How the Muppets are teaching children to cope with emotions

Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee are collaborating to teach children how to handle tough emotions. The new Sesame edition is being made with refugee kids in mind

Muppets teach emotional coping strategies

With the average length of refugee displacement approaching 20 years, non-governmental agencies (NGOs) have had to rethink their approaches to providing services for this vulnerable population. 60 Minutes reported Sunday how one NGO, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), is teaming up with iconic children's broadcaster Sesame Workshop to address this gap. "Ahlan Simsim", or "Welcome Sesame," was created with refugee children in mind and will teach Arabic-speaking children around the world to cope with some of the traumas associated with extended displacement. The show is one product of a staggering $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

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The new Muppets for "Ahlan Simsim"

On the set of "Ahlan Simsim" in Amman, Jordan, 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl saw firsthand how the Muppets are teaching these coping strategies to children. "The episode I saw, the tactic was belly breathing," Stahl told 60 Minutes Overtime. With the help of three new Muppets--Basma, Jad, and their humorous sidekick baby goat, Ma'zooza--created expressly for the Arab-language show, Stahl reported how this new Sesame production will teach children to breathe purposefully when they feel a strong emotion.

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Basma, the new female Muppet created for "Welcome Sesame," explained belly breathing to Stahl. "You put your hand on your tummy, then you take a deep breath, and breathe out," Basma demonstrated. Experts hope that when children utilize this practice in real life, it will help quell fears and make painful moments more tolerable. As the plush purple Muppet Basma explains, "This makes you feel relaxed… it helped me feel a little better."

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Stahl went on to explain the larger purpose of the exercise. "You can feel loneliness, you can feel sadness," she said, "you're not alone." The deep breaths Basma demonstrated are a reminder to children going through sometimes unimaginable challenges that, in Stahl's words, "you're not on an island by yourself. We're all in this."

The video above was produced by Sarah Shafer, Rebecca Chertok Gonsalves and Matthew Polevoy. It was edited by Sarah Shafer.

Sesame Workshop® video courtesy of ©2019 Sesame Workshop