Teaching Interpersonal Relationship Values From the Movie, "Mrs. Doubtfire"

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  • Mrs. Doubtfire movie
  • TV and DVD player
  • Secret cards (see preparation section for more details)

Preparation - Prepare “Secret Cards”

Prepare a number of 3x5 index cards with “secrets” appropriate to the age of the children in your class. The “secrets” for very young children could be something simple, like “I love peanut butter and jelly” while teenage children might have more involved “secrets,” such as “My best friend is gay.”

Be sure to make the cards appropriate for the age group and the audience culture. For example, “My best friend is gay” may not be appropriate in a parochial school setting, just as “I like peanut butter and jelly” will not qualify as a secret among teenage children.

Motivation and Class Debate

After showing the movie, ask students to think about why Robin Williams’ character did what he did. Have the class debate whether they believe he did the right thing or the wrong thing. Ask them what they would do if they wanted to tell their friends something, but were prevented from doing so directly, just like Mrs. Doubtfire.

Secret Keeper

Have kids pair up in groups of two. Explain that they are going to do something similar to Mrs. Doubtfire. One of them is to be given a “secret” that they need to keep while having a conversation. They are to try to steer the conversation to the topic of the secret without giving away what it is. In other words, a student using “my best friend is gay” might try to discuss discrimination, but may not mention the secret or the word gay. The other student is to try to guess the secret from the conversation.

If students are using the “my best friend is gay” secret, you should caution them that this is a theoretical secret that does not refer to a real person in the class. They should not “out” anybody in the class who might actually be gay.

Examine Feelings

After the kids have had the chance to do this exercise (I recommend around 10 minutes or so–longer and they may get bored or distracted), have them reveal to each other what the secret was. Elicit from the students what it was like to have to keep this burning secret while discussing things that were close to the secret in question. Ask them to think about how it affected their ability to have a conversation when they knew they couldn’t talk about the secret directly and had to keep it under wraps. Write some of their comments on the board.


Have students examine what was noted from the exercise and have them write a short paragraph or two on how this affects their ability to communicate effectively with each other. How was their experience different from Mrs. Doubtfire’s–i.e., they were unable to discuss their feelings on the subject directly just as “Mrs. Doubtfire” couldn’t express “her” feelings directly.

Ask them in particular to consider what it would have been like had they been able to tell the truth about the secret they held. Would it have been better or worse? Try to steer them to the idea that telling the truth is better for relationships in the long run.

Homework - Interview a Family Member

Have kids discuss with their parents or another older relative a time when they needed to keep something from a loved one. Stress that the secret need not be something big and should be something the loved one now knows about–the last thing you need is an irate parent calling and saying that you ruined their marriage because their kid wanted to know if they ever had an affair. Tell the students to ask their parents for an example of something that was a problem at one time but is now ancient history, like when Mom bought an expensive dress that she didn’t want Dad to know about.

Tell the kids to ask their parents how they dealt with the secret and ask them to write about how they would have dealt with it in the same situation. Ask them to consider if, like Mrs. Doubtfire, they might have been better off telling the truth from the start.