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How ‘Sesame Street’ Is Helping Children And Parents Cope With The Feelings Of Trauma

Few children’s television programs have been on the forefront of tackling real-world issues that affect kids with such insight and care as Sesame Street. The award-winning program from creator Jim Henson has used its muppets to address the issues of divorce, jail and autism. Now, Big Bird and his friends are helping kids cope with traumatic experiences.

Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit offshoot of Sesame Street, has launched a new online teaching program called “Traumatic Experiences,” aimed at teaching both adults and kids how to cope with the feelings that come from a traumatic experience. The program was designed with child psychologists to address the emotions and questions that parents and their children can have in regards to any sort of highly traumatic event, from a car crash to natural disaster.

The program which was launched the same week that Americans were trying to process the country’s deadliest mass shooting, includes videos that help kids understand the wave of feelings they might experience from trauma. Each Sesame Street character has their own way of dealing with these “big feelings” -- a term used for bursts of emotion such as anger or anxiety. For Big Bird that could mean needing lots of extra hugs, while Rosita, a green monster, chooses to punch a pillow. Cookie Monster of course handles the stress by devouring even more cookies than usual. The videos help both parents and children identify exercises for dealing with stress and anxiety.

According to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, almost half of all children under the age of 18 have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) -- a clinical term covering a range of events that cause trauma and “toxic stress.” Chronic health conditions, drug abuse, suicide and other unhealthy behaviors have all been linked to ACEs. Addressing the feelings that come from ACE was something of utmost importance for the Sesame Workshop.

"Children need to know -- especially during hard times -- that they're not alone,” Sherrie Westin, executive vice president for global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop said. “Sesame Street has always been a source of comfort to children dealing with very difficult circumstances, and given how few resources there are for young children dealing with traumatic experiences, we knew we could help.

Because each of the show’s characters is unique and have individual personalities and traits, they’re easy for children to identify with and relate to. “'Sesame Street' has always been a source of comfort to children dealing with very difficult circumstances,” added Westin.

When a child goes through a traumatic event it can interrupt their brain development, leading to both physical and emotional issues. Children who have been through more than one of these ACE trauma episodes are more at risk for dangerous behaviors and stunts in development, and if gone unaddressed, can lead to lifelong problems.

It’s Big Bird, Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street gang’s hope to give teachers, parents and social workers a leg-up in helping children the comfort and support they need to move past traumatic events and continue to lead healthy and happy childhoods.

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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