Sesame Street Offers Support to Families Coping with Pandemic Stress

Nov 16, 2020, 10:45 AM, Posted by

Navigating the holidays amid a pandemic is stressful. Sesame Street in Communities is offering support to help families cope with both common and new challenges.

Sesame Street Photo Credit: Sesame Workshop / Zach Hyman

Both of us, like many in America, are feeling anxious and unsure about what the upcoming holidays will look like for families. It’s difficult to know how to prepare or talk about this, and really all that is going on, with the young children in our lives.

Throughout this year our kids have continuously faced several changes. Suddenly their routines and schedules are different. Many are not seeing friends, family, teachers, and classmates in person as often or at all. They miss what felt normal and comfortable and they have all sorts of questions about what is happening and why. They struggle with what to do with all the “big feelings” they are experiencing.

They can also sense increased stress that the adults in their lives are facing. Adults are juggling care for their children, often adding homeschool teacher or “videochat technical support wizard” to already increased workloads. Those who are teachers, work in health care, or have other “essential” positions face significant danger and stress in their jobs every day. Others have lost jobs or are trying to protect or care for aging parents during a pandemic. Through all of this uncertainty and loss, parents and caregivers need ways to care for themselves, and children need to know they are going to be safe.

Sesame Workshop Offers Support 

In addition to teaching kids numbers, letters and some of their favorite songs, Sesame Street and the lovable Muppets have a history of tackling tough topics with a compassionate, evidence-based and age-appropriate approach and this year is no exception. Not only were caregivers helping children cope with the effects of the pandemic, but they also had to respond to the many questions brought on by the nation’s reckoning around racial justice.

In June, Sesame Workshop teamed up with CNN for a Town Hall to help families answer children’s toughest questions about racism. And in October, a new TV special, “The Power of We,” sought to teach children that they are never too young to be ‘upstanders’ for themselves, one another, and their communities. Additional resources to support families will be available in the coming months.

Also this fall, the  Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC) initiative released a new video special funded by RWJF. It focuses on building young children’s coping skills and fostering nurturing connections between them and the caring adults in their lives—whether parents, caregivers, or community providers. The video special, “Little Children, Big Challenges,” offers caregivers tips on how to help children cope with uncertainty by building resilience.   

With some of our favorite friends from Sesame Street and insights from early childhood education specialists and community service providers—including partners in three new SSIC communities, Miami, Baltimore, and Maricopa County, Arizona—the special offers tools and tips to families as they face each day with courage, optimism and hope. Suggestions include things that almost all of us can try, like sticking to a routine, talking about our feelings, and reaching out to friends and family we miss even if we are not able to see them in person.

The special also addresses common stressors families were already dealing with that the pandemic has intensified. These include challenges such as parental addiction and trauma. SSIC has an array of free, bilingual resources on these and other topics to equip parents and caregivers with the tools to help children navigate these difficult issues and make sense of their experiences.

For example, during the special, one of the Sesame Street Muppets, Karli, shares about her mom’s addiction and says, “My mom was doing a lot better, but now she seems really worried and I’m scared she’ll get sick again. What do I do?”

The host of the special, Sesame Street’s Alan, counsels, “There are many kids like you Karli” and connects her with the head of Arizona Recovers, one of the lead SSIC partner organizations in Maricopa County, to hear about how kids can cope with these challenges.

Muppet Karli talks to Sesame Street’s Alan and Angie from Arizona Recovers about how to deal with worries about her mom’s addiction issues.

Sesame Street in Communities’ Partners “Localize” the Initiative

Like communities and organizations across the country, SSIC’s new community partner organizations will also be integrating the resources including videos, interactive activities and print materials into their programs to better serve families.

For example, in Arizona, our partners, including Arizona Recovers in addition to the Arizona Department of Health Services; Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family; and First Things First, will be training staff and integrating resources into therapy, child care, home visiting and family recovery programs in addition to bringing the tools into the emergency department at Chandler Regional Hospital, where they connect with families in crisis.

Thriving Mind, our lead Miami-based partner, will incorporate the resources into local healthcare provider organizations that support families. Their services include multidisciplinary outpatient care (including in-home visits), outpatient therapy, residential care and prevention programs. And, SSIC trauma and parental addiction resources will be embedded into early childhood services across Miami-Dade County, including within schools, public safety, and court systems. In Baltimore, our lead community partner, the Family League of Baltimore, will embed SSIC in efforts to support families struggling with substance use and new parents enrolled in Baltimore’s home visiting network, an intervention designed to improve health and development outcomes for babies.

Bouncing Back Together

This kind of support is especially necessary as we head into a holiday season that will look different for many of us. For some families, that might mean some of their favorite familiar faces are not with them at the holiday dinner table this year. Maybe they won’t get to travel, gather in their religious community, or participate in other familiar holiday traditions. But for other families, it could mean they don’t have enough food for a meal.

There are no easy solutions to the problems families are facing right now. But, we do know that children are incredibly resilient. And the most important thing we can do for them is make sure they have caring adults in their lives who will give them the space to talk about what’s on their mind and suggest ways they can feel better and “bounce back” stronger. Together, we can help children build the resiliency they need to face and overcome challenges big and small.

Learn more from Sesame Street in Communities about how you can help young children build resilience this holiday season and all year long.


About the authors

Katie Wehr, senior program officer, focuses on discovering and investing in what works to promote and protect the nation’s health and to achieve the Foundation’s vision where we, as a nation, strive together to build a Culture of Health enabling all in our diverse society to lead healthy lives, now and for generations to come.

Dr. Jeanette Betancourt is the Senior Vice President for U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street. She directs the development and implementation of community and family engagement initiatives making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and their families.