It’s a Beautiful Day in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

dtn-dynamic-515.jpgI’ve been fortunate, over the course of my career, to work on some pretty amazing projects. Many of them have been integral to my professional and personal growth. And one holds a very special place in my heart.

It was a thrill to play a VERY small role in the launch of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS Kids several years ago.

Before I got to work on it, I fell in love with it.

I saw an 11-minute preview at SXSW breakfast in 2012, when Beanie was not even a year old. While this was a new show, it was effectively a sequel to one of my favorites, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And, let’s be honest, Fred Rogers was THE standard bearer of educational television. So a show inspired by his work had a a huge responsibility to carry on that legacy.

Daniel Tiger and all of his friends, you see, are the next generation of the puppets in the Land of Make Believe. Even the theme music was derived from the original show.

It was easy to feel the heart of the show – it was so familiar, but updated for kids of today. I can put on episodes of Fraggle Rock, and my kids intuitively know it was not made for THEM, but rather for their ancient father. [I’ll make them Fraggle fans, if it’s the last thing I do!]

Following that SXSW event, I worked with the PBS Kids team on the social media strategy around the launch. Like I said, I played a small part. But enough to gain a lifelong rooting interest in the show.

Over the past few years, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has become required viewing for our entire family. We’ve watched it with all of our kids. We have “action figures” of the characters that are a bath time favorite. And we even have one of Daniel Tiger’s signature red sweaters!

We constantly sing the “musical strategies” that help kids learn processes and deal with emotions. And we’ve even created a few of our own along the way.

All of this is pretext for how amazing it is that the methodology behind the show has been proven to be a massive success.

New research from Texas Tech connected preschoolers who watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to having enhanced social and emotional skills.

The kicker is that the development comes when parents and children talk about the show. So many kid shows are hard for parents to watch. Strange storylines, poor character development, lack of any educational merit — these all make it hard to sit and watch a show with your kids, let alone have a meaningful conversation about it afterwards.

However, Daniel Tiger is the opposite of it. The show is so warm and welcoming – and digestible with 11-minute segments centered around a key lessons and musical themes – that its impossible to have it on and NOT watch it.

Beanie has been less interested in the show in recent months – and Bug is influenced by Beanie – so we haven’t had it on as much. However, we explained to the kids that they need to watch the show so they can talk to their little brother about it. And now they ask to watch it when Squish is not around.

I love this show. I love what it’s doing for families. And I’m excited I get to share it with one more kid.

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6 Secrets to Make Everything Fun For Kids

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Family Fun Day in Annapolis, MD. We followed the six secrets and everyone had a blast!

A few months ago, another parent asked me a question:

“What are some fun dad/kid activities?”

My response may not have been satisfactory, but it was 100% true:

“Everything…if you package it correctly.”

I come by it naturally.

When I was young, we lived within walking distance of my preschool. Most days, my dad would drive me to and from school. But, on occasion, my mom would walk to pick me up and we’d have “an adventure(!!!)” trekking home down the road, watching the cars whiz by, and even passing through a gas station.

My mom made walking home from preschool into something special.

And that’s what we try to do with our kids, too.

EVERYTHING can be special to kids.

  • Who wants to come to Costco with me? There are yummy treats for you to sample!
  • Bed time is so much more fun when the kids choose how you carry them to their rooms. Giggles Guaranteed.
  • Only doing an activity for a few minutes? Scarcity is special! “Make this the BEST [fill in the blank] ever!”
  • Walks in the woods can be boring. Unless you talk about what you see, hear, and smell. And discuss how going on walks makes you healthy!

Running errands? Going to bed? Doing something fun…but not for long? Getting a family walk in?

These things don’t have to be boring. They can be AWESOME, bonding events…but only if the parents present them that way.

What’s the secret to doing it right? There are actually six of them:

  • Talk about what you are going to do in advance to build anticipation.
  • Make it seem like the most fun thing ever by being excited about it. Model excitement and the kids will follow your lead.
  • Reinforce your excitement while you are on your way/packing.
  • Again, led by example by sharing how much fun YOU are having.
  • Afterwards, ask the kids to identify their favorite parts of the activity. This gets them thinking about what you did positively.
  • Information is power – use what they told you when planning future activities.

