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The Problem with Ni Hao Kai-Lan

Updated on August 23, 2017

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?

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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.

What's Your Experience?

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    • Amira Wyatt profile image

      Amira Wyatt 8 days ago

      You clearly are having issues with your child.

      You as a parent are to teach your baby to be well rounded and emotional tact.

      If one episode -or 2 seasons in this case make you fear that she will become a irritable&irrational brat than dear I fear you have a problem.

      How about this:Kia-Lan is teaching empathy,group problem solving skills,tolerance,emotional regulation,the importance of communication,and kindness.

      The small capacity of you emotional brain for you 2 yr old may inhibit your kiddos coping mechanisms.

      I roll my eyes a this cupcake/snowflake mentality as we have seen the effects of a lack of these skills and general accountability in 3 generations of hippy parents sheltering their kids from miniscule evils of the world.

    • profile image

      LadyGodivasCaramel kiss 9 days ago

      You clearly are having issues with your child.

      You as a parent are to teach your baby to be well rounded and emotional tact.

      If one episode -or 2 seasons in this case make you fear that she will become a irritable&irrational brat than dear I fear you have a problem.

      How about this:Kia-Lan is teaching empathy,group problem solving skills,tolerance,emotional regulation,the importance of communication,and kindness.

      The small capacity of you emotional brain for you 2 yr old may inhibit your kiddos coping mechanisms.

      I roll my eyes a this cupcake/snowflake mentality as we have seen the effects of a lack of these skills and general accountability in 3 generations of hippy parents sheltering their kids from miniscule evils of the world.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i just love her and i still don't see how they cancelled it. nothings wrong with her.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I disagree with the bad things you've said about this show. I personally love this show and so do my son and daughter. My daughter is currently 6 and she's been watching this show since she was 2 and she still loves it. She never imitated any of the mad emotions or anything in this show. She only mimiced the positive emotions and sayings though. My son is now 3 and he likes the show too, and watches it at times, as it airs in the Nick Jr. channel. He tells me he loves this show, and I've also never got any issues with his regarding this show. Please let your daughter still watch this. It's not the show's fault that she gets mad. It's not the show's purpose to make children mad.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @amkatee: My daughter who is 2 is starting to act like Hoho when she doesn't gets her way. I switch to Disney Jr instead. May be when she gets a bit older and understand the lesson at the end. i think it can be of benefit to older children who have a better understanding.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm honestly confused why so many parents have a problem with Kai-Lan. Yes, there are some "mad" episodes and children like to mimic some of these things, but part of being a parent is helping our children learn what "mad" really is, and when it's ok to "pretend" to stomp around or not. When my daughter says "I'm Mad!" I just respond the same way Kai-Lan does "what's wrong? why are you mad?" I always engage my daughter in conversation about her feelings and I help her understand what she is actually feeling. In fact Kai-lan has helped me at times, for example, when my daughter really is angry, sometimes I sing the song "when you're feeling mad, the first thing you do, is calm, calm down". Sometimes we even dance like the hula ducks and she actually calms down. The bottom line is that kids are going to have tantrums regardless, it's not Kai-lan's fault. Kai-lan opens doors for parents and children to engage in discussion about emotions, it just seems like perhaps some parents don't want to have that conversation to begin with, or aren't comfortable dealing with the negative emotions (but they are even more important than the positive ones). I love Kai-lan and I think this show has such great potential, but it looks like Nick should put out a guide to help parents who may not be comfortable with dealing with some of these emotions.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm honestly confused why so many parents have a problem with Kai-Lan. Yes, there are some "mad" episodes and children like to mimic some of these things, but part of being a parent is helping our children learn what "mad" really is, and when it's ok to "pretend" to stomp around or not. When my daughter says "I'm Mad!" I just respond the same way Kai-Lan does "what's wrong? why are you mad?" I always engage my daughter in conversation about her feelings and I help her understand what she is actually feeling. In fact Kai-lan has helped me at times, for example, when my daughter really is angry, sometimes I sing the song "when you're feeling mad, the first thing you do, is calm, calm down". Sometimes we even dance like the hula ducks and she actually calms down. The bottom line is that kids are going to have tantrums regardless, it's not Kai-lan's fault. Kai-lan opens doors for parents and children to engage in discussion about emotions, it just seems like perhaps some parents don't want to have that conversation to begin with, or aren't comfortable dealing with the negative emotions (but they are even more important than the positive ones). I love Kai-lan and I think this show has such great potential, but it looks like Nick should put out a guide to help parents who may not be comfortable with dealing with some of these emotions.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i don't think any child should watch a show that continuously presents anger into the world of a child not only that but the child watching the show will most likely pay more attention to the "anger" more than the solution and the anger shown goes un-punished only followed by a stalemate when the two arguing walk away from each other leaving a by-stander there are goods in the show but by percentage it is placed like so for good to bad 65% bad to 35% good. and to all who care or don't care this was written by a 14 yr old observing his niece and nephew watch and emulate what goes on in the outright horrible children show.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I allow my son to watch it. He learns not only Chinese words from it but some sign language as well. He always puts his hand to his ear "ting--listen" and says "where she at?" when he wants to watch it. He's absolutely in love with kai-lan and could careless about the other characters. Although he is speech delayed he can still pick up on words and has yet to pick up on angry words. But he does point to things and answer kai-lans questions which impresses me. She is hardly ever on so I see no problem in him watching. He's been watching all three years of his life. He learned as a baby to say ni-hao even though now he has stopped saying it. He expresses his emotions on his own, always has. And I, myself enjoy watching. Its one of my favorite cartoons. My son and I enjoy it bc it is so plain. Not over done in the stories or illustrations.

