By KERRIE NOONAN
Don’t you remember we told you? Mr Hooper died, he’s dead.
Oh, yes, I remember. I’ll give it to him when he comes back.
Big Bird, Mr Hooper’s not coming back.
Big Bird, when people die they don’t come back…
Well, Big Bird, they’re dead, they can’t come back.
When I was a child, I loved watching Sesame Street. I still find it delightful and love watching the old clips of Ernie in his bathtub, those weird telephone-discovering Martians that say yip, yip, yip…
But none come close to Big Bird. I watched in the days that Mr Snuffleupagus was still his imaginary friend and I loved the way that Snuffie could disappear from those pesky adults despite his size.
In 1982 Mr Hooper, who ran ‘Hooper’s Store’ died in real life and the producers of Sesame Street decided to acknowledge his death this very touching scene. This scene, apparently captured in one take, provides a lesson in how to talk to our children about death.
Now, I’m a clinical psychologist, but Big Bird taught me a lot. Here are 5 lessons for talking to kids about death.
1. Say the words “dead” and “died”
They may not be easy words to use but all children need to hear these words first.
Using phrases like “passed away”, “gone”, “sleeping” or even “gone to God” and “an Angel in the sky” are confusing for children who need a concrete explanation.
Start with the plain facts of physical death (dead means you can’t come back, dead means your body doesn’t work anymore) and then add your spiritual beliefs. Like most young children, Big Bird tries hard to grasp that dead means never coming back. Stick to the physical aspects of death first.
In this clip, offering Big Bird the reassurance that ‘no one will forget Mr Hooper’ and reminding BB of the importance of memories (ie our ongoing relationship with the dead) is given preference over talking about spiritual or religious beliefs which can come later.