A Book Review of Rissy No Kissies
Rissy No Kissies is an important book for many reasons. It addresses body autonomy, consent, boundaries, sexual abuse prevention and sensory issues. That is a lot of value to pack into a picture book. So, I am definitely a fan! The author, Katey Howes, did a great job presenting these concepts in an engaging way that young children can understand. The colorful watercolor illustrations by Jess Engle are adorable and help to lighten up this heavy subject.
This book is as important for adult readers as it is for kids, as we are responsible for allowing kids to have autonomy over their bodies. Even if Uncle Joe doesn't like it, we need to give the message to our kids that they have the right to say "No" to unwanted physical touching of any kind. Kids need to have the power to make decisions about their bodies and practice this skill to build confidence for high school, college and later years when consent becomes an even bigger issue.
The reason the topic of body autonomy and consent are so important to kids is seen in the statistics. According to the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization (RAINN), in the United States:
*1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under 18 years of age experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
*Females ages 16 - 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.
*Every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.
*Child sexual abuse perpetrators are:
*34% family members
The effects of sexual abuse and assault severely affect the victim's mental health, whether the victim is a child or an adult. Therefore, it is imperative that we do a better job at prevention. Learning concepts like these at a young age, will go a long way to prevention. it is crucial for adults to respect the preferences of kids when it comes to touch. Unfortunately, all adults are not going to do this, so this is when the caretaker needs to step in and validate the child's preferences. Saying "No" to an unwanted hug now can translate into having the confidence to say "No" later to an unwanted sexual encounter.
It is especially important to practice these skills when there is a power deference. When someone has power over you, like an adult to a child, it is much more difficult to say "No." Kids have been taught repeatedly to listen to adults, respect their elders, etc. Unfortunately there are adults that take advantage of this power deference and this is a huge factor in the sexual abuse of children. This is also true for sexual assault in adults. The perpetrator often has power over the victim, whether it be due to age, role (parent, teacher, priest, boss, coach, etc.), physical size or social status. We need to practice saying "No" to those who have power over us when it comes to our bodies. The more practice kids get, the easier it will become later.
It is the child's choice how to show love and caring to others and there are many options. Rissy is more comfortable with the options of giving feather fives, nuzzles, singing songs, holding wings, giving cards, hugs, handshakes, and waves. Also this is not universal. She may be comfortable hugging her parents, but not comfortable hugging Uncle Joe. She may prefer to give teachers and peers high fives, rather than snuggle with them. Comfort level depends on the relationship. Children have good instincts on who is not safe and as adults, we need to help children get to the point of trusting their own instincts.
Another huge factor in learning about consent as a young child is learning the concept of obtaining permission before touching another person. Learning to respect another's body and not feeling entitled to do what you want to someone else without their permission is crucial. Whether it's a hug from Uncle Joe to a 5 year old, or a sexual encounter with a college classmate. If we learn from a young age that all of these things require permission, this will become the norm and sexual assaults will decrease. Asking a peer if they can give them a hug before doing it, and learning to respect their response, can translate to asking a peer later for a sexual encounter and respecting their "No."
Additionally, sensory issues are very prevalent and to some people certain kinds of physical touch are uncomfortable. It is important that this is normalized and children or adults with sensory issues aren't made to feel "weird" for refusing certain kinds of touch. The message in this book is actually quite simple. Let's just respect one another and teach this from a young age. At the end of the book, the author has added a helpful note for kids and caregivers.
If you're interested in more information about sexual abuse and assault, including a hot line number, you can learn more here.
If you'd like to purchase this book and check out others by this author, click here.
I have included an activity below to further explore the concepts in this book with kids.
An Activity Idea for Rissy No Kissies
The most important activity is to practice and model with kids the concept of asking others before touching them. Equally important is to have them practice using their voice to say if a certain touch is uncomfortable to them. Role playing is a helpful activity to practice these skills. Then, have fun with the following craft activity!
