Through the popular PBS children’s show “Arthur,” MGH psychiatrist Paula K. Rauch, MD, offers strategies to help children cope with life’s challenges.

What does a cartoon aardvark have to do with the serious business of helping children cope with life’s troubles?

Plenty if you’re Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist Paula K. Rauch, MD, a long-time advisor to “Arthur,” the popular PBS children’s television series. The animated educational program’s main character and namesake is an eight-year-old aardvark who, with his friends, frequently deals with important issues that families face.

“Dr. Rauch has provided insightful advice for scripts and thoughtful guidance and resources for our educational initiatives.”

As part of National Preparedness Month, Dr. Rauch’s latest collaboration with the show’s producers is “Shelter from the Storm,” an episode in which the young characters’ lives are disrupted by a powerful hurricane. In the episode, which premiered Sept. 8, 2015, Arthur and his friends learn the value of telling adults about their worries and feelings in times of crisis. One character in the episode has to deal with feelings of separation because her father, in the Army Corps of Engineers, is deployed. Another of Arthur’s friends experiencing anxiety receives help from a therapist named Dr. Paula, a new character named in honor of Dr. Rauch. The voice for Dr. Paula, the animated therapist, is provided by Idina Menzel, the actress and singer of “Frozen” fame.

Paula Rauch, MD
Paula K. Rauch, MD

Viewed by Millions of Children

Viewed by millions of children, Emmy Award-winning “Arthur” is the second longest running children’s show on PBS, behind “Sesame Street.” Dr. Rauch has advised the show’s producers at WGBH Boston for 18 years. She’s helped them on episodes that have dealt with such emotional subjects as bedwetting, cancer, worries about parents arguing and understanding what is or isn’t a safe secret to keep.

“Dr. Rauch has provided insightful advice for scripts and thoughtful guidance and resources for our educational initiatives,” says Carol Greenwald, the show’s co-creator and senior executive producer of children’s programs at WGBH. “She has really helped to make ‘Arthur’ a resource for families, teachers and especially for kids themselves as they tackle the challenges of growing up.”

Indeed, Dr. Rauch helped produce a guidebook to accompany the “Arthur” episode called “Helping Children Become Resilient: A Guide for Educators.” Also available for download is a related booklet she co-authored with Cynthia Moore, PhD: “Community Crises and Disasters: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Children of All Ages.”

Helping Children Develop Resilience

If supported by caring adults, children can come through difficult times stronger.

For her part, the Mass General psychiatrist sees “Arthur” as an extension of the work she does every day. “We are incredibly invested in doing very individualized clinical work at Mass General, but this is a way to expand our reach,” says Dr. Rauch, who has just been named the inaugural incumbent of the Timothy Christopher Davidson Endowed Chair in Psychiatry at Mass General.

Dr. Rauch is well known for programs designed to help children develop resilience. She is founder and director of the Mass General Cancer Center’s Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting at a Challenging Time) Program, which provides guidance and consultation to parents undergoing cancer treatments. Dr. Rauch is also program director of family support for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, which helps veterans and their families to heal the invisible wounds of war.

Sometimes parents mistakenly think excluding children from conversations about troubling events protects them. But “children are very attentive to the mood of adults,” Dr. Rauch says. She adds that, as soon as possible in a crisis, a parent should “have a calm conversation to make sure kids understand what’s occurred, that they feel safe and can express what they’re feeling.”

Why Caring Adults Matter

“Some things don’t seem big to a grown-up,” Dr. Rauch says, “but seem very big to a child.”

Dr. Rauch cautions that children are not born with the resilience they need to deal with an unsettling event, such as a parent’s serious illness. Instead, they need a caring adult to try to understand what is happening from their perspective and to help them cope. “Make sure kids are not worrying alone,” she advises, adding that children should know that there is an array of caring adults in their lives to whom they can go to with worries, and not just parents.

There is a difference between things that are challenges and those that cause trauma, Dr. Rauch points out. If supported by caring adults, children can come through difficult times stronger. But if a child feels ignored or helpless, it can become traumatic.

“Some things don’t seem big to a grown-up,” Dr. Rauch says, “but seem very big to a child.”

For more information about how you can support Dr. Rauch’s work with children and their families, please contact us.