U of I prof advises ‘Sesame Street’ on divorce materials

By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of ACES News and Public Affairs

URBANA, Ill. — When Sesame Street decided to take on the tricky issue of divorce, they identified four experts, including University of Illinois professor Robert Hughes Jr., to advise them as they developed their new resources on the topic.

Hughes, head of the U of I’s Department of Human and Community Development, has studied and written about the effects of divorce on families for years.

Some 40 percent of families experience divorce, so the experience is widespread, but our individual lives and crises are always uniquely our own,” Hughes said. “Children need to know they’re not alone in this experience and that they can bring their feelings to their parents and caregivers.”

Children of divorcing parents will take comfort in knowing a familiar Sesame Street character, Abby Cadabby, is negotiating some of the same rocky terrain they’re dealing with, he noted.

Abby’s parents have been divorced for some time, so she’s had time to recover and talks easily to her friends about the pictures she’s drawn of her parents’ two houses.

This one is where I live with my mommy, and this one is where I live with my daddy,” she says.

Gordon explains that divorce is an adult problem and that children will continue to be loved by both parents.

The expert applauds Sesame Street for creating the “Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce” toolkit, opening frank conversations about these feelings on the program, and making the kits available to parents, caregivers, child-care providers, military families and the court system.

Hughes said children do better when parents can reduce the amount of conflict and fighting between one another, finding a way to become co-parents.

And he emphasized that both mothers and fathers are important in their children’s lives, even if they’re no longer married.

Fathers are important in their children’s lives and need to be respected as caregivers and supported in their parenting role,” Hughes said. “At the same time, mothers continue to be the primary caregivers for most young children and often face challenges that merit support.”

Hughes encouraged parents to care for themselves in healthy ways so they can be effective co-parents.

Much of the difficulty that children experience is when their parents are distracted and distressed,” Hughes said. “Grandparents, child-care providers and friends can provide an important safety net of support to divorcing families.”

Hughes praised the materials for providing a set of activities that encourage parents to talk with their children about their emotions and challenges.

The materials are geared toward children aged 2-8, but Hughes suggested parents meet their children at their level of understanding.

Research shows that talking about feelings and dealing with worries is essential to children’s adjustment,” Hughes said. “This learning process goes on throughout childhood as children mature and understand the changes that have occurred in their families and the meaning this has for them.”

Free multi-media tools include the following:

• Resource Kit with a DVD, Caregiver Guide and Storybook;

• Mobile App for parents with resources and interactive tools, available on Google Play and the App Store (SM);

• YouTube Playlist of videos from the initiative, at youtube.com/sesamestreet; and

• OnlineToolkit with exclusive downloadables and videos at sesamestreet.org/divorce.

From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue

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