Shine On

1983 Sesame Street video helps kids with loss after Newtown tragedy

Sometimes when there are no adequate words to explain the present, an eloquent reminder from the past serves well.

Ever since last Friday, many parents have been grappling with the best way to speak to their young children about the magnitude of the grief and loss in wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings.

Well, an old clip from Sesame Street that shows Big Bird absorbing the news of Mr. Hooper’s death may be pointing them in the right direction. The video has been making the internet rounds, providing helpful ideas on how to approach the topic.

(Just try not to tear up when you watch it.)

Also see: How to recognize signs of mental illness in your family

The clip’s touching, poignant, and deeply affecting way of talking to a young person about death is notable for one thing: its direct way of speaking about permanent loss.

None of the adult characters tries to sugarcoat the idea of death with euphemisms or promises that Mr. Hooper will return.

Though they speak to Big Bird in “his language” -- a tactic recommended by UCLA associate clinical professor of psychiatry, Emanuel Maidenberg -- they also tell him the truth.

Also see: Will school shootings become parents' worst nightmare?

“Mr. Hooper is not coming back,” Susan says. “When people die, people don’t come back.”

But the grownups also give Big Bird comfort and love, telling him that David will make his birdseed milkshakes now that he’s taken over Mr. Hooper’s store, and that they’ll all tell him stories and “make sure he’s okay.”

They also stress the importance of memory and that it’s good to think back with love on the person you lost and remember them often.

Though there’s never any easy way to address the subject, the PBS episode provides an excellent auxiliary if parents need a little helping hand. 

Watch the video below about the Big Bird controversy during the last U.S. election.

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