G Is for Grief: 1983 Sesame Street Episode Helps Kids Cope After Newtown Tragedy

The tragedy in Newtown has left parents struggling to explain loss to kids. Fortunately, a Sesame Street episode from 1983 can help.

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In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., parents are struggling to find ways to talk to their kids about death and loss. That’s where Big Bird and friends can help. For four decades and counting, Sesame Street has ushered in fun and educational entertainment for kids — but they haven’t shied away from tough topics, too. Experts are advising parents to tell kids the truth about what happened — “in their language,” says Emanuel Maidenberg, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, recently interviewed by TIME’s Bonnie Rochman.

With its tempered, easy-to-understand dialogue, Sesame Street shines in explaining touchy subjects — from bullying to divorce — to those who’ve never been through them before. So it’s no surprise that as the nation mourns the tragic loss of life at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Sesame Street episode “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” which first aired on November 24, 1983, has found a renewed voice.

(MORE: Massacre of the Innocents: Chilling Details About the Gunman in the Schoolhouse)

In the heartbreaking episode of the PBS mainstay, Big Bird learns that Mr. Hooper, the original owner of Hooper’s Store, has passed away. Big Bird is at a loss for understanding what this means and where his friend has gone. “But he’s got to come back,” he cries. “Who’s going to take care of the store? And who’s going to make my birdseed milkshakes?!” Susan, played by Loretta Long, finds herself having to explain rather bluntly, “Mr. Hooper is not coming back.” Elaborating, she adds, “When people die, people don’t come back.” Big Bird’s grown-up friends offer comforting words, though, explaining to him that though Mr. Hooper is gone,  they should fondly reflect on their memories of him and promise “We’ll all tell you stories and we’ll make sure you’re okay.”

As Jezebel noted when they posted the clip, “[I]t’ll break your heart about fifty times in one viewing.”

MORE: Sesame Street’s Elmo Talks To Kids About Hurricanes

MORE: D Is for Divorce: Sesame Street Tackles Another Touchy Topic

23 comments
ranaalotaibi
ranaalotaibi

@Nouf_AlAloula Hi Nouf :-) , Hope u and all colleagues are well

Ian Magus
Ian Magus

Wow, I vaguely remember watching this back then. It was the first time I heard about the concept of death and dying. I would have been 2 years old.

thegshift
thegshift

@potskiepots ansakit neto. 5 mins lang pero tagos sa laman.

YOURS101
YOURS101

@TIME - Well we pay for it they should be taking care of our kids.

DannyDeraney
DannyDeraney

@TIME remember that episode like it was yesterday.

Deborah Earle
Deborah Earle

It's very sweet of the "Sesame Street" cast to lend consolation to those in need at this time, but then I guess it was a matter of course for them to do so. In the mantime, I've considered that one thing that might save students and teachers in such horrendous situations might be classrooms with emergency exit doors. Since there have been too many incidents of this kind, and victims are often trapped and cornered, at least a few more might survive if they were not so....In the meantime, the violence just needs to stop, and people should come together to determine how to create that result.

AmaraMichaelle
AmaraMichaelle

@TIME I vaguely remember the episode but I do remember being sad when Mr. Hooper died. I do hope this helps. #sesamestreet is valuable.

LadyRose666
LadyRose666

@TIME @BeingUncosmo we ned to ask our govt to stop participating in killing children and allowing it worldwide, especially in Syria

Vangie Bender
Vangie Bender

Support and love certainly make acceptance tolerable...but the victims will forever be remembered!

maxile124
maxile124

@TIME a travesty in America that g is for grief has to be required school material.

rickgrahamlund
rickgrahamlund

Very poor choice of clips to help children with their grief. Where is the hope?  Where is the reassurance that life on this earth is short, but that there is eternal life in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? Oh, that's right--liberals don't believe in anything but their own dinkly little mindsets. How pathetic to leave children (represented by Big Bird) with so little hope to cling to. I'm sickened by this drivel, and would never depress my children with such nihilistic thoughts.  

micha_tobing
micha_tobing

Mau tak kasih foto anak2 korbannya gak??sedihh RT @haydeear TIME G is for grief: 1983 Sesame Street episode helps kids cope after th

angryfrog
angryfrog

@rickgrahamlund "Where is the reassurance that life on this earth is short, but thatthere is eternal life in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?"

Don't children have enough fairy tales?

Veracity
Veracity

@rickgrahamlund  How about YOU teach your kids about your beliefs of afterlife and let other parents do the same?  Sesame Street talked about grief and the things kids don't understand in a way and language that kids get, without promoting any one belief system.If they had chosen to promote a belief in the afterlife, say Judaism's view, would that have been fine with you?  I doubt it, as you seem to be a Christian.  So do you think no Jewish kids watch Sesame Street, or is it that you think it's Sesame Street's job to teach kids the "right" belief - being your own of course.It has nothing to do with being liberal.  And believe it or not, it has nothing to do with being Christian or not.  Thankfully, Sesame Street has a larger worldview than you do.Don't let your kids watch Sesame Street.  Next they'll be teaching that women are equal to men.  Or racial equality.  You drivel sickens me.  And it would sicken Mr Hooper for that matter.  Let your kids go back to watching Fox News.

timrtz20
timrtz20

@rickgrahamlund

 Umm... do you know that this is publicly funded, and that not everybody is Christian? I'm a republican but this has nothing to do with liberals or conservatives. You seem to be the one with the dinkly little mindset. Explaining death and that kind of stuff is up to parents not television. Please grow up and stop making all non-liberals look like idiots.

haydeear
haydeear

@micha_tobing haduh jangan mas.. Ga tega :'(