Sesame Street understands that the children of today live through at least one traumatic experience before the age of 18, and coping with those experiences can have a serious impact on the rest of their lives. With this in mind, Sesame Workshop announced on Friday its first-ever comprehensive initiative to help children cope with these experiences.
The effort, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with additional support from philanthropic partners, is a major new addition to Sesame Street in Communities, an online community for sharing free educational resources. The mission of the new initiative is to help parents, community service providers and caregivers give children—especially the most vulnerable—a strong and healthy start.
Adverse childhood experiences (pdf), or ACEs, and other unexpected stressful occurrences have harmful effects on a child’s life trajectory. These can include natural disasters; abuse and neglect; witnessing domestic violence; a parent’s substance abuse, mental illness or incarceration; or parents’ divorce.
The 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that nearly half of American children (under the age of 18) have experienced at least one of the nine ACEs, and more than 20 percent have experienced at least two. Those children who have had multiple ACEs are most vulnerable; they are at a higher risk for issues that affect their development, learning and health. In addition, there can be cumulative impacts as they move into adulthood.ses
The new initiative is designed to mitigate the harmful effects of ACEs by applying proved strategies used by social workers, therapists, health care providers and educators, combined with the consistent presence of caring adults.
The iconic Sesame Street Muppets, loved by children and trusted by parents and child care providers, are featured in new, bilingual content that includes videos, storybooks and digital activities. These new resources give children universal coping strategies that help them feel safe and become more resilient in a range of situations, while also providing the caring adults in their lives with the tools they need to foster nurturing connections.
The new content featuring the Muppets modeling coping strategies includes the following:
- “Comfy Cozy Nest”: Big Bird learns that his nest is a “safe space” where he can go to make himself feel better.
- “Count, Breathe, Relax”: The Count teaches Cookie Monster a breathing strategy.
- “Give Yourself a Hug”: Big Bird, Cookie Monster, the Count and Abby Cadabby learn how self-hugs can calm us down.
- “I Can Feel Safe”: Elmo builds a blanket fort to feel secure.
- “I Can Do It”: Sophia helps Abby Cadabby build self-confidence.
Along with the content for children, the initiative includes professional-development resources and an animation to help parents and caregivers understand the impact of domestic violence from a child’s perspective.
“Children need to know—especially during hard times—that they’re not alone. Sesame Street has always been a source of comfort to children dealing with very difficult circumstances, and given how few resources there are for young children dealing with traumatic experiences, we knew we could help,” Sherrie Westin, executive vice president for global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, said. “Considering the staggering number of children affected by traumatic experiences, including those recently impacted by recent natural disasters, these comprehensive resources are more important than ever.”
“We know how damaging childhood trauma can be to a child’s health and well-being. Sesame Street in Communities can be life-changing. It provides tools to help children cope with life’s most difficult challenges, including trauma,” Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said. “We encourage parents and providers in every community to check out the website and make use of these terrific materials.”
The Sesame Street in Communities website has free resources available for children from birth to 5 years old, in both English and Spanish, including videos, storybooks and games. There are also professional-development materials on topics such as early-learning basics; health and well-being; and helping children and families cope with difficult matters like divorce and grief.
Sesame Street in Communities has a goal of reaching 4.5 million children under the age of 6 and their families over the next five years. It will be partnering with community service providers in three pilot communities—Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; and Guilford County, N.C.—and giving them the tools they need to support the families they serve.
The initiative’s goal is to connect with more than 11,000 direct service providers, develop 200 national and local partnerships, and expand to at least 35 additional communities across the country in that same five-year period.