“Sesame Street” Helps Military Families Adjust

By Stacey Harrison

Nothing can give a child back the time lost with a parent during a military deployment. And when that parent comes back with injuries, it’s hard to understand that the family’s life will never be the same. But having your favorite Muppet by your side sure helps.

That’s the theory behind Coming Home: Military Families Cope With Change, a prime-time Sesame Street special that premieres April 1 on PBS (HD). It’s part of the Sesame Workshop’s Talk, Listen, Connect initiative dedicated to helping military families. Featuring furry friends Elmo and Rosita, along with such non-monster types as Queen Latifah and John Mayer, the half-hour program brings families together to discuss the injuries — both visible and invisible — of loved ones and to help them all adjust to a new normal.

Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, vice president for outreach and emotional practices at the Sesame Workshop, says if anyone doubts the power of the Muppets, just watch them interact with these families.

“Once the Muppets and the families get together, it’s unbelievable,” she says. “It’s a love fest. The military families, who have had these very challenging experiences in their lives, were just so comforted by just being with the Muppets. Even though they knew it was at a studio, even though they knew there were Muppeteers, they just were warmed and it was a fantastic experience.”

In the special, the Muppets are going through some of the same ordeals as the family members. Rosita’s dad has been injured during his deployment, and she is surprised to learn that other people were also injured. Elmo encounters a soldier whose arm has been amputated, and he is very curious about it. “Is it a robot arm? How does it move?” he asks.

“The Muppets … are kids, and they’re asking the questions that kids would ask,” Dr. Betancourt says. “The special also offers models for kids going through this, ways they can handle these very strong feelings.”

Photo: © 2009 Richard Termine