Kids need emotional education, too

Posted Saturday, 25 January 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Like many Nevadans, I grew up mesmerized by characters on “Sesame Street” — the fatherly Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch who lives in the neighborhood trash can, and Big Bird, with his king-sized personality. It was one of the few television shows my mother allowed my brother and me to watch. In addition to singing the ABCs and the 123s for its toddler audience, the characters tackled social issues such as racism, homelessness, incarceration, divorce and grief in a way that children could understand. These days, some puppets speak in sign language; others are in wheelchairs. In a way, the program’s puppets — now celebrating 50 years on the air — talk, sing and dance to educate young viewers in 120 countries about issues related to mental health. More specifically, “Sesame Street” producers often address the concept of feelings — something parents may have a hard time doing. In one episode,Ernie plays a feelings game with Bert. Another episode, which stars the perennially angry Oscar and the happy-go-lucky Kermit, teaches young viewers the difference between happy and mad. Kermit shows off a happy face sketched on a piece of paper; Oscar proceeds to eat it, making Kermit “very, very mad.” In 2017 the show’s producers introduced Julia, a 4-year-old who has autism. This year, they will debut a puppet who has a parent suffering from an opioid addiction and one who is a refugee in the Middle East. Sometimes, just the puppets are involved. Other times, human celebrities join in the scenes. Singer Dave Matthews croons about feelings with Grover. Former president Bill Clinton talks about feelings associated with HIV and AIDS with Kami, an HIV-positive 5-year-old puppet who has the virus. Just like adults, toddlers experience complex feelings. They get angry, nervous, sad, jealous, frightened, worried and embarrassed. While their childhood experiences may be different, one thing many youngsters have in common is their love of puppets. Sesame Street puppets can help them understand their emotions better, especially difficult ones. As a child who was a dedicated “Sesame Street” fan, I was overwhelmed by feelings I didn’t understand. Moving away from family and friends to another country when I was 6 was hard for me to process. My Jewish mother, a single parent at the time, took my brother and me to live in Israel. Like many Jews, she wanted to live in the promised land. I was not impressed by the adventure of it all. I was traumatized. I didn’t speak Hebrew. I couldn’t make friends because of the language barrier. I was sad and missed my extended family back in sunny Southern California. Because of the language issues, I was held back a year in school and was forced to repeat first grade. I hated that. I had an independent spirit, was used to picking out my own clothes, and didn’t like wearing the required school uniform day after day. I didn’t want to look like everyone else. I was frequently frustrated. Watching the episode “Big Bird Considers Moving” could have helped me adapt better. At least I would have had a big yellow friend with whom to share it. Kim Palchikoff can be contacted at [email protected]

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