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Do you need to talk to your kids about traumatic events? Sesame Street has some tips

Sesame Street characters Elmo, left, and Cookie Monster pose on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building to promote the return of the live limited run show "Sesame Street Live! Let's Party!"
Evan Agostini
Sesame Street characters Elmo, left, and Cookie Monster pose on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building to promote the return of the live limited run show "Sesame Street Live! Let's Party!"

Updated February 2, 2023 at 12:44 PM ET

The brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis. Shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, two of more than 50 mass shootings in the United States in the month of January alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The news of these incidents have been unavoidable, and parents around the country have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of talking to their young children about traumatic events.

But there is help from an unexpected source: Sesame Street.

In 2017, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street, started the Sesame Street in Communities program. Through resources like games, stories and videos featuring children's favorite muppets, the program aimed to help parents and caregivers tackle difficult issues.

In one video, Elmo asks his Black friend Wes and Wes's dad why they all have different colored skin. In another, a traumatized Big Bird seeks comfort with a hug from his friend, Alan.

The tools aren't just for kids. The website also includes guidesfor those in the "circle of care." "So it's not only parents and caregivers," says Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president for U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop.

"It's early childhood educators, the pediatric community, child welfare or social workers, health care workers, all the influencers on young children's well-being."

Betancourt says the program uses what they call the "Sesame Workshop Model" to develop new teaching material. It includes research and development in partnership with experts from national partners such as the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Psychological Association.

Talking about traumatic incidents

Betancourt believes that when talking to children about traumatic incidents, it is crucial to make them feel comfortable and secure.

Here are a few ways she recommends:

  • Provide safety: Assure the child that they are safe and taken care of. Offer comfort items and physical contact such as hugs or holding hands.
  • Keep routines: It's important that the child doesn't feel a big disruption in their life. That can mean having a meal together, reading together or simply walking.
  • Model healthy ways of coping: Children look to their parents for guidance, so adults need to practice self care and cope in a healthy way
  • Spend time together: Activities such as playing games or reading stories together can make a child feel secure and comfortable
  • Watch and listen: Pay attention to all signs of anxiety or discomfort. Ultimately, you know your child best and can see the change in behavior. 
  • Although it may be helpful to use these tools to plan important conversations, Betancourt says that these conversations don't have to be perfectly planned.

    "In fact, the more you make it an everyday explanation, a moment when the little one asks a question or shows a sign of distress, it's especially important to take advantage of these resources."

    This digital story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Ziad Buchh
    Ziad Buchh is a producer for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. In addition to producing and directing the broadcast, he has also contributed to the show's sports, tech and video game coverage. He's produced and reported from all over the country, including a Trump rally, and from the temporary home of Ukrainian refugees.
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