Managing Stress in Pandemic Times: Sonali Khan

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Sonali Khan, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India.


Amid this pandemic Sesame Workshop India has been holding dialogues and webinars with experts in the field of child psychology, parenting to interact with a wider audience of anxious parents, making them aware about signs of stress/anxiety in children and themselves and how to manage these issues as well.

Here are some excerpts from the interview with Sonali Khan, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India.

What kind of tools are you providing caregivers and children to manage anxiety?


As the world and India deal with the Covid19 crises and its impact, it has become imperative for caregivers to adapt to new realties and the new normal, especially while dealing with young children. 

To deal with this unprecedented situation, Sesame Workshop globally launched the “Caring for Each Other” initiative for children aged 2-8 years and their parents recently. The Caring for Each Other initiative entails a rich array of resources to support children and families in the COVID-19 crisis. 

These resources are easy to use and are designed to help parents provide comfort and manage anxiety, as well as help with creating routines, fostering playful learning at home, and staying physically and mentally healthy. Mindful that the adults who care for children need support too, the resources are intended to help caregivers as well as children. We are offering the content free of cost for families around the world who are struggling to adjust, adapt, and keep each other safe.

Parents can access our microsite and our YouTube Channel – Galli Galli Sim, as well as fun and engaging audio, video, e-books featuring our funny furry loveable Sesame muppets: Chamki, Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster. Sesame Workshop India released 4 PSAs focusing on health, hygiene and social-emotional health in 11 Indian languages Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kashmiri, Bengali, Assamese, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Gujarati and Marathi across TV and our YouTube channel. The Hindi PSAs on Zee Big Magic channel reached over 35 Mn kids aged 2-14years. 

In addition, we have been holding dialogues and webinars with experts in the field of child psychology, parenting to interact with a wider audience of anxious parents, making them aware about signs of stress/anxiety in children and themselves and how to manage these issues as well. Our sessions are aimed at creating awareness about Parental Stress and Signs of Childhood Anxiety.  Here are some session links:

Session 1:  FB Live with Richa Anirudh

How is Covid-19 affecting childhood anxiety - This session was aimed at exploring and discussing a child's perspective of Covid-19 and how it made them feel. Our funny furry muppet, 6 Year Googly shared his feelings about Corona Virus and staying indoors. The sessions also highlighted the need for parents to understand their children’s feelings and similarly take care of their own.

Session 2: FB live with Gurgaon Moms and Dr.Shelja Sen

Kids,Stress and Lockdown - This session went a little further in speaking about childhood anxiety, where Dr.Shelja Sen (Founder of Children's First) shared signs of stress in children and how parents could identify and take action. It also brought out questions from parents and members of Gurgaon Mom's community, which their founder, Neela Kaushik shared with the audience. Googly and I also shared our experience and perspective on what best support could be given to parents and children, the sesame way, in such times 

Session 3: FB Live with Tavleen Singh and Chamki 

Dark Clouds and Silver Linings- Tavleen Singh interviewed Chamki( 5 years old) to understand a child's perspective on losing out on time in school and affects of discontinued education. This was a move forward in the direction of understand what schooling may look like in the post Covid world.

How do you think this pandemic is going to impact the future of young children, especially from vulnerable backgrounds? And how will SWI be able to help then.

The times we are in today is unprecedented, it is a life changing moment or all of us.  Children, by virtue are like sponges and absorb feelings of the people around them, as well as from the environment. Early childhood care and education has never been more wanted and needed, than it is today.

At a time when they should be in school, meeting their friends and learning important life skills, little ones are stuck at home with little or no exposures to these stimuli. By the time we get control of the situation, we may have lost a significant fraction of those developmental years for children of 02 to 08 years specifically, which we call the "Golden Years" in any child's cognitive and physical development, and this applies more to children from low income and other vulnerable backgrounds, where there is an added issue of dislocation, lack of technology and very little awareness to continue or in some cases begin, their path to quality education. 

At Sesame we are reaching children from vulnerable backgrounds by partnering with various state governments such as UP, Maharashtra, among others and NGOs to provide our content through TV, Radio, Community Radio, WhatsApp, Dikhsha app, digital apps like SaathHealth and by sharing our printed materials as part of the relief kits being put together. 

How will you impart knowledge about precautionary measures one needs to follow in the situation of the ongoing pandemic amongst your caregivers and children?

We have released public service messages focused on sneezing etiquettes, how to wash hands regularly, washing hands especially after you come home from outside and dealing with parental stress on TV as well as YouTube channels. As mentioned before, our partnerships with state governments and NGO’s is also helping us disseminate the preventive or precautionary messages to children and their families. We are using mass media as well as community/local media to spread the messages further. Our content can be found on various educational platforms such as Diksha app, Google bolo and apps like Lattu TV, Graam Vani/Mobile Vaani as well, in addition to our micro site and our YouTube channel-Galli Galli Sim Sim.

