Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Change and Challenge: Coping with Aftermaths and New Beginnings

By Carol Baicker-McKee

The Preschooler Problem Solver: Tackling Tough and Tricky Transitions with your Two- to Five-Year-Old
by Carol Baicker-McKee, Ph.D. (Peachtree, 2009)

Like a lot of the contributors to this blog, I'm finding my end-of-summer punctuated with more changes than usual; some expected, some not; some welcome, others decidedly not.

As I was chatting on the phone with a friend about trying to cope with all the challenges swirling about me, I realized I was echoing the advice I've given so often. As a therapist, a teacher, a parent, a friend, I'm often called upon to help parents of young children figure out how best to help their little ones cope with the changes that life inevitably brings. And that recognition in turn made me realize how much our basic emotional needs persist throughout our lives, and how we lay the foundation for meeting them so early in life.

Here are a few of the all-purpose strategies from my parenting book above that will help your child cope with the changes in her life, whether she's starting school, adapting to a new normal after a disaster like Hurricane Irene, or confronting other life transitions big and small. They'll prepare her to meet challenges with hope and confidence all her life. And they'll work for you too!

Embrace Routines and Rituals  A consistent daily structure brings predictability, security - and hope. It often gives us energy to attend to the things that really matter - and if not, helps us keep putting one foot in front of the other anyway and thereby keeps us moving ahead. Rituals, whether a pancake breakfast and a photo in front of the old oak on the first day of every school year, or a traditional funeral for a beloved family member, bring people together and help us put important passages in context.

Play - and Laugh Seemingly frivolous activities help our bodies destress and relax, impart a sense of normalcy, and distract from pain. Observing or joining in your child's imaginative play can also give you a window into his feelings and efforts to cope - and thus help you help him.

Seek Out Comforting Touches There's a reason we feel moved to pat, hug, and kiss others in distress - the same reasons a kind touch can make us melt when we're the one who's overwhelmed. So go ahead and lean on each other - literally as well as figuratively!

Talk about It - with Someone You Love Although recent research has debunked the idea that reliving difficult events necessarily helps people get over them, most young kids need to talk through scary experiences in order to make sense of them and learn what to do should similar situations arise. Nearly all of us benefit from problem-solving together as we try to move on in the face of difficulties. And it's that much more comforting to share your feelings and plans with people you care about.

Last but not Least: Book It Up My family likes to joke that if I wanted to become a brain surgeon, my first impulse wouldn't be to go to medical school - but to the library (okay, or to my beloved Google). The following are a couple of my classic picture book recommendations for preschoolers confronting change - but they're so emotionally right at any age, that I'm curling up and reading them  for the gazillionth time as soon as I finish this post:
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (originally published by Houghton Mifflin, 1939)
When Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, his beloved steam engine, are confronted with a world where they no longer have a place, they don't just wallow in misery - but set out to find a way to be useful still. The final resolution takes some creativity and adjustment, but the solution feels satisfying to everyone - even the reader. The illustrations, like all of Ms. Burton's, are lively, engaging and make genius use of white space and two-page spreads. I remember first hearing this story read on the old TV show Captain Kangaroo - which was apparently an important enough event to merit a mention in the Wikipedia entry on this classic story. Want to know more about the author, the child who suggested the ending to the book, and the little boy who was the model for the hero child in the story? Check out these pages on the Houghton Mifflin site.

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard (originally published by Harper & Bros., 1949)
This book is, as the title indicates, important. Like many of Margaret Wise Brown's books, it is so developmentally perfect for young children, drawing them in to talk with you about what's important in their lives. I read this book dozens of times in therapy sessions to get kids or families talking about the things that really mattered to them - and it has worked as well in my own family. It's reassuring, hopeful, and interesting, and the illustrations by Leonard Weisgard are the perfect accompaniment - not too sweet, not too bland - but calm and inviting. You can read more about the author and her regrettably short life here and here or check out Leonard Marcus's fascinating biography about her, Awakened by the Moon  You can also learn more about the illustrator at this great website created by his children here.

Weisgard, like Brown, really got the importance of books in the lives of young children. "Books," he once said in an interview, "have always, for as long as I can recall, been a source of real magic in this wildly confusing world." (from his website here). Which is why I'm hoping that all the changes in publishing and bookselling - which I know are potentially good as well as bad - serve mostly to improve the quality and availability of picture books in the lives of children.
Wishing everyone the best coping with all the changes of a new school year, a new season, and other unfolding life events!

No comments:

Post a Comment