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P Is for ... Prison?

Looking down at handcuffed male hands on black background
Photograph by Getty Images

Sesame Street is known for helping little kids learn their ABCs. Now, according to Vanity Fair, it’s targeting a very special subset of children: those who have a mommy or daddy doing time in J-A-I-L. The brand rolled out a new kit this week online, designed to help little ones between the ages of 3 and 8 handle the heartbreak and shame of having an orange-jumpsuited parent. Called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” it’s got stories, videos, handy tips, and other content that kids and their caregivers can use to come to terms with the situation.

There’s even an artwork angle to this info-fest: drawing projects that help kids put their angst on paper, and instructions on how to make a hanging mobile of the children’s caregivers, so they’ll have visual reassurance of “people who care [for the child] at home, school or anywhere.”

A two-minute video helps to explain the concept of a jail stint to kids: A little boy named Alex has to tell his pals why his dad isn’t around to help him build a race car. At first, ashamed of his situation, he runs away, but later ‘fesses up: “My dad is in jail … I don’t like to talk about it … most people don’t understand.” An adult who hears this then reassures him: “Actually, I do understand. When I was about your age, my dad was incarcerated too.” (In this magical land, the kids somehow skip the step where they then they look confused and whisper “What’s ‘incarcerated?'” to each other.) Later, the adult adds that “when someone breaks a grown-up rule … they have to go to jail or prison.”

According to a 2010 study by the Pew Charitable trust, almost 2.7 children in this country currently have a parent who’s in prison.

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