One of the things I’ve learned over my first five years as a parent is that kids do have a default setting: to have fun everywhere they go. However, they take cues from others on how to act.

As parents, we have a major responsibility to make our kids’ lives filled with joy and learning and love. It just takes some minimal effort and EVERYTHING can be a fun activity for the entire family.

 

 

Dad’s Rules for Dressing Girls

Every family divides responsibilities differently.

Nearly every weekday morning, I get the kids dressed before heading to school.

Naturally, I HIGHLY value speed. Mornings are like assembly lines – things are programmed to the second, and any deviation causes, well, a disturbance in the Force.

Bug really doesn’t care what he wears; he’s easy. Sometimes he wants a different shirt than what I pick out. Easy peasy.

Beanie, on the other hand, is much more…opinionated. In everything. Especially what she wears. And she wants to select her outfit every morning. By herself. With no input. In fact, if I suggest an outfit, she usually disqualifies it from consideration.

To help expedite the process, I have created two rules to guide decision-making. (Hers and Mine)

  1. Is it seasonally appropriate? Does it cover all the parts that need to be covered that time of year? (Example: a wool sweater when it’s 90 degrees is a no-go.)
  2. Does it make her happy?

That’s it.

13516714_10154271890320148_6896755290109556117_nNaturally, the clothes that are in her closet and dresser have been vetted by me and The Best Mom. (Well…more like JUST by The Best Mom).

So nothing in there is offensive. Although picking an outfit a size or two too small could create some consternation.

But Rule #2 is the big one for me. If she likes what she’s wearing – it makes her FEEL good and confident. Even if the colors don’t match. Even if there is a little hole in her pants. Even if she wears some of the same outfits twice a week for a year. None of the arguments against doing that hold water for me.

Yes, we get some pretty amazing, Punky Brewster-style outfits. Beanie gets to express her creativity through her clothes safely and effectively.

And just two rules get it done.

My Father’s Day Wish

 

It’s been nearly a week since the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. A gunman in Orlando opened fire on a nightclub.

Immediately, there were several ways to categorize the event.

Was it a terrorist attack? His parents were immigrants.

Was it a hate crime? It was a gay club.

No matter what the motive, there were some clear facts:

It was a shooting. With a military-style assault firearm.

While I don’t own guns, I’ve been to the gun range countless times. I’m an Eagle Scout and learned how to shoot a rifle when I was younger. Heck, I even had a gun manufacturer as a client many years ago.

I have friends and family that own guns – some for hunting. Some for protection. That’s not my recreation activity or protection of choice, but as long as they are responsible owners, I have no problem with it.

I am not a gun customer. I am not an advocate. But I’m not anti-all-guns-all-the-time, either.

This background is to set up my main point:

Nobody needs an assault rifle. Nobody.

So let’s, as a society, get them off the streets.

I do get the appeal of them. I mean, who doesn’t dream of reenacting the famous “say hello to my little friend” scene from Scarface? I definitely do.

But that’s a fantasy.

What’s real?

Human beings.

Now I have three little humans in my house. And they are getting older and heading to school. And out into the community.

The sad truth is that mass shootings are now commonplace in their life.

Another sad truth? The victims of these shootings are all somebody’s children, no matter how young or old.

I know banning a class of weapons won’t 100% stop all bad people from doing bad things.

But it may stop one. And make things harder for another. And limit the potential damage on another.

 

As a parent, that’s all I need to know.

Because what if the next mass shooter was in my city? My neighborhood? My children’s school?

Get these weapons of destruction – these weapons of war – out of the hands of civilians.

That’s my Father’s Day wish this year.

“I Wish I Didn’t Have A Daddy”

dad and daughter breakfast date
A Daddy-Daughter breakfast = all smiles.

Kids say things to push boundaries. To test word combinations. To see what causes a reaction.

They also struggle to moderate their emotions. Not much falls below the surface.

Especially for our Beanie.

