We read to our children for a plethora of reasons. We read to introduce new concepts and vocabulary, create background knowledge, and explain “why.” We read to entertain, inspire, and excite curiosity. And we read to bond with and reassure our children. When they experience changes at home or encounter challenges in their lives, it is these last reasons – bonding and reassurance, coupled with explanation – that become so important.
CHANGE HAPPENS CONSTANTLY
Some changes, such as earlier or later bedtimes, may be barely noticeable. However, many changes are much more central in a child’s life. Developmental changes, for instance, can cause significant stress. Children experience potty training, entering kindergarten, and changing friendships at very different times; however, all contain elements of the unknown. Children must branch beyond what they know in order to grow. Try sharing informational books and stories. Informational books normalize and contextualize the experience, while stories normalize the feelings and present pictures of other children successfully navigating the experience.
Other changes may be even more challenging. Such changes might include moving to a new neighborhood or attending a new school, adjusting to mom heading back to work, welcoming a new baby or an elderly grandparent into the home, accepting the death of a family member, or accepting and adjusting to divorce. These changes are so challenging, not just because the child has little influence over the situation itself, but also because his parents are not merely parenting him through the change, but are also dealing with the stress of the change itself. Mom or dad may be distracted or as upset as the child. Both may be in survival mode. Once again, informational books and stories can help.
Informational books introduce the outlines of a change… where a baby comes from and what it needs, how the family will adjust to accommodate the baby, and what the roles of an older sibling are, for instance. By normalizing the experience, informational books make the unknown, known. This, in and of itself, alleviates fear. However, informational books also allow children to ask clarifying questions. The resulting dialogue reinforces the parent-child bond, reassuring the child that she is loved and will be taken care of through a stressful family time.
Sharing stories in which characters are experiencing the same changes as the child validates his feelings. For many children, the above changes may be accompanied by grief, even when a change might be ultimately wonderful (a new baby) or for the best (a move across the state). The child is losing his normal, and the future will be different. Stories offer a map to navigate the change, they offer coping strategies, and they offer hope. Stories offer an outlet for a younger child to name his feelings and fears. And the sharing of the stories offer the child comfort in the strength of his bond with his parents.
Regardless of what changes your child or family is facing, there are informational books and stories to inform and reassure your child. To help you find useful library resources, we’ve put together these booklists on new babies, moving, and divorce. Please let us know in what other ways we can assist your family!
Suzanne Davis, Children's Librarian