Debra Carpenter: Lessons in Zen from children’s television

When you have children, there a few things you can count on, no matter what. One is that you will love them unconditionally. Another is that your patience will be tested daily.
Dec 3, 2013
Debra Carpenter, Mother Interrupted

When you have children, there a few things you can count on, no matter what. One is that you will love them unconditionally. Another is that your patience will be tested daily.

On bad days (and you’ll know them when you see them), your patience will be tested hourly or by the minute. This gives you many opportunities to do one of two things: teach a valuable lesson, or freak out.

Freaking out, while a very tempting option, doesn’t do much good (even if it feels good at the time). That’s why I set out to learn some coping skills that will help me “not freak out” when my daughter pours fingernail polish on my laptop or locks the cat in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

And I’m aware of how strange this sounds, but I’ve been learning some great coping skills from children’s television shows I watch with my daughter. I’ll explain in a minute. Not freaking out is an art, no matter where you learn it, and the world (mostly those within earshot) will thank you once you master it.

When I was a child, I loved Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Molly watches Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which is an animated spinoff of the original show. It focuses on teaching children to be positive and kind. The show is for toddlers and young children, so they make the concepts of sharing, being calm and handling anger really simple to understand and often put them to music. I use some of the catchy songs from the show as a mantra when I’m about to bubble over with frustration.

Song one: “Close your eyes, and think of something happy.” When my daughter does something really awful and I think I’m going to lose it, I do as the song says and close my eyes, but instead of thinking of something happy (which is very difficult when your laptop is dripping with hot pink nail polish), I just mentally travel back to a time when she did something even worse. This sounds counter-productive, but it helps me look at the current situation with gratefulness.

Sure, she wrote on the couch with a Sharpie, but at least she didn’t color her television with it like before. Maybe she hid her glasses and refuses to tell us where they are, but at least she didn’t throw them away again. Sometimes I have trouble coming up with anything she’s done that could possibly be worse than what she’s done that day. In this case, I just pray a lot or refer her to her father for sentencing.

Song two: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” This is a good idea, although any mom or dad will tell you that four seconds usually isn’t enough to “get it back together” when you’re frustrated and upset. The thing about parents and patience is that we’re bound to run out of it eventually, no matter how many coping skills we’ve learned. We can only hope that it won’t happen in public or when the child is within arms’ reach. So in those moments where our patience is running pretty thin, a mere four seconds of breathing won’t cut it. Take a minute. Take five.

Song three, my favorite: “When you wait, you can play, sing, or imagine anything!” I mean, who doesn’t enjoy playing, singing, and imagining? So when I’m getting frustrated because we’re in a hurry and Molly is lagging, I sing this little song out loud—loudly. It works in two ways: I get to sing, which is supposed to make waiting easier, and Molly hears me singing loudly, which tells her I’m waiting and sometimes helps her get into gear. Sometimes.

And that’s how a children’s TV show is saving my sanity and helping me remain calm in all – OK, most – situations. After all, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, so why not relax and enjoy the day?

Debra Carpenter is a novice mother, wife, and college student. She writes about the parts of parenthood “you didn’t expect when you were expecting.” Like the fan page at or visit the website at 


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