Sesame Street Takes on Parental Addiction


While addiction is a “grown-up issue,” it impacts children in ways that are not visible. Sesame Street in Communities tackles parental addiction in a way that is gentle and loving through two sweet and loving characters. Karli is a 6 ½ year old Muppet whose mom has struggled with addiction and had to live in foster care while her mom received treatment. Salia is a ten year old, the oldest of four girls whose parents both went to a 60 day treatment center. Sesame Street welcomes these girls into the Sesame Street community to discuss the reality of addiction in the home, the pain children experience, and the hope and healing families can enjoy once parents are healthier.

Sesame Street in Communities will also host resources on parental addiction on its website.  These tools are designed to foster resilience, hope, and optimism for children and families.   Sesame Street in Communities strives to unite communities, foster families’ and kids’ resilience, nurture their physical and mental health, and provide critical early learning opportunities through its library of bi-lingual multimedia tools.

NACoA CEO/President Sis Wenger:   “NACoA is grateful that children living with parental addiction worldwide will benefit for a longtime to come from this extraordinary project. We have been privileged and proud to work with Sesame Street to bring helpful messages from the Muppets to children of all ages who have parents struggling with this devastating disease. Children and families will be able identify with these characters and recognize they are not alone, that there are caring adults that can help them, and that asking for help is the first step. We hope that parents, grandparents, and other caring adults watch episodes and explore the resources with children who are being impacted by parental addiction.  In doing so, they will help the children break the ‘NO TALK’ rule that has trapped them into silence and isolation for far too long.”

Some short videos are available on the Sesame Street in Communities YouTube channel. Simple but powerful themes are shared through conversations with Elmo and other friends in the Sesame Street neighborhood.

Lending A Hand:  “My Mom needs help to take better care of herself so she talks to people with the same problem … And so I go to a special ‘Kids Only’ meeting. Our parents all have the same problem. We sit in a circle and hold hands and we sing.”

Meet Salia: “When my Mom was having a hard time, I had lots of big feelings. I thought I was the only one. But now I’ve met other kids like Salia and we can talk about it together.”

We’re Special and So Are You: “I am important. We are special and so are you.”

It’s Not Your Fault:  “I used to feel like a lot of things were my fault. Especially my Mom’s problem. But she told me “No, it was a grown up problem. It wasn’t because of anything I did. And she said that she loves me, no matter what!”

NACoA will post regular updates in the weeks and months ahead on social media.  To stay connected with this initiative, visit Sesame Street social media channels:  @SesameStreetInCommunities (Facebook) @SesameCommunity (Twitter) @SesameStreet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).  When posting, use #SunnyDaysAhead.

NACoA thanks National Director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Children's Program Jerry Moe for his contribution to this important initiative.

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Mary Beth, Sis, and Jerry, and all who have supported NACoA through the years, including Tian Dayton, PhD; Dr. Robert Anda; Iris Smith, PhD; Claudia Black, PhD, and countless others, 

This is terrific! 

Giving kids examples of others who are experiencing what they are experiencing may not seem like a lot to some in the “outside world.”  But as the adult child of an alcoholic, I will tell you that I still remember the isolation, confusion, and pain of being THAT kid who COULD NOT TELL.  It would have meant so much to have seen other kids coping with problems like mine, and to see that they were getting help and succeeding. Especially if it was something I saw on TV, on a regular basis!

For a child to suffer alone AND be trapped in secrecy, to have his or her reality denied minute-by-minute? Today we call that “being gaslit.” It is “flight-fight-freeze-fawn” hell and can lead one to disassociate, become addicted himself or herself, and want to hurt others as a way of feeling a split-second of power. And we all know that just leads to a toxic cycle of shame, guilt, escaping for a minute via an addictive substance or behavior, and then feeling shame and guilt all over again. It is a toxic cycle filled with damaging stress hormones that make us sick and less able to learn and grow, unless something such as this program helps disrupt the cycle. Disrupting the cycle EARLY in life is key. 

I love that you all are bringing this national epidemic out into the open for kids and their caregivers. God knows the grandparents rearing grandchildren will appreciate this, the ability to let their grandkids know they are not the only ones going through the pain of separation, the disappointment of not being “at home,” the fear of “what if treatment doesn’t work.”  All of those thoughts and fears should not be part of childhood. And yet for so many children, they are not only part of childhood, they command the thoughts and emotions of almost every waking hour. Thank you all for finding a way to help kids be kids even when faced wirh the most difficult of topics.

Had I known I was not alone? That I wasn’t the cause of my parent’ endless knock-down, drag-our fighting? Wow. How freeing that would have been. Maybe I could have relaxed and paid a little more attention in school.

I so get it now, that my father’s behavior was fueled by rage from his childhood abuse, inflamed by alcohol, and my mom’s rage was from her need to control that came from her childhood poverty (the Depression turned her life upside down) and being ostracized because of a birthmark that covered half of her face. I can think of them both with so much compassion now.

Pain and cruelty understood and healed is pain and cruelty that won’t be passed on to the next generation. We can all stop recycling pain and be disrupters. NACoA has tools to help. And this video from Sesame Street is a tool that can start to help way early in a child’s life, when it is needed the most! 

I am deeply grateful to NACoA and to Sis Wenger, in particular, for two decades of support in parenting, education, and friendship, and for introducing me to the ACEs study almost twenty years ago. It terrified me then, to find out my ACE score and to glimpse what looked to be a grim figure. Fortunately, the study helped me realize I had to do everything I could to be as healthy as I possibly could and to get even more help with parenting my children. 

I love this “full-circle” of NACoA, Sesame Street, and ACEs Connection in my life, and having the ability to share the good news in this post about a way to help little kids live with less fear and less isolation. It may help them laugh a bit more, feel a little more accepted. And it may help grandparents and other caregivers have a moment or two of respite that will help their lives go a little more smoothly.  

What a gift!  Today I will be sharing news of this with friends who are reading grandkids. 

Love and thank you,


Last edited by Carey S. Sipp (ACEs Connection Staff)
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