ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, April 30, 2008) -- Just like approximately 700,000 preschool-age military children in America, the loveable monsters of Sesame Street are undergoing some tough and confusing times.
Elmo's father has come home from a long trip and he and Elmo must overcome a few challenges readjusting and reintegrating before learning he must go away again.
Meanwhile, Rosita's father has been injured at work and is in a wheelchair. She's upset and confused by all the changes in their lives, but doesn't want to talk to her parents at first because she doesn't want to upset them. Eventually she learns new ways to play ball and dance with her father.
The new DVDs "Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings, Changes" launched Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, are targeted at military Families with young children. The programming is designed to help those Families communicate better and build understanding about the difficulties of multiple deployments, homecomings and changes related to injury.
The new DVDs come after a Perdue University study found more than 80 percent of respondents said an earlier Sesame Street workshop DVD about deployments was a useful tool but that it could have done more to explain multiple deployments and changes in parents.
""Talk, Listen, Connect" [recognizes] the many complicated issues that military children and Families face related to multiple deployments and when parents returned changed in some way and that it's communicated in a way that only Sesame can do," said retired Col. Stephen J. Cozza, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and the associate director for the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University, and an advisory-board member for both DVDs.
"They're able to talk about tough topics, but they do it with sensitivity and with clarity. And they also do it at the developmental level that young children understand, using characters that are known and trusted to American kids," he continued.
Soldiers with children also recognize the benefit of having those trusted characters convey such important messages.
"Anything that can help kids understand and speak their language is a good thing," said Maj. Greg Spencer, who deployed twice with the 1st Armored Division and has four sons from age six to nine months.
The storylines from both DVDs emphasize the importance of family and friends, "sticking together" and having pride in each other.
They are also interspersed with clips of real military Families talking about their challenges and triumphs. There are plenty of ideas for how kids can keep in touch with their parents or help a parent who has been injured. Rosita even decorates her father's wheelchair with a family photograph.
In addition, there are special sections for adults, as well as a magazine designed to help them better understand what their children might be going through and how to help, such as keeping a routine and finding a balance between telling a child what's going on and giving them too much information.
According to Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla, who was featured in the "Changes" storyline playing with his kids and putting on his prosthetic arm with the help of his three-year-old daughter, Elmo and Rosita have helped Emily and Ramon, 2, understand his injuries better.
"Kids pay attention to these cute characters," he said after Tuesday's press conference at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. "I think sometimes they relate to them and they feel, 'Hey, I'm part of his world, he's part of my world,' and it helped them out just to understand more of what's going on in the military lifestyle.
"My youngest daughter, she was actually telling herself every day, 'Daddy's okay. Daddy's okay. He's fine. He's okay.' And then, one time she did ask my wife, 'What happened to Daddy,' and my wife told her, 'He got hurt at work.' Now when they saw this DVD, they realized and they understood, 'Oh things happen at work and Daddy got hurt, but he's back and he's doing fine.' It was great that she saw other families going through the same thing and I think it made it a lot easier for the family," said Padilla, who was injured while deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Five-hundred thousand kits, which include posters and postcards to help kids and deployed parents keep in touch, will be produced, according to Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop. The DVDs and informational materials are also available online at www.sesameworkshop.org/tlc/.