The Problem with Ni Hao Kai-Lan
Kai-Lan Looks Innocent Enough. But What's Behind her Ni Hao?
The Nick Jr. program Ni-Hao Kai-Lan caused some problems with my toddler and her self-expression.
But how could a program designed to help children learn to express themselves be such a problem?
There are many things to like about Kai-Lan, but unfortunately in this case, the bad outweighs the good, and I have had to stop my daughter from watching this show unless it is an episode I have pre-viewed and recorded.
Please take a moment to read through my reasoning, and if you disagree, feel free to say so!Ni-Hao Kai-Lan on Nick Jr.
What about Your Toddler?
Does your Toddler/Preschooler watch Ni Hao Kai-Lan?
Let's Talk Kai-Lan
When searching for interesting and educational programs for my little daughter (who is two and a half) to watch, I immediately resonated with Ni Hao Kai-Lan, a children's show on Nick Jr. In theory, the show teaches children Chinese culture and language, and also teaches them how to identify various different emotions. The first two elements appealed to me quite a bit, considering that I have a significant interest in anthropology and culture, but also because my daughter has (adult) friends who are from Asia and speak Chinese, Japanese and Korean. It has been fun to watch her greet them with a happy "Ni Hao!"
On the other hand, the secondary part of the lessons interested me because I feel that it is essential that children be able to identify their emotions. Though my daughter is, as yet, quite young to fully understand the full range of feeling as a fully individual person, I felt that this was a good start. She could see Kai-Lan identifying happy emotions, sad emotions, anger, and so on and so forth. The setting is relatively upbeat and fun, and I felt as though there was a lot that she could take away from the experience.
There is always going to be a problem when we let popular media educate our children in place of their parents. I take full blame for allowing a television program to teach my daughter something that I should have been working on (exclusively within the family). However, I have to say that I have a serious complaint regarding Ni Hao Kai-Lan, and my daughter will no longer be watching this show.
Okay, so What's the Problem?
There is no range of emotion taught
While I understand that very young children aren't able to easily identify the full range of emotions, I am disturbed by the fact that Kai-Lan mostly identifies only two emotions: Happy and Anger. Once in a very long while there will be an example of a "sad" character, but my daughter sees so few episodes about "Happy" and "Sad" that she has become focused on the "anger" in these episodes. As a result, she has begun to emulate the behaviors that she sees in the show, making growling faces, sometimes verbally growling, and then stating "I'm MAD!"
This behavior may not be a problem if she was actually identifying with angry emotions. However, these incidents often come about in the middle of an otherwise normal play time. She will stop what she is doing, fist her hands, and stomp her foot, stating "I'm MAD!" often in a loud voice and in a public place. Instead of learning what "mad" feels like, our daughter is learning what mad looks and sounds like. I also feel that the show may be over emphasizing situations in which it is "okay" or "normal" to become "mad."
The Problem is Hoho
A three year old monkey friend of Kai-Lan's
Hoho is a three year-old monkey friend of Kai-Lan's. He likes to be the center of attention, and whenever he doesn't get what he wants, he has a tantrum. He often doesn't listen to YeYe (Kai-Lan's grandfather) and is almost constantly in some kind of trouble, resulting either in being punished with a time-out or having to have Kai-Lan talk him through his anger issues. He rarely exhibits any emotion other than sheer anger and he is always talking about how he's "MAD".
While it is normal for a child of two to four years old to wish to be the center of attention and to have a temper tantrum when he or she is not, it is not normal for a toddler/pre-schooler to be angry all of the time. Because young children emulate the behaviors that they see in the world around them, including in the television that they watch, it is inappropriate to display their peers (even if that peer is an animated monkey) always being angry.
To make matters worse, Hoho gets attention from the other "kids" for acting out. While it is typical (in real life) for children who act out to get attention from grown ups, most other children will avoid the tantrumy child for someone who is better able to share their toys and play appropriately. Hoho does not, and much of Kai-Lans and Tolee's time is spent trying to get him to calm down. I simply do not see a five and a six year old behaving this way in real life, and I think that the show sets up strange and unrealistic expectations in toddlers and preschoolers who watch the show regularly.
What's Your Opinion?
I have finally chosen to remove a comment from this duel that I feel was inappropriate. Please keep things civil and do not make personal attacks against me or others choosing to comment on this lens. I will remove any comments of that nature. Please be respectful to one another and to me. I am not going to have my parenting practices or my character questioned or accused on my page. Thank you.
Is Ni Hao Kai-Lan Confusing for Children?
What I Like about Ni Hao Kai-Lan
Yes, there are some things!
I don't hate Ni Hao Kai-Lan. In fact, I never would have guessed at my daughter's reaction to the program. It certainly occurs to me that perhaps Nick Jr. is simply playing a lot of episodes featuring "mad" as the primary emotion instead of focusing on some of the other (positive) principles that the show teaches, such as sharing, friendliness and Chinese culture.
But there are several things that I really do enjoy about Ni Hao Kai-Lan. The show is redeemable, I just wish that the producers would back off the anger quite a bit.
- I love the fact that it teaches Chinese culture. There are many aspects of the culture that even I can learn throw this show!
- My daughter actually uses the language that she learns, and we have both begun to pick up some of the Madarin being spoken around us. I never would have imagined this to be possible.
- The Chinese language being taught is relevant. The words aren't random, and most of them are verbs. I like that about the show, since verbs are the basis of language.
- Though it is unrealistic, I like the fact that Kai-Lan is so mature. I do believe that if my daughter was more focused on her, than on the cute little monkey, she would be more likely to try to socialize more with children her own age.
- The show teaches principles which I share, and I don't have an argument with the morality of Ni Hao Kai-Lan the way that I do with many other Nick Jr. shows.
An Update on the "Ki-Lan Situation"
An unexpected turn of events
Recently my daughter began to approach me and say "You make me super happy!" Recognizing this as a line from Ki-Lan, I was concerned at first, given that she wasn't supposed to be watching the show, and I was careful to make sure that she avoided it. As it turned out, she was watching the show at a friend's house, and picking up on lines from the show as she had before. However, as she has gotten older, she has begun to pick up more on the positive aspects of the show rather than on the negative.
I have also recently reviewed the show again. I still have a problem with Hoho, though Rintoo is now having some of the same "mad" issues.
For the purpose of clarification, I should say that my husband and I almost never use the word "mad" in our house. I usually say that I'm "upset" and both of us use the word "angry." Having lived in England for some time, "mad" to me means "crazy" and I never use the word to mean "angry." The only source for this word that my daughter had is Ki-Lan. I maintain that the show was the problem, but I am beginning to understand that perhaps it isn't appropriate for children under the age of three.
What do you think of Ni Hao Kai-Lan? Please feel free to disagree with me. I would like to be able to expand this lens (and others) as a resource for other parents.