-white paper plate
-tissue paper cut into squares and scrunched
-yellow construction paper or cardstock
-orange construction paper
-watercolor paints or crayons
-paint brush and cup of water
-googly eyes (optional)
A Book Review of Blake's Big Day
Blake, the other character in the book, is Glen's cat. Blake is a smart and caring cat. Blake was born into a situation where he was not well cared for or fed properly. The place where he lived was dirty and full of other cats that were also uncared for. Glen adopted Blake after he was rescued from this bad situation and brought to a shelter. Others were not interested in adopting Blake because he was small and looked unhealthy. However, Glen looked past his appearance, and immediately saw Blake's potential. Glen did not judge Blake based on his history. Blake did not judge Glen based on his disabilities. They immediately developed a strong connection.
There are big lessons in this book that we can learn from Glen and Blake. People with disabilities are NOT their disabilities. People with difficult histories or from poverty are NOT their histories. Regardless of any of those things, we all have our own set of gifts and talents and can contribute to the world in big ways. We are all worthy, deserve respect and should be included in the world and not shunned.
To obtain a world where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, we need to be exposed to things and taught from a young age. That is where this book comes in! In addition to the great story, this book exposes kids to a person with a disability and a cat that comes from poverty and a difficult beginning in life. This gives kids a window into the lives of these characters, normalizes their situations as part of our world, and helps them develop empathy. Reading diverse stories, watching diverse movies, and having diversity in your life, can go a long way to decrease stigma in our society, It is not only awareness that is important, but acceptance and tolerance to others who are different from ourselves.
The key is to normalize the differences in human beings at a young age, whether it be due to skin color, gender identity, cultural differences, economic situation or disability. This will help with one's possible fear of others, with bullying, and encourage kids to stand up for others who are being treated unfairly. Seeing people with disabilities can be scary and uncomfortable for kids sometimes. Kids are naturally curious and will often ask questions. This is normal and should not be discouraged. However, the more preparation they have had for the real world of all different kinds of people, the less uncomfortable they will be.
Some disabilities can be seen and others are hidden. For example, you would not know by looking at Glen, that he has seizures. However, if a child witnesses a seizure by another person, it can be scary. Again, preparation is key. This book can help start the conversation about seizures, and is especially important if a child has seizures or has a family member/friend that has epilepsy or is prone to seizures.
In the book, Glen has a seizure, which is very scary for Blake, who does not know what to do. After some trial and error, Blake finds something that helps (licking his toes!) and Glen comes out of the seizure. Blake was empathic toward Glen and did what he could to help. He also sees Glen as a functioning human being and respects him for the gifts he has. Blake is a model for all of us!
Wendy Fedan, the illustrator of this book, has displayed her talents throughout. Glen and Blake are beautifully illustrated and inviting characters. The art is fun and colorful and clearly shows the loving connection between Glen and Blake.
I have attached a child-friendly training video about seizures below to take the exposure from the book a bit further. It is probably not a good idea for a child to lick the toes of someone having a seizure, as Blake did! So, this excellent video, by the American Epilepsy Foundation, can help them understand seizures and learn how to respond.
The lesson that I took from the book is that Glen and Blake are both worthy. Their disabilities and tough start on life do not define them. The ironic thing is that due to Glen's strengths, Blake was saved. And, due to Blake's strengths, Glen was saved. We all have talents that are valuable to others, disability or not. So, when in a situation where you have contact with someone different from yourself, whether due to skin color, disability or whatever reason, think to yourself "WHAT WOULD BLAKE DO?" and act accordingly (without licking their toes!).
If you are interested in purchasing this book, it is available on Amazon HERE.
Below is the video and I have provided an activity idea to go along with this adorable book.
Activity Idea for Blake's Big Day
Discuss the strengths and differences of the characters in the book with the child. Address how they treated each other and why Blake was considered a hero. Discuss examples of differences that others may have from them, ie. skin color, economic status, hidden differences. Then, have a discussion about human beings being different from each other, but that nobody is better or worse than another person. We can be different but all are still human (Well, except Blake!) and we all have our strengths. Try to think of someone from the child's life who is a person with a disability and brainstorm their strengths.
