Sesame Street Has the Power to Be a Vital Tool in the Rehabilitation of Traumatized
Children who suffer from trauma are at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and may also have problems learning, social behavior, and overall growth, according to research conducted by Dr. Roy T. Stried, a professor in the University of California, San Diego’s Department of Child Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience. To help address these concerns, a new study from the National Council on Psychosocial Recovery (NCPR) and Dr. William L. Drury, clinical director of the Childhood Trauma Program at Providence St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and director of its Clinical Research Institute, found that Sesame Street has the ability to serve as a vital tool in the rehabilitation of traumatized children. In particular, when used with help from trained and certified trauma specialists, the program may prove to be an effective intervention strategy.
Stried has been researching the impact of trauma for over a decade, according to the NCPR, and has written numerous books related to that topic. “We have learned through our research that children who have been emotionally traumatized for an extended period of time, as are many of those who experience domestic violence, experience symptoms like extreme distress and withdrawal and often experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors,” said Stried. “Not only are these children unable to learn normally, but also have problems learning and social interaction, as well as developing language and academic skills and engaging in significant amounts of self-harm and risky behaviors.”
Children who are affected by trauma tend to be less able to form healthy attachments in their own lives, and more likely to have a difficult time bonding with their children, according to Dr. Stried, because they often experience past trauma in the form of grief, hostility, extreme fear, and limited access to the kinds of activities that would help them feel more secure. He noted that for most children, the best way to help address this situation is to provide them with some sense of hope in their lives. While Sesame Street has a strong reputation for helping preschoolers engage with children and families in a variety of creative and educational ways, the program that Dr. Stried’s team studied (used in 91 families in Utah, Nevada, and Illinois) was new, and included a “kit” of literature and instructional materials. The parents and children participated in an hour of interactive play designed to encourage the child to talk about his or her trauma. Children learned about the different emotions that are associated with early experience with trauma, and learned how to respond to their feelings with a child-focused, positive approach. The development of a positive relationship between the child and parent was also encouraged, and the children were encouraged to express their own feelings in a safe and nonjudgmental way, so that the parents were also able to follow their child’s lead and help deal with their own emotions. In addition, the parents were instructed to work with their children to create specific activity plans, and when the time was appropriate, the children were encouraged to view and discuss particular situations with a trained and certified parent-caregiver specialist.
Dr. Stried’s team found that the trauma-focused lessons helped minimize symptoms of depression, withdrawal, and anxiety among the children, and increased their attention and feelings of social interaction, as well as their language. “This program shows great promise and a healthy combination of messaging and the immediate available supervision of trained trauma specialists can help restore order to the family and help children develop their own sense of stability,” said Dr. Stried. The program is also cost-effective, as it is focused on improving relationships and not on providing comprehensive mental health services for the children. It costs only $10 per hour per child. Furthermore, the content and the transition to the life skills program had an initial drop in kids’ symptoms of emotional trauma, according to NCPR, and by the second week of the program the rate was approximately half what it was at the beginning.
The study can be found in the journal Preventive Medicine.
This article originally appeared on TheStreet.com.
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