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Mr. Rogers' guide for talking to children


For more than five decades, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" helped model compassion, respect and kindness to generations of children.


At the core of the show was Fred Rogers' understanding of how children understand language. Whether a child in your life has a language disorder or is on track for typical development, the intense amount of care Rogers put into talking to kids should serve as a model for adults.


In an recent article in The Atlantic, author Maxwell King lays out the incredible amount of care Fred Rogers used when shaping messages for young children.


The process Rogers and his staff went through crafting every script and interaction on the show focused on making sure children understood what the message was:


For instance, [former producer] Aurthur Greenwald mentioned a scene in a hospital in which a nurse inflating a blood-pressure cuff originally said 'I’m going to blow this up.' Greenwald recalls: 'Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.


This approach was developed into a nine-step process:

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​

  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.

  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”

  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.

  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.

  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.

  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.

  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.

  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

Read the original article by Maxwell King in The Atlantic.


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