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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Using Books to Help Children Cope

Through books and stories, children cope more constructively with complex emotions like fear and jealousy or stressful experiences like starting school or moving to a new neighborhood. Youngsters often identify strongly with storybook characters, fanciful or realistic, and indirectly work through their day-to-day problems by reading about others' similar problems and resolutions. Children take comfort in knowing they are not alone.

Once you locate a particular book at the library or bookstore, read it through before sharing it with your child to determine whether it will help your youngster make sense out of his or her feelings. Books can form a vital springboard for parent-child discussion. To enhance the therapeutic value of books for your child:

  • Select books that sensitively portray a similar problem or emotion your child is experiencing.

    (For a list of selected books, see Children's Literature by Subject. )

  • Ask your librarian for additional suggestions.
  • You might gently introduce your child to the book by saying it is about an experience the main character is having with a certain problem or feeling. Do not make a direct association between your child and the storybook character. In addition, do not force your child to read or listen to a story.

    (Older children are usually resistant to a direct book recommendation from a parent. Instead, have books on topics like divorce, death, or sex education openly available.)

  • Read the book over and over again. Your child needs time not only to absorb how the character handled the situation, but also to think about how the problem and solution might personally apply.
  • Informally discuss the problems and concerns of the book's main character.
  • Listen to your child's interpretation of the feelings and expectations of the main character.
  • Stop to answer all of the questions your child asks. Your conversation is more important than the story itself.
  • Finally, tell your child about a time in your childhood when you experienced a similar feeling of vulnerability, fear, excitement, or disappointment.

Written by Donna Warner Manczak, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems