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11 October 2017

Here's how the Sesame Street's Muppets help kids

Research shows that these famous children's characters have a positive effect on those who experience trauma.

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South African children may be affected by a myriad of traumas. According to the South African Journal of Psychiatry, children and adolescents can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being exposed to a range of traumatic events, including domestic, political or community violence, violent crime, sexual abuse, hijacking and motor vehicle accidents.

Now research has shown a way how trauma can help American children in coping with trauma – Big Bird, Elmo and Cookie Monster are now joining the effort to help these kids, especially in the light of recent events.

New programme to help children cope

A new programme launched by Sesame Workshop aims to help youngsters cope with natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas this week.

The programme is based on proven coping strategies used by social workers, therapists, doctors and teachers. The initiative includes bilingual videos, books and digital activities featuring iconic Sesame Street Muppets, such as Big Bird, The Count, Cookie Monster and Elmo.

Children are not alone

"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," said Sherrie Westin. She is executive vice president for global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop.

The programme also provides parents and caregivers with tools to help them empathise with children, and view disturbing events from a child's perspective.

Research for children's trauma important

"Considering the staggering number of children affected by traumatic experiences, including those impacted by recent natural disasters and the tragedy in Las Vegas, these comprehensive resources are more important than ever," Westin said in a news release from the nonprofit organisation.

Nearly 50% of American children younger than 18 have faced at least one of nine different types of traumatic events, according to the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health.

In South Africa, child trauma is also very present. Clinical records from the Child Mental Health Unit of the Free State Psychiatric Complex (FSPC) show that 1 229 children (two to 11 years) and adolescents (12 to 18 years) treated at the facility in 2014. Out of those numbers, 22% of them suffered from depression and 4% from PTSD.

An analysis of the findings also showed that children who've had more than one of these experiences are at much higher risk for problems with their development, learning and health. These effects can build up over time, taking a cumulative toll during adolescence and adulthood, the research showed.

Severe impact on brain development

When kids face a traumatic event, the stress can interrupt their brain development, which can lead to physical, social and emotional issues soon after the experience and for many years to come. But if they receive the support and comfort they need to feel safe, the short- and long-term effects of trauma can be alleviated, the Sesame Workshop experts added.

Help in South Africa

The Teddy Bear Foundation in South Africa offers comprehensive support and services to young victims of abuse with the hope of minimising secondary harm to children and their families and to start the healing process. Visit their website ttbc.org.za or contact them at 011 484 4554 for more information. 

Image credit: iStock

 
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