The Mister Rogers Effect

The Mister Rogers Effect

Anita Knight KuhnleyBy Anita Knight Kuhnley8 Minutes

Book Excerpt from The Mister Rogers Effect: 7 Secrets to Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others from America’s Beloved Neighbor by Dr. Anita Knight Kuhnley


The heartbeat behind The Mister Rogers Effect, represented by a dialogue between viewers missing Mister Rogers and consoling one another so we can keep his legacy alive, is summed up with this statement:

As long as people like us keep his message, his teaching and his memory sacred, he will always be here. . . . I just wish I could have had the chance to thank him in person.

Clearly Mister Rogers is missed. He had a calming effect on many. I also wish I could have met him while he was still here. He knew that we are all worthy of love and value, and he connected with people from all different backgrounds. One viewer said, “Yo no white man will never have a place in my heart like Mister Rogers.”

Regarding Rogers’s impact on racial relations, another viewer said,

Mr. Rogers witnessed a period in history before black people and women were allowed to have basic rights in America. It’s part of the reason why he had Officer Clemmons on the program, to show America that black people are just as kind, loving, and deserving of love as anyone else.

Mister Rogers modeled the importance of embracing people from all racial backgrounds and demonstrated he cared for all of his neighbors. In a world polarized by religion and politics, it was clear Mister Rogers impacted, deeply cared for, and was in return loved by people of diverse backgrounds. He connected with people from all walks of life.

Rogers was able to reach people whose religious backgrounds and beliefs were very different from his own (he was trained as a Presbyterian minister). That is not an easy feat. He affected people in ways that touched something raw and universal in each of us. Some of his viewers remarked …

God had [come] down from heaven and walked among us in human form. His name was Fred McFeely Rogers.

I’m not religious, but I’d consider Mr. Rogers a “saint.”

Pass It On

In addition to missing Mister Rogers and expressing appreciation and love for him, his television neighbors often reflect on how much we need his kindness and the lessons he taught us now. Some viewers long for the man himself, his comforting voice and kind smile, sharing sentiments like “It’s so rare that someone talks to children like real people. We need this man today.” Others respond with encouragement to carry his lessons onward and express appreciation for his statement about how tears and sweat often bring out the best in us. Some fans challenged others to focus on the important lessons Mister Rogers taught us rather than on how to bring Fred Rogers himself back to life. We need to keep the lessons he taught in our hearts and pass them on to others.

This text is an effort to do just that, to identify the psychological principles that were prominent in his work and to adapt these seven “secrets” so we can carry on his legacy in every neighborhood.

Three-year-old Michael once wrote a letter to Mister Rogers about the death of his dog, Max, and the fact that he still felt sad. Mister Rogers responded with a kind and empathetic letter that included this thought: “Happy times and sad times are part of everyone’s life, but you can grow to know that the love you and Max shared is still alive in you and always will be.

Mister Rogers reminded us that just like sweat, tears are a part of life. Life comes with both happy and sad times. However, Rogers comforted Michael by confirming the special love he shared with Max would always be alive in Michael’s heart. Death could not rob him of that. Likewise, Mister Rogers would have wanted his television neighbors to know that the care he shared for us, and the care we have for him, will always live on in our hearts. (This principle holds true for all of our loved ones. The love we have had for the loved ones we’ve lost and the love they had for us lives on in our hearts, even after their time on earth is through.) We can multiply the effect Rogers’s expressions of care had on us as we share them with others.

We need to keep the lessons he taught in our hearts and pass them on to others.

But how? I worked with a panel of psychological experts using qualitative research tools to analyze Rogers’s work through a psychological lens and uncover seven key themes in his work, or what he sometimes called his offering of an expression of care. The following pages share these psychological keys, examples of how Mister Rogers used them, and strategies to implement them in our own neighborhoods.

Mister Rogers’s psychological techniques will soon not be mysterious secrets but practices any of us can use to effect change in ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods and, as Mister Rogers would say, in our own special ways.


Mister Rogers always forsook the superficial and pursued true knowing. Good neighbors do. They care in authentic, genuine ways as they establish relationship. They are kind to people of all races, religions, and political persuasions. This is a good strategy for connecting with neighbors. What is one action you can take in order to better know your neighbors and loved ones and express kindness and appreciation for their differences?

Order your copy of The Mister Rogers Effect: 7 Secrets to Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others from America’s Beloved Neighbor by Dr. Anita Knight Kuhnley

Photo Credit: King Friday XIII and Fred Rogers / Public Domain