One recent evening, The Best Mom made Beanie’s favorite dinner – ground turkey nachos with peas!

She devoured her first plate and dug into a second helping. Bug, who doesn’t normally love nachos, ate a solid portion. Must have been a great batch!

Within minutes, everything was gone. All the nachos. All the peas. All the ground turkey.

And then this happened:

Beanie: “Daddy, can I please have more nachos?”

Me: “Sweetie, we’re all out of nachos. How about a yogurt if you’re still hungry?”

Beanie: “I WISH I DIDN’T HAVE A DADDY!”

Well..that escalated quickly.

I calmly took her into another room, just the two of us, and had a conversation that
focused on the importance of parents. And that not every kid has two parents to love them and take care of them. And how lucky she is.

Then we discussed the fun things she and I have done together – going to a baseball game, eating ice cream, sneaking out for muffins…the things kids remember.

Beanie felt terrible.

She clearly didn’t mean it.

But she said it.

And it hurt.

A lot.

Like…a lot a lot.

It’s not like a tantrum at bed time. Or being mad that it was time to leave the playground.

“I wish I didn’t have a Daddy.”

She was just trying to get a reaction out of me. And she didn’t get one because I kept it inside.

I didn’t yell. Or get visibly angry. Or cry. I wanted to do all three.

Minutes later, Beanie was sitting in my lap, telling jokes in funny voices, as if nothing happened. We snuggled before bed that night and she told me how much she loved me. All smiles and hugs and kisses.

She had moved on.

 

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I wish I didn’t have a Daddy.”

You see, as a parent, you need to balance long-term and short-term memory. We need to remember everything about our kids. Every detail. Every activity. Every day. What they love. What they hate. And how those lists switch places every minute.

And then…you need to learn to push things like this out of your head forever.

A few hours passed and the raw emotion wore off. A few days passed and it was well in the rear-view mirror.

But I still remember that sting. And can only hope that she never uses those words at a time when she actually means it.

 

 

playground ladder

“Daddy, I Don’t Need Your Help Anymore”

playground ladderNot too long ago, we took the entire family on a long walk on a sunny Sunday.

The whole crew came along – The Best Mom, Beanie, Bug, Squish, and even our dog, Balki.

We wound our way through forest paths, talking about the sounds, smells, and sights of the woods the day after a rainstorm. We ventured close enough to a creek that the dog ran in to cool off a bit.

And then we arrived at our destination: the playground!

As public playgrounds go, this one is pretty awesome, with slides, a rock-climbing wall, and even a mountain that was clearly inspired by the Aggro Crag! (I want a glowing piece of that, by the way. Starting the holiday wish list early.)

One of the coolest features of this particular playground is a long slide, which starts about 12 feet off the ground.

The only way to get there? Climb a ladder to a platform, and then go a bit higher.

For an adult? Easy.

For four-year-old Beanie? It may have been Mt. Everest.

But, dangit, she wanted to go down that slide, and nothing, not even fear, was going to stop her.

So, I climbed up the ladder first, to show her it was safe. And then came back down and helped guide her up the ladder.

“I made it up top, Mommy!” she yelled to The Best Mom, before screaming in delight down the slide.

This continued for the next 10 minutes. I would go first and help her up the ladder. Each time up, she gained confidence in her ability to make it up the ladder.

“#DadWin,” I smiled to myself. But it was getting a bit repetitive. When would she be able to do this herself? I think we brought some animal crackers. Yum…animal crackers…

And then Beanie dropped the bomb on her next run up the ladder.

“Daddy, I don’t need your help anymore. I can do it by myself.”

At once there was a sense of immense pride in my little girl. She was conquering her fears and having the time of her life.

“MOMMY! LOOK AT ME! I CLIMBED UP THE LADDER ALL BY MYSELF!” She had never been more proud of herself.

But, man, each fear she overcomes, each adventure she completes, is one less thing she needs me for. Little Beanie is growing up, a little bit, every day.

Nobody tells you that letting go of being needed is one of the hardest parts of parenting. Especially when all you think you want is to be needed less.