Anger & Family Relationships: Fred Rogers & Margaret McFarland

It's inevitable that there will be conflict between family members. There will be hurt feelings, tension, misunderstandings, unkind words, etc. It's going to happen. Those are tough situations and emotions to navigate, and I know I often feel guilty by how I react in those moments. 

I've been taking a weekly class through my church about emotional resiliency and it's been fascinating. Recently, we talked about anger. Generally, we think that anger is a bad thing and we feel frustrated with ourselves when we get angry, especially with our children, spouse, parents, siblings, etc. - anyone that's close to us. One of the things we talked about in my class though was that anger itself can't be controlled. We can't control whether we get angry or not - that emotion happens when something or someone triggers it. We can, however, control how we react to that anger; we can choose what we do or say in response to that emotion (or the situation that led to it). The thing is, it kind of takes planning and practice because when you're in the heat of the moment it's tough to stop yourself and try to think rationally. So how do we do that? And how do we teach our children how to do that? 

Well, I think we should talk about a couple of experts first and then I'll share some more insights from my class. I'm sure at least one of these people will come as no surprise to anyone, but the second might!

Fred McNeely Rogers

Mister Rogers

My daughter loves to watch Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and honestly I love it too! I love that she remembers the songs and is able to start recognizing the emotions that she is feeling. Well, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood comes from the Fred Rogers foundation - a continuation of Fred Rogers' work.

Many of us grew up with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. We loved watching this calm, quiet man teach us about how different things work, show us the land of make believe, and sing to us. Fred Rogers decided to pursue a television career when he saw the quality of TV programs available to kids. He disliked the slapstick humor and overall empty programs that kids were watching at the time. So, he decided to do something about it and eventually ended up with his own television program that ran for 33 years. How incredible is that? 

The unique thing about Mister Rogers is that his program was hyper-focused on helping children to learn about and understand the emotions they feel. He was also very sensitive to how every aspect of his show would be perceived by children. He never wanted them to get the wrong idea, and he spoke about some hard topics, too. And his legacy continues on! 

Some fun facts about Fred Rogers:

  • His full name was Fred McNeely Rogers. Fred was named after his maternal grandfather Fred Brooks McNeely. He was very close to his grandparents.
  • He was born on March 20, 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His father was a very successful businessman, and Fred was independently wealthy prior to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He didn't pursue a television career for the money - he genuinely wanted to help children and their parents. He was also adamant that companies did not advertise to children through his show.
  • His childhood was difficult. He was an only child until he was 11 and his childhood was very lonely. He was shy, introverted, overweight, and struggled with many bouts of asthma. He was bullied in school and the kids called him "Fat Freddy." He started practicing puppeteering and ventriloquism at a young age, which he built his career on. 
  • He was on a TV show prior to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood called The Children's Corner but he was a puppeteer only - he did not appear on the show as himself. Many of the puppets from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were on The Children's Corner. Daniel Striped Tiger was a gift to Fred by the show's station manager, Dorothy Daniel, before the show aired. Who knew Daniel would become so important? 
  • He had a Bachelor of Music and he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. He did not have a congregation - his ministry was his television career. 
  • He was married to Joanne Byrd, who he met at college, and had two sons. 
  • He died in 2003 from stomach cancer. 

While many of us know who Fred Rogers is, I'm not sure how many know that Fred relied heavily on Margaret McFarland for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Margaret McFarland

Dr. McFarland was a child psychologist and a child development consultant for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Fred met Margaret while he was becoming a Presbyterian minister, and I'm sure he had no idea that their relationship would be one of the most important for his career. Fred met with Margaret nearly every week to go over scripts for the show. She provided Fred with insights into how children think and how they would respond to certain phrases or lines or environments. She was incredibly influential for the show and for Fred. He took extensive handwritten notes during their meetings and even recorded them too. They talked about the minutest details, including having Fred enter his "house" from the left and progress to the right because children read from left to right.  

