Can Media Help Teach Emotional Intelligence?

Fred Rogers was among the first to demonstrate that television can have a positive impact on a child’s social-emotional development, which is integral for success in school and life in general. In fact, ever since Daniel Goleman’s book on the subject in 1995, emotional intelligence (EI), or “a person’s ability to perceive, identify, and manage emotion,” has become a hot topic in education, psychology, and our society as a whole. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood picks up this thread for a young audience, helping them understand their own emotions and build social-emotional strength.

Cultivating young children’s social-emotional skills creates a foundation for healthy development. Research has found that students with high levels of emotional intelligence are more often viewed as leaders and less likely to be considered disruptive or aggressive. Moreover, emotional intelligence skills not only help foster positive peer relationships, they also can be a salve to stress, too much of which can lead to mental health issues. In one study, those who were adept at managing their emotions responded to stress with fewer thoughts of suicide than those who do not have this emotional intelligence skill set. While these studies were conducted on older students, rather than preschoolers, they lend strong evidence for why emotional intelligence is a vital skill to develop from a young age, especially in the face of a growing concern over bullying in schools.

Facebook posts and fan mail abound with stories of children using Daniel’s strategies during conflicts at home and in the classroom.

We created Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to instill emotional intelligence during the crucial preschool years. In line with Fred Rogers’ classic social-emotional curriculum, each episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is based on a strategy to deal with the different emotions that humans (or tigers!) face daily. These include disappointment (when something seems bad, turn it around and find something good), anger (when you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four), and more complex emotions like frustration (when you’re frustrated, take a step back and ask for help), and jealousy (if you feel jealous, talk about it, and we’ll figure something out).

From a production standpoint, we carefully craft the character design, music, and storylines to ensure that children feel a strong emotional bond with Daniel and his friends, promoting a sense of empathy for the everyday struggles that the characters face on screen. This makes the preschooler more inclined to want to learn the strategies for how to cope in order to help Daniel and his friends. It is our hope that kids will implement these lessons into their own daily lives.

Responses from parents and teachers have been overwhelmingly positive. Facebook posts and fan mail abound with stories of children using Daniel’s strategies during conflicts at home and in the classroom, suggesting that the series is, in fact, having the intended impact on child development. Many parents of special needs children, such as those on the autism spectrum, have written to us, which shouldn’t be too surprising. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is one of few shows to break down emotions and social interactions into comprehensible and manageable terms, and to offer tangible strategies for coping. For those with social challenges, this is crucial.

Television often gets a bad rap. In their latest policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media reminded us that too much television consumption “has been tied to obesity, sleep- and school problems, and aggression.” While we’d agree that replacing true social interactions and physical activity with the television screen is unhealthy, television can have positive effects as well. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood embeds its socio-emotional lessons in an interactive format—Daniel pauses to ask the viewer questions about how they would feel in his situation—avoiding the passive viewing that the Pediatrics council warns against. Moreover, we constantly hear from parents that they feel like better moms and dads after learning from the stories and strategies in each episode, and that their co-viewing habits spark conversations about Daniel’s struggles and triumphs around the dinner table or before bed. By introducing these constructs at the preschool level, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is nurturing emotional competence in its young viewers, setting the stage for positive development and success in life.

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