Sesame Street is an American educational program for children. Though it strives to teach kids about friendship, life, and positivity, it also doesn’t shy away from large, complex topics.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Do Children’s Shows Talk Death and Grief?
- 1. ‘About Uncle Jack’
- 2. ‘Expressing Emotions’
- 3. ‘You Can Talk to Me’
- 4. ‘The Memory Box’
- 5. ‘Goodbye Mr. Hooper’
- 6. ‘Fire at Hooper’s Store’
- 7. ‘Big Feelings’
- Sesame Street Grief Resources
The show is intended for children under seven years of age and features likable, friendly puppets, each with their own personalities and challenges. Some of these challenges are related to life, death, and everything between.
Whether you’re wondering how to talk to kids about death or how to introduce your kids to a diverse range of topics, Sesame Street is a great option for kids of all ages. In this guide, we’ll highlight the times that Sesame Street taught kids about death, grief, and other difficult themes so you can spark an age-appropriate conversation with your child.
How Do Children’s Shows Talk Death and Grief?
When it comes to TV shows about death, not many children’s shows make this list. While Sesame Street is about all kinds of things, like love, friendship, and overcoming bad days, this is one of the most innovative kid’s shows of its time.
It understands that kids easily connect to these characters. By telling stories in terms that children can understand, this show is an introduction to some of the harsher realities of being human.
How do children’s shows like Sesame Street talk about death and grief? They stick to simple themes, using words and comparisons that younger kids understand. While questions like “what happens after we die?” and “how do we overcome grief?” might seem too complex for young brains, it’s true that children of all ages begin to ask these questions.
The sooner children are exposed to complex themes like death, grief, and everything in between, the easier it will be for them to understand the world around them. Sesame Street, in particular, does an effective job of handling these real-world issues with care, compassion, and understanding. When paired with children’s books about death, this is a great resource.
1. ‘About Uncle Jack’
In this segment titled ‘About Uncle Jack,’ Elmo talks to his dad about one of his favorite memories about his uncle Jack. Though he’s excited to see his uncle again and talk about one of the great days they had together, his father reminds him that his uncle Jack died.
Though Elmo struggles to understand that he can no longer talk to his uncle Jack, his father explains it in simple terms. When his uncle died, that meant he could no longer visit him, call him on the phone, or talk to him at family events. His dad reminds him that he’s always there for him if he wants to talk about his uncle Jack.
2. ‘Expressing Emotions’
One of the most common segments on Sesame Street is when they share children’s stories in their own words. In ‘Expressing Emotions,’ a young girl describes how she connected with a teacher after the loss of her dad. Her teacher encouraged her to write letters to her deceased dad to let him know what she was feeling about.
Losing a loved one is hard, but learning how to express those feelings of grief is part of the healing process. Throughout ‘Expressing Emotions,’ many children explain how they talk about grief and the feelings that it causes, from frustration to sadness to hope.
3. ‘You Can Talk to Me’
In ‘You Can Talk to Me,’ Jesse talks to her uncle Louie about how she’s feeling. Jesse lost her father, and she doesn’t like to talk about him because it makes her sad. Her uncle empathizes with her, understanding that it can feel sad to talk about those we’ve lost.
He relates to her, saying, “Sometimes I feel sad, too, when I think about your dad.” Hearing this out loud makes her feel heard and understood. She expresses her anger at the world and how she feels like it’s not fair. Uncle Louie assures her that these feelings are normal and okay, and it helps to talk to someone about how you feel.
4. ‘The Memory Box’
Jesse lost her dad, and she uses her memory box to remember all the happy times they had together. She shares her memory box with her family, highlighting some of her favorite moments and reminders of the great times she had with her dad.
By remembering these happy memories, she bonds with her family. Her uncle even offers to take the entire family to a baseball game in her dad’s honor.
5. ‘Goodbye Mr. Hooper’
Mr. Hooper was one of the human characters on Sesame Street, and he was the cranky but lovable shop keeper. When the actor who played Mr. Hooper died in real life, Sesame Street didn’t re-cast the show or write him out of it. Instead, they chose to use this as an opportunity to talk about his death and what it means to lose a friend.
In ‘Goodbye Mr. Hooper,’ Big Bird makes drawings of all his favorite grown-up friends. When he tries to give his picture to Mr. Hooper, his grown-up friends explain how he’s no longer around. Though Big Bird doesn’t really understand that his friend isn’t coming back, his friends take the time to explain things in compassionate, simplified terms.
His friend begins, “When people die, they don’t come back.” His friends go on to explain how they’ll help him remember Mr. Hooper, and they’ll look after him just as he did. Though Big Bird understands that it won’t be the same, his friends remind him that they were all lucky to have known him and loved him during the time they had. Though the ones we love die, our memories never fade.
6. ‘Fire at Hooper’s Store’
After the events of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Sesame Street created ‘Fire at Hooper’s Store’ to help children deal with traumatic situations. While at lunch with his friend Maria, there’s a sudden fire. His friend helps him escape from the restaurant safely, and they call the fire station together.
Though the fire department responds quickly, Elmo is terrified and unable to calm down after the incident, even when it’s safe to go back inside. A firefighter takes the time to explain how his gear keeps him safe during an emergency and how children can call for help when they need it. By being prepared for emergencies, everyone can stay safe.
7. ‘Big Feelings’
Both Elmo and Jesse have big feelings about the death of their loved ones. These aren’t always simple feelings. Though they feel grief at losing someone important, they sometimes still feel happy, and that makes them feel guilty. Louie explains how some feelings are so big and complex that they’re hard to explain fully.
Still, Louie emphasizes that there is no such thing as feelings that are too big (or too small) to talk about with a loved one you trust. Sharing these feelings is the best way to feel a bit better, even when it’s hard to get the conversation started.
Sesame Street Grief Resources
Sesame Street understands how hard it is for families to talk about grief. They’ve taken the initiative to create grief resources specifically designed for families with young children. Besides sharing key episodes that talk about death and grief, they also offer worksheets, downloads, and caregiver guides.
Sesame Street’s grief kits are available for any family going through a difficult time. With information for adults, children, and everyone in between, this is something to take advantage of if you need support. Most of all, the team at Sesame Street wants parents and families to know you’re never alone.
Using Sesame Street to Start a Conversation
Sesame Street is truly a pioneer in talking to children about all things life and death. Many of the episodes act as gifts for children who lost a parent, helping them feel less alone with the complex feelings that come after. Though it might seem hard to start a conversation about death and grief, children are often capable of more than we give them credit for.
No matter your child’s age, it’s time to talk to them about death and grief. Using a show like Sesame Street as a tool is the best way to make sure the topic is introduced in terms they can understand. From there, they’ll be better equipped to understand their own feelings and struggles in the future.