-Black, yellow, grey and pink construction paper
-craft stick or straw
-googly eyes (optional)
-pink craft pompom (optional)
A Book Review of Way Past Mad
Ms. Adelman has written four books in this series to-date, focusing on different feelings presented in a child's-eye-view. The book that I am focusing on in this month's blog is Way Past Mad, which, of course, focuses on anger. However, most feelings don't stand alone. They are often intertwined with others and this can make it difficult to fully understand what is going on in ourselves and others. It is important to teach children that we can have many feelings at the same time. If we pay close attention to the story, we will see examples of these intertwined feelings. To take a deeper dive into the intertwined feelings, check out the activity below. This book is appropriate for children ages 3 to 8, and can even be helpful to many of us adults!
Way Past Mad normalizes anger and presents the feeling in a very relatable way for children. Prior to leaving for school one day, Keya experiences a series of events that make her feel "WAY PAST MAD!" These experiences include her brother, Nate, messing up her room, feeding her favorite cereal to their dog, and ruining her favorite hat. This is followed by her mother's rationalization of these offenses that Nate is only little, "he didn't mean it." What child with siblings cannot relate to that?!
In some ways, Keya presents as a model to the readers as she is able to verbalize her feelings, as shown in the following excerpt:
"I was way past mad
the kind of mad
and spreads like a rash."
And, spreading like a rash it did! She took her MAD out on her friend, Hooper. She did what many of us can relate to in the heat of the moment, and said things to Hooper that she really didn't mean. Then, Hooper caught her MAD. This MAD BUG could have spread like the Coronavirus! However, Keya recognized it and made an effort to correct the situation and get past her mad. She apologized to Hooper and shared why she had been so mad. This helped Hooper get past his mad too and that put an end to that dreaded MAD BUG, that could have spread around the whole school!
This part of the story has many messages. One being that if we handle our anger inappropriately and take it out on others, there are real life consequences. However, it also normalizes the fact that sometimes we don't handle our feelings well and that we are not infallible. When the latter happens, we can take responsibility for the damage we caused and make amends. Also, talking to someone about what has given you the big feelings can help diminish those feelings and build your relationship, rather than damage it.
The illustrations in the book, created by Sandra de la Prada, are bold and colorful. The facial expressions clearly represent the strong feelings of the characters. The large images and fun drawings draw children into the story.
I recommend this book, and the other books in the series, as a means of helping children improve on this complex task of understanding and expressing their emotions appropriately. To purchase this book and check out the other books in this series, click here. I reviewed a different book by Hallee Adelman in September, 2020, My Quiet Ship, which you can check out in the archives of this blog.
I have provided a therapeutic activity idea below that goes along with the theme of this book.
Activity Idea for Way Past Mad
To dive deeper into the feelings of this book, explore with the child the other feelings, besides anger, that the characters might be feeling. For example, when Nate messed up Keya's room, what other feelings might she be having? Maybe, frustrated, annoyed, etc. Also, when her mom made excuses for her brother, could she have felt jealous of her brother or sad that he mom didn't acknowledge her feelings? Do this throughout the book, even with Hooper. Try to pull out more complex feelings such as frustration, jealousy, disappointment, etc. I have found that kids need more practice with these more specific emotions that can be intertwined in the basic feelings.
Also, start a discussion on what Keya did well and not so well in dealing with her feelings. What could she have done differently? What helped the situation?
On to the activity . . .
Balloons in multiple colors
As promised, I have posted an exclusive interview with Lauren Kerstein, author of Home for a While. Lauren is an experienced Licensed Social Worker and has authored many other books. If you have not read this month's review of Home for a While with the accompanying activity, check it out below. In this interview, Lauren provides her expertise on ways to use the book for maximum therapeutic benefit and shares her motivation for writing the book. Please welcome Lauren to the Psyched Writer Blog by providing comments below. Check it out!
If you wish to purchase one of her books, click here.
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A Book Review of Home For A While
In 2020, there were approximately 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. This number has been increasing in recent years. This increase is, in part, due to the opioid addiction crisis that has accelerated over the past many years. Based on these numbers, the likelihood of a child having a peer in this situation in their classroom or neighborhood, is quite high. Therefore, this book is appropriate for all children to either see their own experience or as a window into an experience of a peer. It is a great resource for foster/adoptive parents and teachers as it normalizes behaviors and provides much insight into feelings and coping strategies that they can incorporate into their own families and classrooms.
