How ‘Sesame Street’ is helping kids learn to cope with trauma

Creatas/Thinkstock
Creatas/Thinkstock

(NEW YORK) — Big Bird and his “Sesame Street” buddies are taking on a new mission: helping kids learn to cope with stress and trauma.

“Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit offshoot of the long-running children’s program “Sesame Street,” launched the powerful new initiative, which was designed with the help of psychologists, the same week that the nation was rocked by the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The initiative includes materials for parents, caregivers and social workers, as well as video elements featuring the beloved “Sesame Street” Muppets demonstrating the simple exercises to help children to feel safe and cope with the traumatic and stressful experiences.

A new analysis of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health that was released today found that nearly half of all American children under age 18 have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).

ACEs, or stressful or traumatic events, have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and even early death, according to the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACEs are also a significant risk factor for substance abuse disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

While traumatic experiences cannot always be prevented, the new material from “Sesame Street,” released entirely online, aims to help prevent childhood trauma from defining a person’s life and lessen the adverse effects of it.

“As much as we would like to wrap our arms around our children and try to keep anything bad from getting through, it’s unrealistic that we have that ability,” Robin Gurwitch, a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, told ABC News earlier this week in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting, which resulted in the deaths of 58 people and injured hundreds more.

Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C., added that tragedy does not have to be a trauma for children if it is “buffered by good, strong and caring relationships, by the adults around the child.”

Sherrie Westin, an executive at Sesame Workshop, said she felt called to launch the program “given how few resources there are for young children dealing with traumatic experiences.”

“Sesame Street” characters are also in a unique position to help children cope with trauma, Westin added in a statement, because “’Sesame Street’ has always been a source of comfort to children dealing with very difficult circumstances.”

“We know how damaging childhood trauma can be to a child’s health and wellbeing,” Dr. Richard Besser, the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the initiative said in a statement.

Besser, a former ABC News medical correspondent, added that the new initiative “provides tools to help children cope with life’s most difficult challenges.”

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