and emotional development.  It has really helped my kids learn to navigate various social situations, and deal with big emotions.  I would highly recommend this show for any small child, whether they are autistic or neurotypical. https://childrenandmediaman.com/2016/06/21/research-shows-preschoolers-who-watch-daniel-tigers-neigh… […]

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  12. “When you feel so mad and you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” This show teaches children how to deal with their emotions and how to communicate with others appropriately. There’s no better show on television for my littles. I hope the show continues for a long time to come.

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  13. Reblogged this on No1Librarian and commented:
    I have talked to others about the strangeness of Daniel Tiger in the past. I love Mr Rogers and the first time I saw Daniel Tiger I was completely taken aback at what they had done. And not in a good way. But the more I hear about this show the more I love it. I love that Mr Rogers is continuing down through the next generation and obviously doing it in a really great way considering this study. Go Daniel Tiger!

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  14. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is still a favorite in our house although our 3 year old is the bigger fan these days. The show premiered when his older brother was 3. I grew up watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood so I was curious about the reboot. It’s a show you can really watch with your child without getting bored and their father and I have used many of the songs to help them deal with the real life counterpart of any given episode. Bit them PBS has always delivered excellent children’s programming.

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  15. Drawing definitely causation in human development can never be certain. It sounds to me like the parents who are actively engaged and reinforcing the positive messages may be the cause of the positive outcome in their children. Even if those children never saw an episode but had parents enforcing those skills and singing those songs I would be happy to wager that those children would also show stronger social emotional development.

    The children who watched Daniel tiger and didn’t have actively engaged parents didn’t show the same results which leads me to believe that the show has no positive influence on its own with children’s behavior or development.

    Be careful of headlines reading such and such show is great for children. The bottom line is still that children under 3 years of age should NOT be exposed to screen time 3 years limited 30 minutes older childeen not more than 1 hour. Children don’t learn and develop by watching screens they develop by doing, exploring, and experiencing life.

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    • I couldn’t agree more with you, Courtney. A parent’s involvement and attitude should receive the credit, not a show, which seems to have a viewership mostly consisting of nostalgic parents and grandparents, who remember a lovable quirky guy in his sweaters, while the child is mesmerized by the cartoon tiger; I didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers in my Eastern European country, so I see a Soviet era kids’ cartoon “art” style, and after giving it a few episodes’ worth of trying, consider it a waste of mine, and my child’s time. I’d rather spend the time reading books with my kid.

      We have actually banned Daniel Tiger from our house. We have an almost 2 year old who gets mesmerized by TV, like most children do, so we don’t watch a lot of it with her, or if we do, pre-vet the shows. We’re okay with Peg + Cat. The musical production value is better (the creator of the show has worked on Broadway productions), and it’s pretty cool that an 18 month old can recognize and name numbers. After seeing kids (that at 4+ years old should be old enough to know better) at the park, whose moms desperately sing the “it’s almost time to go”, and tell them to “pick one more thing to do before we go”, and the kids still descend into mad tantrums, and don’t appear to be able to cope with the disappointment of leaving in the middle of having fun, I think I have made the correct judgment on that show. If the parent’s not on the ball with other parenting decisions, the show may be an impediment to healthy emotional development, rather than a boon.

      Our daughter is going through a lot of emotional development, with the tantrums and occasional meltdowns involved, and I don’t use a screen or an animated tiger to process her emotions with her, I do it face to face, without screens, and with lots of hugs, and I take the time needed for verbalizing and explaining her emotions for her, while she’s still learning what they are; “You’re frustrated because I made you wear pants out of the house, that’s okay. But people usually wear clothes outside the house, and you and me will, too. Hugs for Mommy?” being the gist of our most recent conversation this week. We are okay with her expressing her emotions, even anger and frustration, as crying is therapeutic in its own right, but don’t approve of hitting, kicking, or biting. Violent behavior gets nipped in the bud. Thankfully, we’ve never had much issue with our child in the first place, as she’s got a gentle disposition.

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  16. How is a conclusion drawn that Daniel Tiger had anything to do with the positive effect if the parent interaction was the variable that was necessary to result in the positive outcome?

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  17. I think this is one of the best children’s shows. I wish they would do an episode on stranger danger. I also wish they would drop the whining, especially Katerina Kitty Cat’s whining. Otherwise great show!

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  18. Thanks for your kind words Eric and everyone who chimed in here. It took MANY of us MANY years to develop Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Utilizing Fred Rogers’ lifetime of work, as a foundation, we had an incredible source from which to pull from. Though we never lost focus, making certain that each episode strikes a cord with the true needs and concerns of children. While we are thrilled that their social & emotional skills have benefited from DTN, we entirely understand & agree that it takes a village. So to the village, I say, Ugga Mugga!!

    xo
    Angela C. Santomero
    Creator/Exec Producer: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Blue’s Clues, Super Why, Creative Galaxy, Wishenpoof..
    @AngelasClues

    Liked by 1 person

  19. How do I get your job? I would like to do research on TV and learning and the impact it has on kiddos. Let me know your degree and such. Thanks Love the show btw. My son loves it too!

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  20. 150 kiddos in the study??? Not enough to make a generalized study. Too many hidden variables as well! Take this “ad” only at face value please.

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  21. […] While our household has strict limits on kids’ screen time, there is one show we consistently allow Sprout to watch- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This Mr. Rogers’ spin-off captures much of the charm of the original, even though it’s animated rather than live action. It focuses on realistic social situations: Every episode consists of two halves, each of which has slightly different takes on the same theme. While the characters are cartoons and many are animals, Daniel Tiger and his friends face scenarios similar to those of real-life preschoolers. From a younger sibling being born to trying new foods, the episodes address common issues in a relatable way. The lessons from the animated sections are then reinforced with a short live action piece on the same message. Doing variations on a theme reinforces the lessons and helps kids apply them in different situations. As a result, it provides great fodder for conversations between parents and kids. Even when it’s a subject we’ve discussed before, Sprout is much more interested when Daniel Tiger has talked about it. In fact, researchers found that if parents talked to kids afterwards about the episode, watching Daniel Tiger can help kids develop social and emotional skills. […]

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