Research shows kids learn social and emotional skills from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood app

grrific feelings

Parents, the next time your preschooler feels so mad that they want to roar, try putting a tablet in their hands.

Yes, really. But first be sure the tablet is loaded with the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app, because new research has found that consistent use of the app can help preschoolers develop some pretty impressive emotion regulation skills.

In the study, conducted by researchers at Texas Tech University, University of South Dakota, and Vanderbilt University, and published this week in the journal “Media Psychology,” 121 kids ages 3-6 played for 10 minutes daily for two weeks with either the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app or a “control” app, and watched episodes of either Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or of a “control” program each weekday for two weeks. The study found that the kids who played with the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app (along with watching the control TV show), and those who both played with the app and watched episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, did significantly better at dealing with feelings of being mad, sad, and disappointed than those who didn’t. Specifically, these kids more frequently used the emotion regulation strategies taught by the Daniel Tiger media, including counting to four and taking a deep breath when mad, finding ways to pass the time until they don’t feel sad anymore, and looking for some good in situations when they’re disappointed.

What’s more, researchers tested participants both right after the experiment, and one month later, and found that the results “stuck” even a month later. In other words, playing with the Daniel Tiger app, or playing with the app and watching the show, can help make long-lasting changes in kids’ ability to deal with some tough emotions.

And that’s not where the cool stuff ends. All this learning appears to have happened without the aid of parent-child conversations, as past research indicates is sometimes necessary. For example, you may already be familiar with other recent research about how kids can learn empathy and other social skills from watching episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. That research found that kids’ learning from the show was dependent on parents’ supplemental conversations with kids about educational media. This new research, however, found that playing with the app by itself—even without supplemental parent-child conversations—led to significant gains in emotion knowledge and emotion regulation skills. Perhaps, then, the interactive nature of the app makes up for what is lost with the absence of parent-child conversation.

Lastly, the study found that kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood media—watching episodes of the show at home led to more frequent parent-child conversations about the programming. In other words, the show helps start conversations about social and emotional topics that are likely, in turn, to help impress those lessons on kids even more.

All these cool findings make me wonder what Fred Rogers himself would say about them. One quote, in particular, stands out: “Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job.”

That is especially true for us as parents. And it’s nice to know we have some tools to help in these all-important efforts. (photo courtesy of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood ©2012, The Fred Rogers Company)

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