Arming Military Families with Love, Laughter, and Practical Tools for Deployment (Sesame Street)

Nearly 800,000 preschoolers are separated from a parent serving in the U.S. military.


When we think of war and deployment, we rarely think of the youngest members of our military families.

They often have a difficult time understanding why Mom or Dad needs to leave home, or how things might be different upon their return.

For these children and their families, Sesame Street provides much-needed support and practical education with Talk, Listen, Connect, a multiphase outreach initiative to help kids through deployments, combat-related injuries, and the death of a loved one. Videos, storybooks, and workbooks especially created for this program guide families through these tough transitions by showing how real families — as well as furry monsters — deal with similar circumstances.

In the first installment of Talk, Listen, Connect, families learn about ways to be together, even when they’re apart. When Elmo’s dad, Louie, is deployed, he creates a new bedtime ritual: No matter where they are, the family will say good night to the same moon.

In the second part of the program, families dealing with injury find ways to heal together. Rosita struggles to accept her father’s new wheelchair, saying what many children do: “I just wish things could go back to the way they were.” She soon realizes she’s not alone. In a primetime television special, children visit Sesame Street to share how they’re coping with their parent’s amputation or invisible injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and their parents describe the techniques they use to explain their injuries to their kids. For the more than 17,000 veterans who lost a limb fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s welcome relief.

In the program’s last installment, When Families Grieve, parents and kids find comfort by talking about death and keeping memories alive. When Elmo’s cousin, Jesse, has trouble remembering her father who died, her mom and Elmo help her remember by doing “small things,” such as wearing Daddy’s favorite hat or playing baseball as they used to. Most importantly, they help Jesse understand that the small things they shared will always keep Daddy in her heart.

Because this content is relevant to all children who have experienced the death of a loved one, an educational kit for the general public is also being distributed to grief counselors and families across the nation.

Over the course of this wide-ranging initiative, we’ve disseminated more than 2.5 million Talk, Listen, Connect kits, aired three critically acclaimed TV specials, and created a series of public service announcements in support of military families featuring First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Elmo, and Rosita. What’s more, the Sesame Street Muppets have performed for nearly 200,000 families at USO installations all over the world.

That’s enough TLC to have reached virtually every U.S. military family with young children. What better way to show our gratitude to those who have given so much?


Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund of the California Community Foundation, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, Walmart, BAE Systems, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Vet Center Program, New York Life Insurance Company, Military OneSource, Lockheed Martin Corporation, New York State Office of Mental Health,  USO, Military Child Education Coalition, American Greetings Corporation, McCormick Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Joseph Drown Foundation, BNY Mellon, Oshkosh Defense


  • Preschoolers exhibited fewer negative behaviors, such as being demanding and impatient, as a result of the materials, and parents themselves felt significantly less “down, depressed, or hopeless.”1
  • 71% of caregivers said our military families outreach materials helped their child cope with an injured family member.2
  • 83% of caregivers using the When Families Grieve materials feel they now “have more appropriate language to better discuss death with my child.”3


1 Russell Research. (2006). Findings from the Talk, Listen, Connect Kit Evaluation.
2 Military Families Research Institute. (2009). Findings from the Talk, Listen, Connect (TLC II-MD) Kit Evaluation; Findings from the Talk, Listen, Connect (TLC II – Changes) Kit Evaluation.
3 Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University, (2011).Preliminary Findings from the Talk, Listen, Connect III: When Families Grieve Kit Evaluation.







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