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Sesame Street is teaching kids of all ages how to cope with traumatic experiences

Big Bird has big feelings.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In the midst of a turbulent year marked by numerous tragedies, support for kids learning to cope is coming from a trusted source: Sesame Street.

As part of its ongoing community development program, the beloved kids’ show has launched an online teaching program, “Traumatic Experiences,” that teaches kids — and adults — how to express emotion and release tension after experiencing or witnessing trauma.

The series includes videos that offer constructive ways for kids to handle “big feelings,” a therapy term for bursts of emotion that can seem impossible to deal with. Each of the Sesame Street characters deal with their emotional responses to trauma differently — a structured set of different reactions that’s all about modeling coping strategies for kids.

For example, here’s the Count teaching Cookie Monster to do breathing exercises to calm down — as only the Count can:

Among the other coping mechanisms detailed in the series are venting anger through pillow-punching, calming yourself down, finding a safe mental place, and giving yourself a hug.

The program was launched Friday following the Las Vegas shooting, and was accompanied by a fact sheet on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — a clinical term encompassing a huge range of events that cause trauma and toxic stress — released by the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI). The organization revealed that nearly half of all children have experienced some form of ACE by the time they are a teen.

But there’s a bright side. CAHMI also noted that “factors that can mitigate the effects of trauma and toxic stress [include] family relationships & resilience, social & emotional skills, and family-centered care.” That’s where Sesame Street’s community initiative comes in. Each of the videos, like this one on the experience of trauma from a child’s perspective, comes with a learning guide for adults working with kids.

The teaching guides give adults tips on how to perform crucial but often overlooked acts of wellness like helping kids have hope, and teaching them how to ask for help.

In fact, given how few resources there are to meet an increasing demand for mental health treatment across basically all age groups, the Sesame Street guides would seem to be valuable learning tools for kids of all ages.

After all, we all need to feel safe, just like Elmo.