A few quick facts about Dr. Margaret McFarland:

  • She was the youngest of three daughters. 
  • She adored her father, but knew that one of her sisters was his favorite. He died when she was five and that had a profound impact on her life.
  • She loved and admired her mother. Her mother's example piqued her interest in child development.
  • Two of the most important concepts in her work were the role of a woman in child development, and the utility of creative play in childhood. 
  • She was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She co-founded the Arsenal Family and Children's Center, and co-founded the Department of Child Development and Child Care at the University of Pittsburgh. She spent most of her time working with families and children.
  • She met with Fred weekly up until her death at the age of 83. She had a bone marrow disorder. 

Did you know that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was so meticulously planned? It shows you how important children really were to Fred Rogers, and to Margaret McFarland too. They had such an uncanny ability to be on the same level as their viewers, and I just love that my daughter gets to experience that through Daniel Tiger too. 

I wanted to talk about Fred Rogers and Margaret McFarland because I wanted to show that we really can learn how to understand and appropriately respond to our emotions. So, how do we do that? 

Managing Anger, Especially in the Family

I find myself singing the songs from Daniel Tiger to my daughter when she's experiencing an emotion that she seems to being having a hard time with. It's something that she is familiar with, and it's easy for her to understand and do on her own. But I also find that the songs pop into my head when I'm mad or sad or happy or whatever it might be. They're just that catchy! And again, they're applicable. 

"When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."

"When you're feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help." 

"When you can't get what you want, take a deep breath and help yourself feel better."

"Mad. Mad. Mad. It's okay to feel angry, it's not, not, not okay to hurt someone."

I mean, come on! These are great!

In my class, we talked about behaviors that "heat" anger and skills that "cool" anger. Learning these skills and teaching them to your children can really help during those moments where you feel angry. Preparing for an emotion helps us to know what to do when we actually experience it. So let's see what isn't helpful (or heats anger):

  • Making accusations / placing blame
  • Arguing while angry
  • Yelling, screaming, shouting
  • Dwelling on hurt feelings
  • Planning revenge
  • Engaging in any form of violence

Here are some skills that help cool anger:

  • Counting to 10 or higher
  • Non-competitive exercise
  • Meditation, prayer, and relaxation
  • Going outside
  • Choosing helpful thoughts
  • Calming music
  • Going to another room / separating yourself / taking a break

We also talked about understanding the emotions behind anger which can help us to know what skills for cooling anger will be most effective for us.

Some examples of underlying emotions are: resentment, embarrassment, grief, guilt, shame, disappointment, fatigue, hunger, hurt, nervousness, loneliness, etc.

Understanding underlying emotions can be especially helpful for children as they're trying to understand anger in general. When we know why we feel angry, we can work towards overcoming our anger and responding appropriately.

Something that might be helpful for your family would be to work through different scenarios and to talk about "heated" responses, underlying emotions that might be causing the anger in that scenario, and responses that "cool" anger. Here's an example from my class:


Situation Responses that "heat" anger Underlying emotions Responses that "cool" anger
My daughter won't take a nap She doesn't know what's good for her! I deserve a break and now I won't get one. She is so selfish. I'm obviously doing something wrong.





Unmet expectations

Some days are better than others. She is growing but she is still little and learning. Sleep is a struggle for every parent, not just me. This is an opportunity to teach her the value of quiet time, not just for me but for her too.


Can you see how the different responses heat and cool anger? Some responses fuel the flame and just make situations worse, but if we try to see a different side of things it can help us to overcome our anger and move us to strengthen our relationships with our family and friends.

I hope you'll try this exercise with your family by considering scenarios that are common for your family and often result in anger. Talking together about these scenarios and how you can respond will be a great learning opportunity for your children, but you'll also receive help and suggestions from each other - and who is better at giving advice than those that know you best? 

Another fun idea is to watch Inside Out together and talk about the different emotions, why they're important, and how we can respond to them in healthy ways. 

I heard a quote recently that went something like this, "We cannot hide our true selves from our children." I think it's true. They see us in every element - our best and our worst. They know us well, and they are watching what we do. Learning how to understand emotions and planning appropriate reactions to them is one of the most empowering things you can teach your children, but it's also an incredible gift to yourself too. So give it a try! 


For anyone that's interested, the manual from my church's self-reliance class is available online for free. Emotional Resilience for Self-Reliance manual 

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