Abby Cadabby’s Parents are Divorced, Too: Finding the Right Words to Explain Changing Family Dynamics

For better or for worse, divorce has become the norm. More and more children come from a non-traditional home environment, and adults often struggle to use the right words to help explain these complicated situations to their children. No matter what the status of your marriage, we all want to put aside our differences for the sake of the kids. We all want to raise happy, healthy, productive members of society. But how? What do we say?

There are always situations when finding the right words is next to impossible. When you’re dealing with death, injury, illness, it’s difficult to use words that children can understand, and that provide them with the comfort and security they so desperately need.

The producers, writers, and researchers at Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit organization that operates Sesame Street) has been working to find the words for over a decade now. In the early 1990s, they made their first attempt to talk about divorce using Snuffleupagus, who told children that his daddy was going to live in another cave. The kids who watched this test segment were horrified, didn’t understand where Snuffy’s daddy was going to go, and worried that their parents, too, would end up getting a divorce. The segment ended up on the cutting room floor.

Sesame Workshop avoided the topic entirely until recently. In the last two years, the producers, researchers and writers have tried again to produce a segment on divorce that would help alleviate the fears and concerns that many kids facing divorce have. Unlike the first segment, this one won’t just appear in the regular rotation with other episodes of the show. This segment is designed to be specifically targeted for kids who are experiencing a divorce.

The character, too, has changed, and so has the perspective. Instead of using Snuffy, who is kind of a mopey-looking guy, the researchers decided to use Abby Cadabby, a bright pink fairy. Instead of talking about going through a present divorce, Abby’s parents have been divorced for some time. She talks to the kids about how she has two houses, one where she lives with mommy and one where she lives with daddy. The song even wraps up with a cute little song where Abby repeats over and over, “They live in different places but they both love me.”

The truth is that there are some things that fluffy puppets can express better than adults ever could. There is something reassuring about learning about divorce from someone who has been through it, and who is something of a contemporary. In testing, this episode was much more successful than the first—kids acknowledged that it wasn’t Abby’s fault, and that they understood where Abby and her parents lived.

If you’re a parent searching for the right words, it may be a good idea to check out this version of Sesame Street, which is now available on the internet. The segment runs just 13 minutes. For more information, check out the Sesame Street website, at http://staging.sesamestreet.org/web/street/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/divorce. Maybe Abby Cadabby can help you find the words, too.

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