Sunny days, sweepin’ the clouds away: the emblematic opening strains of a song that brings back warm childhood memories for many. Now, the lessons learned on Sesame Street are helping the youngest cope with the stress of being the child of a parent in the military. Sesame Street for Military Families is a joint venture between Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, and the Military Health System.
“Sesame Street recognized early on that these preschoolers, the largest demographic of military children, and their parents really are facing some challenges,” said Kelly Blasko, a psychologist and the program lead for the mobile web program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology or T2, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. “They wanted to provide a resource to improve the whole family experience.”
The program is similar to Military Kids Connect, the center’s online community for children ages 6-17 that provides access to resources to help deal with the unique psychological challenges of military life. Sesame Street for Military Families targets a younger group under the age of six, a group which readily recognizes the Sesame Street characters.
“The Muppets are a very trusted source and really can help with difficult conversations,” said Blasko. “When military parents watched these videos with their children, they became more confident as parents, and their overall well-being improved. There is a relationship between parent well-being and child well-being.” All improved because parent-child communication improved, she said.
Communication challenges faced by military parents and their young children include deployments, parents leaving and coming home, parents coming home with injuries, and moving from military base to base. “I’m always surprised when I go to the elementary schools on bases, how many children under 5 years old have moved two, three, four times already,” said Blasko.
To help in all these transitions, the program teaches how to build routines. These routines – family dinners, reading bedtime stories, regular activities – give children more stability and structure in a world in flux. The Mood Monster activity on the Sesame Street for Military Families site helps parents and children express their emotions about moving, parents coming home, and a variety of other situations. Blasko said anecdotal evidence showed the information learned was valuable before and after a move.
The Military Health System has been an active partner in the process. Blasko said the center helped write the skits used to teach children of military parents and tested them with those children. In addition, military health providers had input into the process. “Sesame Street has an incredible history of educating young children, and we provide to them the context of the military experience and culture,” said Blasko.
According to Blasko, the website gets about 4,000-5,000 visits each month, an indication of its value to military families. In addition, providers’ tools are being developed by T2 in conjunction with Sesame Workshop, including resources and information for pediatric providers, both in the Military Health System and in civilian hospitals and clinics. “We want them to recognize the symptoms and recommend resources to the parents,” said Blasko.
The bottom line: the Military Health System sees improving the lives of its youngest beneficiaries as a chance to improve the lives of all its beneficiaries. And Sesame Street is the right road to take.
“It’s for military children and families, and they know it’s for them,” said Blasko. “That goes a long way to making it easier to seek help when they need it.”