Every parent has had that comedic moment of shock when their innocent three year old yells out a profanity when their block tower crashes to the ground. Before this moment, it was easy to believe that the child wasn’t really paying attention to what was being said on the TV, or listening to every word that their parent quietly muttered when the pot on the stove boiled over.
Guided by Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, psychologists have long urged awareness of the tendency for behaviors to be transmitted from parents and peers to children. Most parents, however, know from first hand experience just how quickly behaviors, good and bad, can pass from parent to child, or from one child to the next. “Monkey see, monkey do” is the often cited adage, reminding us parents to be mindful of the behavior we model for our children, and watchful of who we allow into their lives.
For concerned parents wanting to maximize positive input, selecting the right shows for entertainment can be an hugely helpful step in minimizing problematic behaviors. Oftentimes a positive role model on TV can become a reliable way of exemplifying good habits and strong character traits to impressionable children. Here are eight of the top shows that model character to young children, particularly for those in preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary school.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
Directed toward younger audiences, this show by PBS KIDS focuses on social lessons, including healthy communication with peers, emotional regulation, and showing consideration of others. Each episode follows Daniel Tiger as he navigates new life experiences at home, school, and around his neighborhood. Patient adult figures, such as his parents and teacher, present the social lessons in a gentle and loving manner, and Daniel is given opportunities to practice them along with your child.
The Lion Guard
Available to stream on Disney+, this show is one of Disney’s many Lion King spin offs, and follows the adventures of Kion, Simba’s energetic son, who works together with his friends to defend the pridelands from threats. As Kion grows and learns, he models character traits like loyalty, humility, leadership, and courage. As an added bonus, each episode is chalk full of life wisdom given by Simba or Mufassa.
Dragons: Rescue Riders
Parents looking for good examples for their kids should look no further than the Netflix original, Dragons: Rescue Riders. Interspersed with fun adventures and ample comedic relief, are valuable life lessons learned by Dak and Leyla, a dragon-riding brother and sister team, dedicated to serving and protecting their community. Qualities like leadership, kindness, friendship, and bravery are exemplified by Dak and Leyla throughout.
Available to watch on Disney Now, Doc McStuffins follows the life of a six year old African American girl who desires to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor. Her magical stethoscope brings her stuffed animals to life, and she cares for them as her patients. The show not only introduces positive messages for preschoolers, as Doc models the virtues of friendship, kindness, and compassion, but also empowers children of every gender and race to dream big and follow their passions.
Paw Patrol has long been a favorite with parents and children alike. Available on Sling TV or Youtube TV, this show promotes teamwork and community service, as Ryder and his crew of pups work together to solve local dilemmas and serve their community. Ryder exhibits character qualities parents want modeled for their children, including respect, leadership, hard work, and compassion. Moreover, teamwork is strongly emphasized, as the pup crew must work together, applying their different skills to solve problems and accomplish their goals.
Sofia the First
Available on Disney Now, this show follows the life of Sofia, an ordinary girl turned royal when her mother marries the king. It is centered on character-developing storylines, as Sofia learns through experience that being a royal requires more than external appearances, and instead learns to cultivate a spirit of compassion, honesty, independence, and courage. Disney princesses make appearances throughout the show to offer wisdom and encouragement to Sofia as she navigates these life lessons.
Elena of Avalor
This show streams on Disney+ and takes place in the same universe as Sofia the First. It chronicles the adventures of Disney’s first Latina princess, Elena Castillo Flores, or Elena of Avalor, who at just 16 years of age, ascends to the throne and becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Avalor, which she serves and defends relentlessly. Her character embodies the traits that parents hope to cultivate in their own children, such as courage, leadership, ambition, and resilience.
Children can easily relate to the three protagonist superheroes, Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko, the PJ Masks, who appear as ordinary school children before assuming work as nighttime vigilantes to solve local crimes and mysteries. Teamwork, communication, and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes are regularly occurring themes throughout the shows, as the three superheroes must learn to compromise and work together as a team to save the day. Parents can stream it from Netflix and Disney+.