Recently,  FETV began airing the original Leave It to Beaver television series and I couldn’t resist watching it. Leave it to Beaver | FETV   CBS first aired the series on Friday, October 4th, 1957  at 700 pm. In 1958 it switched to ABC on Thursday night. List of Leave It to Beaver episodes – Wikipedia

LTB  was my favorite TV shows when I was growing up. I suppose that was due, in part, to the fact that Jerry Mathers, (who played Theodore Cleaver, “The Beaver”) and I were the same age. I could really relate to his weekly adventures and mishaps.

The Critics

Over the years, critics panned the show for idealizing and avoiding difficult reality.  It, along with other shows like Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show, are often cited as prime examples of the sugar-coated programming of the 1950s .

Many critics have rightly noticed that everything in the Cleaver household was just too perfect. Indeed, serious problems were never explored.  Each episode presented a neat and tidy moral lesson and a happy ending. To be fair,  the Zeitgeist of the 50s was softer than the coarser texture of today’s culture.

One wonders how  Ward and June would have faired if they were confronted with a serious medical crisis or an alcohol or infidelity problem.  Likewise, we are curious how they would have dealt with things like social media or internet porn. The SG on SM & Kids | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (

Those differences noted, rewatching the episodes surprised me.  Despite its age, I believe the series offers important lessons for us today but not in the traditional way.

Praise for Leave it to Beaver has centered around its wholesome moral lessons, While true, I found LTB’s greater contribution was not so much in its moralizing but in the ways it used constructive communication and empathy skills to deal with everyday problems.

Despite the dramatic changes in culture and technology, I found the fundamental ways that the Cleavers talked to and treated one another amazing.  Even though I-statement training was not around until after the series had ended, they used its insights and refrained from blaming or name-calling.

I have found the shows so helpful that I have started using LTB episodes with couples and families to show what important communication and empathy concepts look like in action. Here are some examples from an episode from 1958. 

A realistic dilemma

The episode starts with the Beaver telling Wally that he has a toothache. Wally tells his friend Lumpy who then scares the Beaver by saying how bad going to the dentist is.

Theodore tells his mom he’s afraid. June then asks Ward if he could take his son to the dentist. Upon arriving, Beaver continued to say how scared he was and that he wanted to leave.

The situation gets worse when Ward’s obnoxious friend, Fred, comes up to them bragging about how brave his little girl is and saying he thought Beaver looked scared.  Embarrassed, Ward told Fred that Beaver was not afraid. Ward’s embarrassment increases after Beaver goes in to see the dentist, as Beaver’s screams can be heard in the waiting room.

A realistic reaction

Both Beaver’s fears and his dad’s embarrassment reactions were real and not sugar-coated.  Beaver’s screaming sounded normal for a young boy.  Likewise, Ward’s telling his son to be a good soldier, he wanted do show his friend that his son was brave. It’s what any normal dad might have done.

Even though Ward reacted somewhat insensitively, he did not insult Beaver or call him names. Unlike many parents, he did not humiliate him by saying things like, “Don’t be a baby.”

In addition to the parents, helpful modeling comes from other folks in the series. For example, the skillful way the dentist handled Beaver’s fears is noteworthy.

He patiently listened to his fears. He let him know that he understood them. In doing so, he also communicated that Beaver’s fears were normal but that he didn’t have to be fooled or controlled by them.

Beyond reassuring him that the procedure was not painful, the dentist negotiated a deal with Beaver. He offered a prize if he was wrong. This intervention let Beaver know that he respected and trusted his honesty.


Indeed, Beaver exhibited remarkable insight by realizing that the dentist trusted him to say whether or not he felt pain. The dentist, in return, praised him for trusting that he wouldn’t hurt him.

Ward’s subsequent self-awareness of his actions is also very important. He thought about how he reacted to his son in front of his friend and was ashamed.

Not that shame is a good thing but it was an indication that he was aware of and sensitive to how his behavior affected his son. Ward realized that he had not been empathic with Beaver about his fear and that he had come off to him as a typical men-don’t-get-scared father.

Being vulnerable and sharing

What Ward did next with his feelings is also a sign of a mature husband and parent. He went to June and told her what he was feeling. He admitted that he felt bad but didn’t know what to do to repair his harshness with his son.

Unlike dads who feel that they always need to appear confident and right, Ward’s ability to be honest with himself and June revealed his maturity, the quality of their communication and the strength of their marriage.

Acknowledging and Apologizing

As a result of his reflection and sharing, Ward tells his son that he was wrong for simply telling him to be strong. In a tender and intimate moment, he sincerely apologizes. In response, Beaver reassuringly tells his dad that he loves him.  This tender exchange revealed the deep caring of their relationship.

The capacity for moms and dads to admit their mistakes to their children is a major aspect of good parenting and builds strong parent-child bonds that last a lifetime.


It’s reassuring that, given all of the cultural and technological changes that have occurred in the past 65 years, some basic facts about human communication and emotion remain unchanged.

As with all great literature, classic television has wisdom for us today.  On a lighter note, those who grew up watching Leave it to Beaver, enjoy the added bonus of the nostalgia that revisiting these golden oldies brings back.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.                 5 15 2024