When Mister Rogers was a child, he suffered from hay fever and breathing problems. As a result, he spent several summers indoors and he had to rely on his imagination to entertain himself. The experience in near quarantine helped shape who he'd later become and even inspired some of the iconic characters on his eventual television show, according to his former colleague and director of the Fred Rogers Center, Roberta Schomberg.
"He often found that he was having to spend time alone inside because the air quality was so poor in Western Pennsylvania, and he couldn't really be outside," Schomberg told InsideEdition.com. "During those times when he was often alone, he turned to his imaginary friends and he turned to his puppets as ways to entertain himself and to create stories."
The imaginary friends didn't just stay in Rogers' mind.
"Many of those puppets we have become familiar with as those creations that are part of the 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.' Daniel Striped Tiger, for instance. King Friday, Queen Sara Saturday. Puppets that all represented things that were important to Fred Rogers in his life."
And his life, recently retold in a documentary and a feature film starring Tom Hanks, helped change the way we teach and talk to children. Although he died in 2003, his life and work continue to comfort families, especially during difficult times.
"It's important that children understand that the adults in their lives will keep them safe, and it's important for us as adults to know how important that is to children," Schomberg said. "We need to be there for them. We need to reassure them that we will do what we can to keep them safe. And that part of the fact that they are not together with other children or not together at school is that we are committed to keeping them safe. It's also important for them to know that we are listening to their fears and we understand their feelings and that we give them opportunities to just talk about what they're concerned about."
As for life in the age of coronavirus, Schomberg said one of Rogers' most oft-quoted adages offers a poignant message.
"We know that one of the messages that Fred often mentioned on his television program and in person was that when there are difficult times, when there are tragic situations, it's best if we can help children look for the helpers," Schomberg said. "Actually, it's best if we all begin to look for the helpers. But for children in particular, it's really helpful for them to see that there are helpers."
The sentiment, which points to a way forward, has been shared widely. A theater in Indiana recently posted the quote on its marquee.
"When there are helpers, there is hope, and when there are helpers, we can see that there could be positive outcomes," Schomberg said.