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How ARTHUR Can Help Families Stay Healthy and Happy

by Carol Greenwald

Carol Greenwald

Carol Greenwald is Senior Executive Producer of Children’s Programs at WGBH Boston where she has produced some of the best-loved children’s shows on television. She is co-creator and Executive Producer for the multiple Emmy and Peabody Award-winning ARTHUR, now the longest running children’s animated series on television. She is also Executive Producer of MARTHA SPEAKS and CURIOUS GEORGE. Read more »

Sorry, Carol Greenwald is no longer taking questions.

If you watch ARTHUR on a regular basis, you’ll know that despite the fact that our characters are aardvarks, bunnies, monkeys, cats, and dogs, they experience life much like children everywhere. That’s been one of our goals since we first premiered ARTHUR in 1996. We really want kids to be able to see themselves when they turn on the TV and to feel like the stories we are telling ring true to them.

When I first started working on ARTHUR, before the show went on the air, my own children were 3 and 5. As we worked with Marc Brown and our team of writers to figure out more about who our characters were and what kinds of stories we could tell about them, I would get inspired by what I saw happening in my kids’ lives and the lives of their friends. A lot of it was fun and silly stuff, but I also saw kids face challenges and complications.

One of those challenges affected my own family when my son was diagnosed with asthma. I suddenly had to take a crash course in things like asthma triggers, managing flares, and medication. Then I had to figure out a way to explain this to my son, his school, and his friends. I realized I wasn’t the only parent in this boat, but that I was probably the only parent who could use the power of television to help make it easier for kids like my son. So, when we were working on characters, I proposed giving Buster asthma and doing a show about what it feels like for Buster to learn he has asthma.

“Buster’s Breathless” was a great experience for everyone involved. We consulted with experts, talked to kids (including my son) and at the same time created some educational materials to go along with the show and some fun web activities. It was a hit with our audience - we got tons of letters from parents and kids thanking us - seeing a character on television dealing with asthma made them feel less alone and more like this was just a part of regular life.

After “Buster’s Breathless” aired, we started hearing from kids and parents with other health issues. As a result, we’ve created programs on everything from bed-wetting and head lice, to autism and going to the hospital. We’ve sought to explain and normalize these challenges so that the kids who deal with them feel understood and accepted. We hope that kids see themselves in our characters and can use ARTHUR as a tool to communicate with their peers.

Here are some tips from our team of health experts to help you and your child stay healthy and happy:

Be a role model. Let your children know how important exercise is by being as active as you can. When children see their parents walking, running, bicycling, or playing sports, they will be more likely to do it themselves.

Have a plan. If your child has a food allergy, work with your healthcare provider to create an emergency action plan, so that you know what to do in the case of an accidental exposure. Keep the plan posted in a visible place, such as on your refrigerator door, so that it’s easily accessible and top of mind.

Know the asthma "triggers." Asthma attacks can be caused by many things, such as dust, mold, and secondhand smoke. Once you and your child know these “triggers,” you can find ways to avoid them.

Be persistent. It can be challenging to get picky eaters to consume a healthy diet. Sometimes you may even feel like you want to give up. But be sure to keep offering your child a variety of foods, even ones they’ve said “no” to in the past. Many children gradually get less picky as they grow up. So keep at it!

Put on your own "oxygen mask" first. It's hard to talk with children about things that are also upsetting to us as adults. If we are overwhelmed by fear or worry, our children may react similarly. Talking with other adults about the situation can help us deal with our own feelings, and be in a better position to help our children.

As we did with asthma, we also worked to create a rich library of parent and teacher activity guides, kid-friendly web games, and other resources. But over time, we came to realize that it wasn’t always easy to find these resources unless you knew where to look for them. So, with the support of the Weezie Foundation, we created the ARTHUR Family Health Website which is a single, centralized, easy to access place where parents who are looking for shows and information around health topics can find them. What you’ll find there is a wide range of adult- and kid-friendly health resources—developed in consultation with top health experts—with specific chapters devoted to asthma, peanut allergies, nutrition, fitness, and resilience.

Each chapter is hosted by an ARTHUR character and features background health information, along with web and print resources, parent-child activities, videos, and interactive games. Resources range from full ARTHUR episodes and parent tips, to Q&A videos and travel tools. The website also includes external links to provide more specific health information from top medical institutions, such as Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Best of all, the website is mobile-friendly, so you can easily access it from your mobile phone or tablet, as well as from your home computer.

My son is all grown up now, and lucky for us, his asthma is well controlled. But if you are coping with a new health challenge in your family, I encourage you to explore the ARTHUR Family Health website. Though we have started with the five topics described above we’re on the hunt for funding that will allow us to add more topics and materials. Do you have a topic you’d like us to think about adding? Let us know by posting your comment below. We also welcome your feedback and questions.

What have you found to be most helpful when dealing with health issues in your family? What types of tools and support do you wish existed?

Sorry, Carol Greenwald is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.

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