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Public TV Program Helps Children Who Are Grieving the Death of a Loved One

According to statistics, one in 20 children under the age of 15 will experience the death of a parent. Tonight at 7 on Ozarks Public Television, parents and children are invited to watch a special Sesame Street program called “When Families Grieve.” KSMU’s Missy Shelton has more on tonight’s program.

This isn’t the first time that Sesame Street has examined a topic that’s taboo even among many adults. The topic came up years ago when the man who played the beloved character Mr. Hooper passed away.Lynn Chwatsky is Assistant Vice President of Outreach Initiatives at Sesame Workshop. She says with many children having parents in the military and in harm’s way, it’s time to re-visit this important issue.

Chwatsky says, “The topic of when a parent dies or when somebody very close to a child dies is a very taboo topic. We know that a lot of times parents and adults in children’s lives don’t know how to talk to children about this. They don’t have the right language. We really need to help children through some of the toughest times in their lives and that’s why we decided that “When Families Grieve” was something we needed to do. And it’s through the Muppets that we can really help these children and the adults in their lives.”

In tonight’s program, the Muppet character Elmo is grieving the death of a loved one. Chwatsky says using Elmo was an important strategy in reaching out to children.

Chwatsky says, “Elmo is three and a half (years old). Elmo talks, acts, and speaks like a three and a half year old. So, the feeling that Elmo has are like what a typical three and a half year old feels. For children, if they can see somebody like Elmo, who they relate to and identify with, if Elmo is struggling and then through some wonderful tools, Elmo can learn to talk about his feelings, we hope that children will model those behaviors as well.”

The program “When Families Grieve” focuses on how Elmo deals with the death of his uncle.In a recent interview with KSMU, Elmo talked about what he hopes his friends will learn by watching the program.

Elmo says, “You’ll always have your memories of (the person) who has passed away, like Elmo’s Uncle Jack. So, you get to talk about the memories and how much fun you had with them.”

Even though this program features Elmo and other favorite Sesame Street characters, Lynn Chwatsky says this is not a program kids should watch alone.

Chwatsky says, “This is definitely something that is for co-viewing, regardless of the your situation. This is not something where you can put a child in front of it, know that a child is going to enjoy it, learn something from it, and is ok to be on their own. This is definitely something that a child should have a grown up in their lives be part of the viewing experience.”

“When Families Grieve” will air tonight at 7 on Ozarks Public Television.

Ozarks Public Television is providing free counseling kits in conjunction with tonight’s broadcast. The materials are aimed at families with children between the ages of 2 and 8. Kits are available at the Ozarks Public TV offices, Lost and Found Grief Center in Springfield, and Solider Memorial Chapel at Fort Leonard Wood. More information about the kits is online at optv.org.