Arts & Entertainment

Big Bird and Elmo want to help kids and families process trauma

Sesame Workshop has a new line of educational materials aimed at helping kids work through sadness and anxiety.
Sesame Workshop has a new line of educational materials aimed at helping kids work through sadness and anxiety.
Courtesy of Sesame Workshop

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A third of young children in California have experienced trauma. Elmo and Big Bird want to help.

The Sesame Workshop, the educational arm of "Sesame Street," recently released an online set of videos, articles and workshops aimed at helping children cope with sadness and anxiety.

"These are big feelings and [kids] often don't have the know-how on how to express these big feelings," said, Jeanette Betancourt, who leads the community and family engagement work at Sesame Workshop.

"As we bring the power of 'Sesame Street,' we're able to bring in both adults and children in a way that is safe, but also provide information in a way that brings them together and models easily through a child's perspective using our muppets."

These tools are the latest addition to the program Sesame Street in Communities, which provides resources for parents and caregivers working with children birth to 5 years old. They also offer materials on early learning basics – school readiness and math, and health – nutrition and oral health. Los Angeles is one of three pilot locations where local organizations will be working to get the tools out to families. 

"We feel we're only helpful if we can go at a community level and really work with partners," said Betancourt.

Thirty-three percent of California children ages 0-5 have experienced one or more "Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)" – including physical abuse, neglect, divorce, experiencing natural disasters, or witnessing violent acts, according to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and a new analysis conducted by the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.

Nationally, nearly half of children under 18 have had at least one traumatic experience.

"There’s a lot of talk amongst adults in communities – and children hear a lot of what adults say – but I don’t know that adults have a lot of opportunity to explain what children hear to children in a way that makes sense to them and that helps them feel protected," said Wendolly Lemus, parent and consumer education coordinator at the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles. CCALA is one of several local organizations that will be incorporating these materials into their community outreach efforts.

Sesame Street in Communities conducted research and consulted with local agencies to develop the resources, which are available in English and Spanish.

"It really just comes together in a package that relates to children, relates to families and it empowers parents to have these conversations on their own," said Lemus.

One of the videos, aims to help parents and providers understand the impact of domestic violence from a child's perspective:

Kansas City, M0. and Guilford County, N.C., have also been selected as pilot locations for Sesame Street in Communities. Over the next five years, the initiative aims to partner with providers across the county with a goal of reaching 4.5 million children.