Leaving the playground after almost an hour of playtime sounds like an easy enough task—unless, like me, you have a two-year-old determined to set a world record for turns on the slide.
"Joey, time to go home now! Stroller time!" I'd call to my son, only to be flat-out ignored. A few minutes later: "We're leaving in a few minutes! Get ready to go!" He'd barely glance in my direction. In the end, I'd have no choice but to wrestle him off the slide and into his stroller—limbs flying and tears streaming down his face.
Then a cartoon tiger showed me a better way.
It was 5:30 in the morning, and what else can you reasonably do at that time of day but watch TV? I turned on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. The main character, a 4-year-old tiger named Daniel, was on a play date, but he didn't have time for the game he had in mind. "It's almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do!" sang his mother, Mom Tiger. Daniel chose an appropriate, quick activity. "That was fun but now it's done!" she sang. And off the pair went. Oh, I thought, sitting there rapt. That's how you get out of the playground! You just sing that little song. I don't know if my son was learning anything, but I sure was.
There would be no more Sesame Street or Curious George or Dinosaur Train, with their fun-for-kids but useless-for-parents plots, in our early morning TV sessions. Nothing would get in the way of my date with my new mom idol: A nameless animated tiger that wears the same floral tunic every day.
It wasn't long after that morning that I began noticing other parents singing Daniel Tiger songs all over town. At the grocery store passing the ice cream case, I'd hear the catchy, "If you can't get what you want, stomp three times! And you'll feel better!" At my son's toddler group, as kids battled over toys, there'd be that old refrain: "You can take a turn, and then I'll get it back! I can take a turn, and then you'll get it back."
Do these songs always work? Of course they don't. We're talking about children, not robots. But for me, they are empowering. Even when my kid continues to misbehave, I feel like I deployed a legitimate strategy—one that my child understood. And I am far from alone. For my generation, I think that watching this show is what reading Dr. Spock must have been like for my grandmother. In other words, it's a must.
And science is starting to back me up: A recent study found that children who watched 10 specific episodes of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood over a two-week period—and talked about the show frequently with their parents (that's the kicker!)—displayed higher levels of empathy, self-confidence, and emotional awareness than children who watched a nature show instead.
Screen time may not be great for kids, but once in a while, it sure is good for their parents.
Julia Edelstein is the senior health editor at Parents magazine, and mom to a two-year-old boy whose favorite Daniel Tiger character is Katerina Kitty Cat.