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Sesame Street Explains Parents' Incarceration to Preschoolers

Explaining a parent's jail sentence to a preschooler is a heartbreaking reality for many families, but now children can get some help understanding life's complications from Big Bird and Elmo.

A series called Little Children, Big Challenges that specifically addresses incarceration and divorce, along with resilience in general, is now available for free for children ages 2-5 from the Seattle-based nonprofit Committee for Children, which authored the toolkit in collaboration with Sesame Workshop.

The toolkits feature videos and songs from favorite Sesame Street characters, downloadable tips and guides for parents and educators, and free mobile apps on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon.

Among the advice for parents and caregivers, which also might be useful to teachers and administrators: Let children know they are loved, and offer them a predictable routine and time to talk about their feelings.

More specifically, it suggests practical ways for children to remain connected, for example, during a parent's jail term:

• Visits can be positive for children, but jails can seem scary. Break the ice with
games. List favorite colors, music, or sports teams. Describe something, and ask
your child to guess it.

• Phone calls are a great way to keep in touch. Help your child think of things to tell
the incarcerated parent. Give the child a picture of the parent to hold during the call.

• Use pen and paper to write letters. If your child can't yet write, the child to tell you
what to write; the child can draw pictures to go with the words.

Advice for families going through divorce includes:

  • Making feeling faces. Pictures can be great tools to help you introduce your child to words that describe emotions. Work together to find pictures in magazines and cut out people who look confused, worried, joyful, proud, disappointed, or excited. Glue the pictures to a large piece of paper and label each one. 
  • Try video chatting. When long distances separate children and parents, try to set up a time for your child to video chat with the parent who is far away. Seeing the parent's face, even if it is through the computer, will help children child comforted and connected.

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