At the start of the pandemic, as we started to make sense of what was happening, as the world began to shut down and global and local markets paused, as governments rapidly deployed armies of medical staff to cope with mass illness as a result of Covid-19, I looked at my toddlers — a 1.5 year old and a 3 year old. Did they really understand what was happening? They could sense that some sort of change was taking place — but did they really understand? Why we couldn’t see family and friends, why we had to wear a mask, why we had to stay indoors and why we couldn’t go to soft play? They would look at me with both curiousity and uncertainty — wondering when all of this was going to end, the same thoughts that I, my husband and adult friends wondered every day too.
This was where my Bibliotherapist hat came it, and I knew that for both children and adults alike, there was a lot of comfort, solace and wisdom to be found in literature. For those of you who are new to bibliotherapy, it is the use of literature as therapy.
Here at Book Therapy we define Bibliotherapy as a form of art therapy that focuses on leveraging the power of stories to heal. Its power lies in the relationship that is formed between the reader and the writing (whether that is narrative, poetry or essay) and the reflection of the thoughts, feelings, observations and lessons that the writing provokes, often this can be through a Book Journaling’ ) or through a counselling session with a mental health professional or a bibliotherapist/librarian.
Children’s bibliotherapy can sometimes be more complicated. Every child is different and what is demanded of individuals can be more nuanced — this is why the need for a trained bibliotherapist/mental health professional is key in selecting books that are appropriate for the child at the time. There is no one size fits all. Often books are used to simply identify or draw out an issue that would be helpful for the child to talk about — particularly one that the child has been avoiding or ignoring. In addition for younger children, bibliotherapy is often combined with play therapy, to allow the child to express themselves in other words outside of verbal and written language which the child may not be able to do.
Secondly discussing issues in a narrative that the child may not be ready for, requires careful judgement and decision. There is also an argument for pre-empting a child’s development needs and educating them in advance about particular topics such as sex education and looking after our mental health. Again thoughtful judgement is called for.
Depending on the severity of the issues, bibliotherapy and prescribed reading can be conducted by parents or teachers. For more severe issues, a child counsellor or psychotherapist may be better placed to prescribe appropriate texts.
Children’s bibliotherapy is wonderful for giving them the necessary to understand the world and consolidate their knowledge and also to express how they are feeling. It gives them a voice and helps them navigate the world. Literature, books and characters provide children with an advocate, who represents them — their needs and what that are going through at the time.
Bibliotherapy is also a teaching aid in helping children learn about the world around them. It provides representation, diversity and equality. It introduces children to a colourful cast of characters, each with their own makeup, personality, needs, emotions and experiences and helps children relate to the characters that are similar to them while allowing children to empathise with characters who are totally different to them.
From a mental health perspective, prescribed reading benefits a child’s development through self-understanding and self-awareness. Furthermore, bibliotherapy is an excellent coping mechanism. It provides relief from emotional distress and helps manage anxiety and stress better. At that establish the use of bibliotherapy and reading as a tool for children to managing the stresses and strains of life while also helping to establish a love of reading early on. These also provide support when parents or caregivers are not around.
When it came to the pandemic and Covid-19 in particular — it was the themes of change, masks and social distancing that were at the forefront of their minds and my go-to-books for helping them understand and explore these themes were:
1. The Day the Lines Changed by Kelley Donner, who explains the pandemic without using the word ‘pandemic’ on using lines who change shapes as a metaphor for change during the pandemic, reminding us that even if the lines change shape as long as they look out for each other hope remains.
2. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst which helps children cope with a whole host of difficult emotions from loss, anxiety, separation and grief, the theme being that an invisible string made of love binds us all; and that we are always connected even if we cannot physically see these connections.
3. If You Can’t Bear Hug, Air Hug by Katie Sedmak, which is a comforting book about alternative ways for children to share love and affection, without taking all the goodness (hugs, cuddles and kisses) that children thrive on away using gorgeous illustrations.
All of these books provide mental space and capacity for children to learn about Covid-19 in a non-threatening way, allow them to clarify their thoughts and process some of the feeling and emotional overwhelm they may be experiencing.
What also helped were the reading affirmations and we would read them before going to bed every night. If you’re interested in a Bibliotherapy session or learning more about Bibliotherapy as both a professional and personal tool for self-care and therapy, you might find our online course on Bibliotherapy, Literature & Mental Health helpful. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I look forward to hearing from you.
Originally published at https://www.booktherapy.io on February 12, 2021.
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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. You might find our online course on Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health helpful. I also create reading lists/personalised book prescriptions based on your individual needs, this is my signature personalised reading service. You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation. And if you’d like to connect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.booktherapy.io.
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