Today I am writing about something that you have probably done before without ever knowing the official name! Bibliotherapy is the practice of using books to process emotions and issues and to help solve problems. There are many therapists who use bibliotherapy along with writing therapy as a form of treatment. We are, of course, using the term as a layperson rather than in a clinical sense.
Using books allows kids to try out different options on how to handle stressful situations in a risk free way. When they identify with the protagonists in the stories, they can then project themselves into the story and experiment along with the characters to discover emotions and solutions without consequences of real world actions.
Reading also assists children in identifying and naming their emotions. This is particularly helpful for younger children who have not yet developed self-awareness of their own emotions or the emotional vocabulary to express themselves. Books allow us to offer solutions to kids in a non-teachy, non-preachy way. They are entertaining and sometimes funny.
Children are naturally self-centered and have no barometer for the severity of what is happening to them. Through reading books of similar situations, we can show that others have walked through events and it has turned out okay. We can demonstrate to kids that there is a path of survival and success. It might not feel like that to a child suffering through something as big as abuse or as stressful as potty training. As these children read books about what is going on in their own lives, they will see how to deal with their emotions.
Using the stories and characters from the books we just read together creates discussion points and allows us to converse in the third person. It diffuses a child’s natural defensiveness and lets us discuss the problems in a less emotional, less personal way. For example, imagine if we are discussing something like the loss of a loved one. We can ask the child questions about how the characters felt instead of asking a newly grieving child how they feel. This helps to process emotions in a way that is easier for children of all ages. This is helpful for adults too!
A quick Google search will turn up loads of lists of books by topic; there are a few examples below. You can also ask a librarian or search for books on Amazon. Make sure to read the book first before introducing it to the kids. You will want to be sure to be prepared with questions and know how the story resolves.
Issues and book examples for when you may want to try using bibliotherapy:
-Loss of a loved one: When Dinosaurs Die, By: Laurie Krasny Brown
-Potty training: The Potty Book for boys-for girls, By: Alyssa Satin Capucilli
-Introducing a new sibling: The New Baby, By: Mercer Mayer
-Abuse: My Body Belongs to Me, By: Jill Starishevsky
-Moving: Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move, By: Judith Viorst
-Bullies: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, By: Patty Lovell
-Divorce: Two Homes, By: Claire Masurel
-Starting school: Wemberly Worried, By: Kevin Henkes
-Gay parents: Molly’s Family, By: Nancy Garden
-Expressing emotions: Today I Feel Silly, By: Jamie Lee Curtis
Sue Downey, of Nannypalooza, has been a nanny for more than 20 years. She currently has fun everyday with a 3 year old and a newborn in Philadelphia, PA.