You are working with state govts, tell us more about the partnership with Govt of UP. Any others?


We have been working with UP, Maharashtra state governments and various others as well. Specifically, with Govt of Uttar Pradesh we are providing our Caring for Each Other materials and additional video, audio and e-books/activities through TV, radio and mobiles. Sesame Workshop India’s television series, Galli Galli Sim Sim is available on Doordarshan Uttar Pradesh channel (national public broadcaster’s regional channel) daily afternoon at 12:30 pm. Sesame’s radio series will also be available on Uttar Pradesh’s Aakashvani frequency MW747Khz at 11 am for half an hour. The content is also available to children, parents and teachers through Diksha app and over official 800 WhatsApp channels. 

Sesame Workshop India regularly also participates in online trainings of ICDS employees Education officers and State Staff to train them about responsive parenting, home learning packages, early childhood education and most importantly acknowledging their to reach out to children and families in such troubled times

In your opinion, how is mental health playing a crucial role during the pandemic? 

It would be a cliché if I say it is the need of the hour. Since, we are on the topic of Early Childhood Care and Education I want to move a bit further and say that not only should focus on mental or social-emotional health be increased, it should be rolled into action and now is the time. 

Like physical education classes happen on the field and you are guided into identifying every movement you make, social-emotional health of children should become a part of early education pedagogy and become an experiential style of teaching. Children should be taught right from the beginning that it is ok to have big feelings and parents should be provided support in acknowledging stress, building vocabulary and providing them strategies to cope with the stress. I feel that managing parental stress is a key aspect as they are dealing with a lot of economic, environmental, work and home pressures. 

What is the success rate of your audio and visual content that was to be available all throughout India?

Our show Galli Galli Sim Sim has reached 4.87 million children, 2-14 yrs. across four TV channels of Doordarshan. Sesame Workshop India’s YouTube channel Galli Galli Sim Sim had garnered 3.7 million unique views over the last quarter. Mobile & IVR platform of Gramvaani  is reaching over 2 lakhs caregivers in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand & Uttar Pradesh. Our audio content, in partnership with four community radio stations, is reaching ~1.2 million people in several districts of Gurgaon3

We recently heard from Sangeeta studying in Class-1 in Nalanda district of Bihar that she is enjoying the radio program and is a regular listener during the lockdown. She is happy that even during lockdown she can learn with Sesame content and get to hear stories from Chamki and Grover. 

Sesame Street is essentially an American program,.how has Sesame Workshop India made it relatable to Indian Children and parents?

Sesame Street started way back in 1969 as an innovative force for change and mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder. Sesame Workshop celebrated its 50th anniversary last year across the globe. While Sesame Street is an essentially American program, as a pedagogy we at Sesame Workshop adapt and contextualize the show for each country specific to the needs of its children locally. We do understand that the need for a child in US will be very different from the needs and wants of a child in India, hence we invest considerable efforts in India to understand children and their needs. The shows, other content materials or even training video are produced in India with local understandings. If we select any international content for children in India, we do make sure we test the relevance of the show with Indian children and caregivers before we even start the process of contextualizing. Although, we do consider and learn from international work of Sesame around the globe. 

How does Sesame Workshop India reach out to areas which are media dark? 

Yes, it’s tough to reach areas which are media dark but over the years we have reached communities wherein availability of any media type has been a challenge. We reach media dark areas through our community outreach efforts across various states. We are soon to embark our in-community efforts in Meghalaya to reach over 3000 anganwadi centres directly in the state across hilly terrain of East Khasi and West Garo. 

What tools do you use to communicate with your audience, how is it different in India? What are the challenges you face?

As I mentioned, we reach children through mass media, community/local media, digital media as well as directly through our on-ground outreach efforts. Across the methods that we reach, we use audio-visual, audio, print, digital games, e-books and other forms of materials to reach children and caregivers wherever they are. 

In the current scenario, we like others are facing the human challenge of distribution, but most common challenges that we face are remote geographies, implementation of programs in areas where there is less awareness and finding the right set of partners to implement our efforts to achieve maximum impact. But even more grave challenge is focus on early years in the overall funding scenario. 

 As Sesame Workshop India aims at promoting healthy habits for life, how does your organization seek to inculcate these habits into today’s generation as they are susceptible to change? 

We are aware that a child's environment is dynamic.  With each passing generation, the needs and methods of addressing those needs keeps evolving. Our resources are well researched and do factor in the changing needs of children across the country. At Sesame Workshop India, healthy habits for life is an important initiative and under that we address various issues such as nutrition, health, hygiene and sanitation. Some of our recent initiatives under the domain of healthy habits have been with children to address relevance of hand washing, maintaining hygiene, going to toilet, no to open defecation, improving sanitation habits and importance of breakfast for overall child development. Common healthy habits like washing hands and keeping our surroundings clean, which seem ordinary in one moment become the need of the hour in the next and a very good example is our current collective experience of this pandemic.

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