Unfortunately, it is common for a child to have to move to several foster homes before finding the right fit, being adopted, or being returned to their birth family. There are many reasons for this. It could be a change in circumstances of the foster family, ie. illness, out-of-state move, etc. Sometimes it is the severe behaviors of the child presenting challenges that the foster family is not equipped to handle. It could also be the foster care agency realizing that this family is a poor fit for this child or that this home is not a safe place. These moves are often abrupt, not giving the child time to process the change. Each move eats away at the child's self-esteem and sense of worth, making them feel unwanted and unlovable, therefore likely increasing their behavioral outbursts.
In Home For A While, Calvin is a foster child who has had many moves. The author, Lauren Kerstein, doesn't shy away from the difficult emotions or negative self-talk that so many kids in this circumstance experience. "This isn't your home," or "Nobody wants you," is the narrative or self-talk going through Calvin's head in the story. He understandably has difficulty trusting Maggie, the foster mom, when she tries to reassure him. He has heard those lines before and it didn't ring true. He has learned from experience that adults cannot be trusted. Why should I trust her? I wasn't able to trust anyone else in my life.
Maggie respectfully asks Calvin if she can hug him goodnight persistently and he persistently refuses. He has built a wall around himself to avoid getting hurt again. He has learned from the past how painful it is to let someone in your heart, only for them to break it again. So, he keeps his heart safe. And, why would anyone want to hug him anyway? He's not huggable. He's not loveable. That is what his short life has already taught him. He will have to unlearn this and develop much courage in order to let others enter his heart again.
The author, Ms. Kerstein, portrays Calvin experiencing a host of feelings in this story, including fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, grief, etc. When he acts out on these feelings, he waits in fear and anxiety to see what Maggie's reaction will be. Living in many homes, you learn that everyone reacts and disciplines differently and you don't know what to expect in a new home. Most often you imagine the worst. Luckily this time, Maggie is an insightful and patient foster mom, and responds by modeling and suggesting various coping mechanisms to help him work through his feelings.
Through Maggie, Ms. Kerstein presents many coping mechanisms to help regulate big feelings. These include deep breathing, manipulating clay, bouncing a basketball and going for a walk. All of these strategies have a sensory component that is helpful with regulating emotion.
A phrase repeated by Maggie often in the book is "Like no one I've ever met." The message she conveys to Calvin through this phrase is "You are special." He doesn't feel special. He has learned the opposite about himself through all of his placements. But, Maggie is reinforcing this concept. Over time, when Calvin learns that Maggie consistently is loving, encouraging and seems to like him, he begins to trust her. When this happens his self-talk changes to "Maggie wants me," and "I like this house." This process takes a great deal of time and requires much consistency and patience on the part of the foster parent. When Calvin finally begins to trust, and let her into his heart, he can begin to heal from his multiple losses.
The illustrations by Natalia Moore with the bright colors and beautiful details complement the story. She does a great job portraying Calvin's intense feelings through facial expressions and action.
Ms. Kerstein provides an informative reader's note, that is not included in the book, but is on the Magination press website here.
I highly recommend this book for foster/adoptive kids and their caretakers, therapists, teachers, and to be read to kids in general, to provide insight and empathy to all who read it.
To purchase this book and others by this author, please visit her website here! She provides printable activities to go along with her book here.
We will be having a special guest interview with Lauren Kerstein, the author of this book, on the blog at the end of the month! She will bring her expertise as an experienced social worker and author. Stay tuned!
Activity Idea for Home For A While
An activity I did often in my practice with foster/adoptive children, especially those that had multiple placements, was to make a book of their placements in chronological order, starting with their birth home. Kids are often moved abruptly and don't have the opportunity to process the loss before heading out for a new unwanted, scary adventure. This leaves the child without closure which further complicates their situation. This activity helps provide some closure and puts some sense of order in their otherwise disorderly lives.
Sometimes kids will not remember placements if they were too young, etc. It can be helpful beforehand to get information about prior placements from a caseworker or another familiar adult, if possible. If you have received information from elsewhere that they don't remember, draw it for them with the information you have, discussing names and as many details as you can. It's important for them to have this information if you can obtain it. Otherwise, draw a basic house without the details and include anything that they remember. For younger kids, you can ask them to describe things and adult can draw it and have them color.
-yarn or thin ribbon
-historical information about placements, if possible
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