Tom Hanks: Mr. Rogers Taught Him How to Really Listen to Children

The Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, came out in 2019. Hank played Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. In the movie, Rogers inspires a fictional reporter (Matthew Rhys). Playing Fred Rogers taught Hanks something valuable in real life. 

Hanks appeared on Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid podcast on Feb. 24, 2020. When Alda asked Hanks about Mr. Rogers, Hanks explained the simple method that Rogers used to make children comfortable.

The Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers movie revealed this simple skill

Fred Rogers had a special way with real children on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Even though A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was fictional, Hanks observed Rogers’ real skill.

“Mari Heller who was the director, she’s the boss,” Hanks told Alda. “We were talking about this very thing about Fred’s, the great power he had and also a defense mechanism too, was to listen and not talk. Let the other person, let who you’re talking to reveal themselves in the silence as well as from a single question.”

Researching the Mr. Rogers movie ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ taught a valuable lesson

Hanks recognized his own tendency with children. It actually makes kids shut down.

“We meet a kid for the first time, say, ‘Hey, how old are you? Do you go to school? What grade are you in? What’s your favorite subject? Do you have a lot of friends at school? Do you like baseball?’” Hanks said. “We don’t even give them a chance to answer the question we just asked them.”

Rogers had a subtle approach to children, and Hanks noticed how much more effective it was.

“Fred, particularly with children, did this thing,” Hanks said. “He wouldn’t even ask them a question. He would say things like well, that’s a very impressive belt buckle you are wearing there. And then wait for the kid to talk about either the belt buckle or the contest that he wore the belt buckle with.”

Tom Hanks: Mr. Rogers’ way was better

Once Hanks played Rogers, he took a good, hard look at his own behavior as a parent. Hanks re-evaluated his own approach to children. 

“With my own kids, I went back and said, ‘I think every parent would be a little bit better by listening to their kids talk as opposed to waiting for them to answer your questions.’” Hanks said.

One need only hear a kid answer a question with the single word “fine” to know there has to be a better way. Rogers figured out that better way. 

“Did you ever pick them up from school and say, ‘Hey, how was school today? What happened?’” Hanks said. “And they would never tell you. You have to wait them out.”

Source: Clear + Vivid with Alan Alda podcast

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