Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Using Children's Books for Difficult Topics

I am a big fan of using books with young kids for discussing difficult topics. Though we may have the best of intentions, with young children, it is just not a good developmental fit to sit across from them and simply talk about a difficult topic as we might with a friend or much older child. Of course it's not that conversations aren't appropriate at all. Though there are some tricks as far as timing and context that can help, which I'll cover in a separate post. Picture books are wonderful though for topics ranging from grief, to moving, to divorce and blended families. Kids naturally just enjoy picture books and being read to. During challenging times when your child might need one of these books they need cuddling more than usual. Reading with them invites to satisfy that healthy need in a context that feels natural doesn't make them feel awkward.

During these difficult times, kids also very much benefit from repetition. The repetition of coming back to a book is in and of itself soothing. By listening to a book read to them or looking at books on their own, they can continue to approach a difficult topic, like divorce or death or even a first visit to the dentist, again and again as they settle into adjusting to the difficult issue in their lives. Prior to a bladder surgery when my daughter was in Kindergarten, she began adjusting to this big life event by coming back to the book several times about staying the night in the hospital.

Books like this have another huge valuable affect. That is that it is much easier to talk about a book or a character in a book than it is to talk directly about their own feelings. It is much less threatening and allows them a bit of emotional distance that can make the topic more approachable. Older kids often benefit in a similar way from books that are just text.

There are a wide array of books on topics like these. For me a great place to start if you're stumped on books for the biggies is with Marc Brown, the author of the well known Arthur books. His style of illustration is soothing, and often familiar. He hits all the specifics of the difficult topic in a very straightforward, understandable way.

As a side note, these aren't just for kids. As adults, especially with the death of a loved one, it hits us hard in a tender very child-like place. I've heard lots of adults talk about benefitting from reading books that were meant for their children. The one I've most often heard about this with is Tear Soup. You can even see in the reviews some adults talking about being touched by this "children's book" when they lost a spouse. So if you have a child in your life that is struggling with one of life's big topics from the death of a pet or family member, to having a medical procedure done, to a divorce or separation, consider a book on the topic.

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