Sesame Dispatches Muppets to Help Traumatized Kids


Sesame Workshop Muppets help traumatized kids

No one needs to list the many parents, teachers and role models who were killed in the Las Vegas mass shootings to be reminded of how traumatic events can affect children and even shatter their lives. Sesame Workshop is stepping up to try to help those kids by doing what it does best—and it has found a friend to help it do so.

Long driven by purpose (blending entertainment and education to delight and teach kids), Sesame Street-branded programming and licensed products have long served as a friendly media port in the storm for many troubled children.

Now the nonprofit Sesame Workshop is partnering with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch a comprehensive initiative designed to help children cope with traumatic experiences, a major new mental health addition to its Sesame Street in Communities initiative.

While the new public health platform for kids and carers curates new and existing Sesame Workshop content to help traumatized children, the project is being made possible by funding from the foundation founded by Robert Wood Johnson II, who built the family firm of Johnson & Johnson into the world’s largest health products maker before he passed away in 1968.

Sesame Workshop noted that new analysis of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health indicates that a huge number of American children have undergone an Adverse Childhood Experience, from abuse or neglect, a parent dealing with substance abuse, incarceration, divorce—or the kind of one-off experience exemplified by the shootings in Las Vegas and the recent hurricanes.

The initiative features new, bilingual content including videos, storybooks, and digital activities, all featuring the iconic Sesame Street Muppets, which present coping strategies that help children in traumatic situations feel safe and become more resilient in a range of situations and help adults figure out how to help kids.

“Children need to know—especially during hard times—that they’re not alone,” stated Sherri Westin, executive vice president for global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “We knew we could help.”

For example, in one of the videos, an adult happens upon a morose Big Bird and shares that, “when something happens, I go to my safe place—in my imagination, where I go to feel peaceful.” Then he advises Big Bird, “Use your [own] imagination…. breathe deep … inhale and let it out slowly …. picture yourself in a place where you feel calm and comfortable . What do you imagine?”

BigBird responds that in his mind he’s “in my nest” with “my favorite bear, Radar” and “it’s a beautiful day and the warm sun feels good on my feathers. [I hear] a little birdie singing a happy song and I hear a  soft breeze. [I smell] bird-seed cookies fresh out of my Granny Bird’s oven … Just thinking of Granny Bird always makes me happy. … I feel safe and much calmer inside”

The adult responds, “You can visit your safe place anytime you need it. It’s always there for you, and so am I.”

As NPR notes, the Sesame brand “is better known for teaching preschoolers letters and numbers. But those familiar furry characters are also taking on tougher topics, says Jeanette Betancourt of Sesame Workshop. In the past two years, Sesame in Communities has addressed the incarceration of a parent and bereavement, partnering with local organizations to share directly with families affected.”

Now, by helping kids navigate stressful situations, whether at home or in the news, Sesame is living up to its brand promise and endearing itself even further to a new generation of kids in need of a fuzzy hug—or a coping strategy designed just for them.