Sesame Street was talking about grief before it was cool. Okay, so talking about death and grief still may not be cool (wait, do people even say “cool” anymore? Am I showing my age?). Let’s just say this: Sesame Street was tackling this topic long before the internet was full of tools and activities for supporting grieving kids. As early as 1983 they were helping kids understand death and grief. 30 years later they are still at it, better than ever.
The first time Sesame Street really tackled death was when Mr. Hooper died in an episode that aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. When Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, died of a heart attack there were many ways that Sesame Street could have handled it. Rather than shying away from the topic of death and grief, Sesame Street used this as an opportunity to do what they do best – teach. In the “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” episode, Sesame Street used Big Bird to help kids understand death and grief.
In 2010, Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop received grants through a number of defense organizations and Walmart to put together resources for children on grief and loss. Launched with a great TV special, they put together an incredible combination of resources for grieving kids and adults supporting those kids. Many of these resources are available for free viewing and download. Check out a preview of the video here of the special done with Katie Couric, Elmo, and the families of several children who have experienced losses:
Go to the When Families Grief website to view video clips and download an array of tools and resources, including grief journal pages, a memory chain activity, and care cards. You can check out their entire free, downloadable parent/caregiver guide here. They also have a great storybook for kids that you can print for free here. And in case that wasn’t all amazing enough, every bit of what they offer is available in English and Spanish. Seriously, Sesame Street, you guys are the best.
Other Tough Times
Over the years Sesame Street has kept up this trend of tackling tough topics head-on, to help kids in times where they may feel unsafe, unsure, scared or confused. After 9/11 Sesame Street helped kids with fires and emergencies in an episode on a fire at Hooper’s Store.
After Hurricane Katrina, Sesame Street tackled this topic through a series of episodes about a hurricane on Sesame Street.
Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration
In this clip, Alex talks with Abby Cadabby, Rosita, and Sofia about his dad’s incarceration.
If you know a child impacted by the incarceration of a parent or family member, Sesame Street has a dedicated tool kit that can be found here.
To this day, Mr. Hooper’s picture still hangs above Big Bird’s nest and can be seen in the hurricane episodes. Thanks, Sesame Street, for facing this tough topic head-on. And thanks for reminding kids (and all of us) that those we love and lose remain part of us, even 30 years later.
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Know of other kids’ shows that have tackled the topic of grief? Please share with us in a comment!
For more resources to help children cope with grief, check out the following articles: