In the past year, the world we live in appears to have become an increasingly hostile, precarious place. Hurricanes have caused widespread destruction. Earthquakes have rocked entire cities. Protests that have turned violent. And sadly, several mass shootings that have left dozens of people dead and hundreds more injured. It's difficult for adults to comprehend, but children? For small people, it must feel like a nightmare come true sometimes. And trying to help our children cope with their fear can feel similarly insurmountable. Thankfully, Sesame Street's new series of videos on trauma might be able to fill in some blanks for both parents and kids alike.
Sesame Street has always had something of the Midas touch when it comes to relating to children. That signature blend of the Muppets, the music, and that singular magic of talking to kids as humans first and little people second is pretty much always a winner. And we need them now more than ever to help us help our kids cope with trauma. The National Children’s Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) defines trauma as “the physical and emotional responses of a child to events that threaten the life or physical or emotional wellness of the child, or of someone critically important to the child (such as a parent or sibling).” Nobody wants a child to suffer through a traumatic experience at all, but parents especially wouldn't want their child to feel alone in their trauma. Which is why these videos created by Sesame Workshops are so important for adults and kids.
The videos, which were released on Friday, offer advice on how to be prepared in the case of a natural disaster, how to deal with stress, anxiety, and fear. They offer kids the opportunity to feel informed and empowered. The videos also encourage children to seek out hugs if they're feeling alone, talk about their feelings, or even just seek out a "comfy, cozy nest" as Big Bird did during a stressful time in one video.
As the Sesame Street website noted,
When a child endures a traumatic experience, the whole family feels the impact. But adults hold the power to help lessen its effects. Several factors can change the course of kids’ lives: feeling seen and heard by a caring adult, being patiently taught coping strategies and resilience-building techniques, and being with adults who know about the effects of such experiences.
Few children would have been able to escape the news of the terrible mass shooting in Las Vegas on Monday, which left at least 58 dead and 527 wounded. Even as many adults would have undoubtedly preferred to have kept such terrible news away from their children, it would be nearly impossible to do so.
Ann Thomas, CEO of The Children's Place in Kansas City, a full-day therapeutic program for children, consulted on the videos and told NPR that she felt the videos will make a huge difference to children. Especially because the focus remained on how to deal with the upsetting emotions rather than discussing the traumatic events that might have caused them.
Teaching these coping skills first, creating a sense of safety, consistency and predictability — that is the No. 1 step. It doesn't matter if it was sexual abuse or a house fire. You're scared, you're not trusting, you're not sleeping.
But as helpful as the Sesame Workshop videos might be to children, Thomas contends that the real value lies in offering parents tips on how to help their children deal with trauma. She told NPR:
I think one of the biggest values of this material is as a bridge for adults to take grownup issues and put them in developmentally appropriate words to help children heal.
Because that's all any of us really wants, right? To feel safe, to feel understood, and in the case of trauma... to learn how to heal.
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