New Sesame Street Tools Help Build Resiliency
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Street are partnering to help families cope with traumatic experiences and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Workshop share a common vision of giving all children—especially the most vulnerable among us—a strong and healthy start in life. We know that childhood experiences lay the foundation for children to grow into productive and successful adults, and promoting healthy behaviors and supporting families from the very beginning can help kids thrive. But it’s equally important to address challenges that can undermine their healthy development.
Tools to Help Families Cope
That’s why we are proud to announce Sesame Workshop’s first-ever comprehensive initiative to help children cope with traumatic experiences. Research tells us that kids who experience trauma—like physical abuse, neglect, divorce, experiencing natural disasters, or witnessing violent acts—are more likely to face serious health issues as an adult. The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found as the number of “ACEs” increase for a child, so does the risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as alcohol abuse and drug use, obesity, and depression. According to new data, nearly half of children under 18 living in the United States have experienced at least one ACE. And it starts at a young age. Among children under five, 35 percent have experienced at least one ACE, and 12 percent have experienced at least two.
While trauma can seriously impact a child’s development, we also know that children are remarkably resilient. And that the effects of trauma can be lessened if they receive comfort and support.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other funders, Sesame Workshop has developed a series of tools and resources to build coping skills and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives.
These new materials are part of Sesame Street in Communities and include videos, storybooks, and digital activities that are research-driven and produced in consultation with experts in childhood development, brain development, and trauma. These tools highlight strategies used by social workers, therapists, health care providers, and educators, which—combined with the consistent presence of caring adults—are proven to lessen the impact of traumatic experiences on young children.
Available in English and Spanish, the materials feature the Sesame Street Muppets that kids love and parents trust. For example, “Comfy-Cozy Nest” features Big Bird talking through his big feelings and envisioning his nest as a safe space. And seven “Mantra Moment” videos feature Elmo, Abby Cadabby, the Count, and other Muppets modeling simple coping strategies like “Count, Breathe, Relax,” “I Can Let My Feelings Out,” and “Give Yourself a Hug.”
In addition to content for children, providers can find professional development resources and adult-facing content, including a first-of-its-kind animation for provider training and for providers to use with parents and caregivers to help them understand the impact of domestic violence from a child’s perspective; simple strategies for parents and community providers that can be used easily and repeatedly; and professional development workshops and webinars.
Having an Impact
The great news is, we’re already starting to see our materials make a difference in the lives of providers and families. We recently heard from Brit, a health care provider who was working with a 5-year-old boy whose father was sent to prison for abusing his mom. The child had a lot of anger and conflicted feelings about his dad. His mom, who was understandably dealing with her own emotions, was struggling to help her son cope. Brit was able to share our coping with incarceration materials with the mom and son. After viewing them together, the mom was able to help her son understand the big feelings he was having and know that it was okay to miss, and love, his dad. And she learned to recognize and validate his feelings. As Brit put it, “Sesame Street is putting words to confusing situations that families face every day and allowing them not to feel so alone.”
This is success to us. We know we can’t always prevent traumatic events, but we must do everything we can to help children and families get through them.
Together, we can help children develop the skills that allow them to cope with trauma. And we can empower caring adults to support kids and help them thrive.
About the authors
Kristin Schubert, managing director, helps to shape the Foundation’s strategy to promote ways to improve the health of children and families, particularly the connection between child health and family well-being and nurturing environments in which children can thrive. Her efforts support building a Culture of Health that helps all children develop physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively to the best of their ability. Read her full bio.
Dr. Jeanette Betancourt is the senior vice president for U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop. She oversees and manages the delivery high impact and targeted domestic and international outreach initiatives. She conceptualizes and implements compelling models for the delivery of Outreach initiatives that effect and engage children, families, caregivers, educators, and other providers. Read her full bio.