My family and I sat down a few nights ago to watch ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’, the documentary about the life of Fred Rogers, the children’s television personality and minister. As I was watching the movie about Fred Rogers’ life, I noticed several fundamental values that he held when interacting with children that we, as preschool small group leaders, can embody today.
- He gave kids his undivided attention. Anytime he had a personal interaction with a child, he would bend down to their level so that the child never had to look up at him. Over and over in the documentary, I noticed that he maintained eye contact with the kids as they were speaking. He never looked distracted or bored.
“The most important thing is that we are able to be one-to-one, you and I with each other at the moment. If we can be present in the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that’s what’s important.” – Fred Rogers
- He reminded kids they were special. Mr. Rogers would look at kids and tell them that he liked them just as they are. He created a space for kids to know that they didn’t have to earn his love or respect.
“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.” – Fred Rogers
- He listened to kids. He really listened. Mr. Rogers was famous for the long pause. He was never intimidated by silence. In fact, the silence was never a wasted space. In his experience, it was a tool. When talking with a child, he would let them express themselves, and instead of rushing in with a comment or an answer, he would pause. His theory was that if you gave kids some space, they would tell you more and they would dig deeper into their feelings.
“Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.” – Fred Rogers
- He wasn’t afraid of feelings. Mr. Rogers often ran straight into the hard conversations. He would talk to kids about the topics of death, anger, divorce, and disabilities. He would let them know their feelings were valid and that he could be trusted with their emotions.
“If we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can ﬁnd these resources within themselves later on.” – Fred Rogers
Whether you watched his program or not, Fred Rogers had so much to teach us about how to communicate with young children and about how to look at them—really look at them—and see endless possibility inside each one. He had the uncanny ability to look at a child and communicate that he valued them as people and that they were special just the way they were. As small group leaders serving with our littlest ones, which of these values could you make a step to start doing in your group?
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Written by Kelly Stockdale
Family Director at Grace Hill