"Sesame Street" has introduced a new character Alex, whose dad is in jail, to help teach children in the U.S. how to cope when their mom or dad is incarcerated. The blue-haired, green-nosed Muppet who wears a hoodie is part of the Sesame Street Workshop's new program called Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration. The program is aimed at providing support to children with incarcerated parents and their caregivers.

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Incarcerated parents are a big problem in the U.S. and largely untalked about. The U.S. has held onto the world's title for the highest incarceration rate since 2002 and there are at least 1.7 million children who have a parent in jail currently. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, one in 28 children in the U.S. have parents behind bars, which is more than the number of kids who have parents who are deployed in the military. More than 70 percent of those children are of color as incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are significantly higher than for white people.

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This past Saturday, the Sesame Workshop visited the New York City correctional facility Rikers Island. The "Sesame Street" characters performed for inmates and their children. The resulting half hour documentary will blend scenes with the character Alex with footage of real families affected by this issue. The show will not air on "Sesame Street" but will be distributed this week to schools, prisons and therapists' offices.

"The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through," states the "Sesame Street" website.

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"Sesame Street" has received some mixed reactions about the project. Some praise the project for offering support to a very stigmatized issue and other's condemn the project.

"And congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail," reported the libertarian magazine Reason.

The program provides the following toolkit to help children work through their emotions about dealing with their parent's or a loved one's incarceration. The tip list is available on the "Sesame Street" website.

1. Build security. In the morning, let your child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day. For example, "Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you'll go to the park, and later we'll all have dinner together."

2. Share your heart. Give your child a paper heart to keep in her pocket. You might say, "This is to remind you that I love you and will always be there for you."

3. Express emotions. Take time each day to check in with your child and ask, "How are you feeling?" Remember to let your child know that it's okay to have big feelings no matter what they are.

4. Answer honestly. When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, "Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law."

5. Stay connected. Phone calls are a great way to reach out. Help your child to think of something she'd like to tell her incarcerated parent, and give her a photo of her parent to hold during the call.

6. Prepare together. Before you visit your incarcerated loved one, let your child know some of the things she can expect to happen. For instance, "We won't be able to sit in the same room with Mommy, but we can see her through a window and read a story together."

7. Take care of yourself. Caring for yourself helps you care for your child. At least once a day, do something that you enjoy or find relaxing.

Highlight video from "Sesame Street" visit to Rikers Island

Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration Sizzle Reel