What Mister Rogers taught me: Life lessons from a TV great

What Mister Rogers taught me: Life lessons from a TV great

BY Angela Santomero

7th Feb 2024 Life

3 min read

Angela Santomero, co-creator of Blue's Clues and creator of several PBS shows, explains how TV legend Mister Rogers saved her as a child and inspired her as an adult to write shows to impact children in a similar positive way

Hard home life

My Italian family was loud and chaotic. There was a lot of yelling, not a lot of talking and events swirled around me so fast that it made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel heard.
I didn’t think anyone wanted to know what I thought or what I needed or gave me tools to deal with how I was feeling.

Meeting Mister Rogers 

Angela holding Mister Rogers' shoes
Then I met someone who changed all that and I was mesmerised. For an hour every day I would sit as close as I could watch the television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But it was more than a television show to me. It was a visit with a smart, kind friend who looked directly at me, through the camera. His caring eyes told me I was special.
"The way Mister Rogers spoke to me made me feel respected, even though I was just a kid"
The way he spoke to me, calmly, quietly and slowly, made me feel respected, even though I was just a kid. Mister Rogers told me he liked me just the way that I was, which made me feel incredibly proud. 

Helping with fear and anger

Through the camera, he looked at me, like really looked at me, and asked me a question, and then waited for me to respond. It made me feel as if what I had to say was important. He talked about things that I was interested in. When something scared me, like the movie The Wizard of Oz, my parents told me, “It was just a movie and that I was being 'silly' to be scared. It didn’t help me, and if anything made me feel worse about my own feelings.
"Mister Rogers saved me as a kid, but what I didn’t realise was how much he helped me as an adult "
Then, serendipitously, Mister Rogers had the actress, Margaret Hamilton on the show who played the Wicked Witch. Together they talked about being afraid of the witch and how much of it was green makeup and began to take all the makeup off, showing a smiling Margaret underneath it all. It helped me be less afraid, and piqued my interest in the power of TV. Mister Rogers talked about tough things, like being angry, and gave me some tools as to what to do, instead of telling me to “just get over it already". Mister Rogers saved me as a kid, but what I didn’t realise was how much he helped me as an adult. 

The small things

Smiling barista serving a customer a cup of coffee
As an adult, I can remember back to some of the thoughts, feelings, tools and lessons I learned. I value having people in my real life make me feel special, and who like me just the way I am. I take note of small things every day that bring me happiness, like when a stranger is kind, or when someone makes direct eye contact, and smiles. It’s the little things that I know now make a big impact. 
I feel special when my Starbucks barista looks me in the eye, smiles at me, and comments on my order, in a kind way. When I was on a plane recently, a stranger helped me put my luggage in the overhead bin. He looked me in my eyes, smiled and said, “No worries, I got you.” That small little phrase is now one of my favorites. I value my husband for wanting to hear about my day and is truly interested in how I feel about it. I’m never happier when my daughters and I give each other undivided attention as we talk about life. 

Little life clues

I have always taken note of these small behaviours and call them my little life clues. They are small but mighty, much like the kids that I now talk to everyday.
"Little life clues are small but mighty, much like the kids that I now talk to everyday"
Mister Rogers made an impact on me as a child—and an adult—so much so that I now dedicate my life to creating shows for kids that have stories chock full of these little life lessons. But what I realise now about my work is that kids are the vessel, but it’s the adults that they become that I want to benefit.
I want all of us adults to remember the little things and use the life clues to bring them happiness so we can all live our very best lives.
An essay from Angela Santomero, co-creator of Blue’s Clues and the creator of iconic PBS shows like Super Why!Daniel Tiger’s NeighborhoodCreative Galaxy, and Wishenproof. Her work has been cited in numerous publications including Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point. She is also the author of the new book Life Clues: Unlocking the Lessons to an Exceptional Life (Loyola Press, Feb. 6 2024). 
Banner photo: Mister Rogers (CNN)
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