    • amkatee profile image

      amkatee 6 years ago

      While my son mimics some of the behavior, it is true for anyone he is around. He tends to say things that he hears his sister saying for instance. I wouldn't say that it is a negative. They both learn empathy by learning that others have feelings. Most of the time they play out the feelings and comfort each other. If I'm upset, then they will play the "let's find out why" part of the show to help. I think Ni Hao Kai Lan takes an approach to feelings that is different than other shows. More kids could use a little more empathy. Parents should of course teach this, but Ni Hao makes it simple for a child to understand.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I would much prefer my children learn about a democratic culture. Born and raised in a provence in China. I love Tibet and can't stand the horrible atrocities perpetrated by this wonderful chinese culture.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I recently started to notice my 3yr old grunting, stomping, doing a 'humpfh' noise and stating 'I am MAD'. I knew this type of language and action was not something she has learned from our household and she is a not in daycare or around other young children much. I then happened to sit down and watch this show through several episodes and it was like an exact replay to her recent activity. I no longer let her watch it. Which is a shame, as there are positive lessons within the shows dynamic. Yet, I believe her age level is focusing on the 'anger' or the throwing a fit to get your way type lessons. I have no plans on returning this show to her acceptable list.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      Excellent review of this product for parents who are considering what to include into their children's lifestyle. Best wishes

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      I've never heard of Ni Hao Kai-Lan and while it would have appealed to me as a great thing for a young child to learn from, just as it did you, it was very interesting to read of your own toddler's experience and how the show influenced her. Parental reviews are so important and it's good to know that many parents will pay attention to what their children watch rather than assuming it's all OK. It's also good to hear your daughter is now getting more positive influences from the show. Oh and good point about the geographic differences in the meaning of 'mad'! A child saying that here might not be understood quite in the way he or she intended.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 6 years ago

      My 4-year-old daughter only occasionally watches this show, so I may not have seen enough episodes to notice the issues you mention, but now I'll keep a closer eye on what's happening.

    • Everyday-Miracles profile image
      Author

      Everyday-Miracles 6 years ago

      @jimmielanley: She reads quite a bit now, Jimmie, and she's definitely interested in it. Which is good, I think. I'm amazed that at three she also knows simple arithmetic. I wasn't trying to teach her, but she's logical enough to have picked it up.

      I think that my favorite show has to be Franklin because she has a bunch of the books in the series as well, and she connects the two. So she watches the show and wants to go get some books and read, which is great.

      Thanks for the blessings!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 6 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I have no experience with this particular show, but I do know that TV programs have amazing power to change our children's perceptions and behaviors. A parent must use extreme discernment to choose programs. Besides, reading and play are better for kids than TV.

    • Rainbowzz profile image

      Rainbowzz 6 years ago

      @Paul Ward: That is actually a really good idea I think! You could also sort of use the episodes with anger as the focus as some sort of teaching experience about media and media content. Perhaps you could engage your daughter in some role-play, expanding on what anger feels like. You could be a character and so could she, so that she gets the information you want her to!

      Also a good time to talk about how things on cartoons are "make-beleive" and not everything you watch is true to life. Maybe some would consider that to be takingn away the magic so to speak, but I don't think she is too young to think and talk about it.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Why don't you tape a few shows that don't feature the negatives too strongly and let the child watch those.