A Book Review of The Big Worry Day
This month I teamed up with A Novel Mind website and created a guest post for their blog! It features the amazing book, The Big Worry Day, written by K.A. Reynolds and illustrated by Chloe Dominique. This book presents an insightful and authentic representation of childhood anxiety and is chockfull of coping strategies! As always, I have included an activity to go along with the book. Check it out HERE!
A Book Review of The Strongest Thing
The book features a young girl, Sera, who finds her home a hard place to be due to her Dad's problems with anger control. He raises his voice and blames his family for things in which they have no control. At the height of his anger, he leaves the house and slams the door so hard, that the glass breaks. This is scary for Sera and creates anxiety as she anticipates what will happen when he returns. Sera thinks of her dad as "the strongest thing," because his anger seems so big, it fills up the house. So big, in fact, that,
"...my house looked too small for me to fit back inside it."
However, in contrast when approaching her school, Sera describes it as,
" ...a shining castle on the hill, big and bright and cheery."
The contrast in her description between her house and her school, shows us that Sera experiences her school as a haven. The familiar people and routines are comforting to her, and elevate her mood. The school day distracts her from thinking about the scary things at home. However, when the teacher announces that the school day is half over, Sera's mood takes a nose dive. She becomes angry and those sensations in her body, that she experienced during the incident with her father, return.
"My shoulders sank like a ship, and my belly squirmed with worry."
Ms. Adelman not only focuses on Sera's feelings, but the specifics of how that feeling affects her body. These sensations are described using similes which provides a clear mental picture for the reader to fully understand what Sera is experiencing. In order to name and recognize our feelings, we need to develop the skill of tuning into our bodies. This allows us to recognize those feelings through the sensations we're experiencing.
After stomping around with her anger, Sera seemed to be calming herself by painting. A classmate then accidentally slams the door and startles her. It reminds her of the door slam and broken glass at home. When this happens, her painting gets ruined and she begins to act "like the bully at home," -blaming, yelling, pointing, seething. Her feelings were so big, that she felt like "the strongest thing."
After observing her classmate's emotional reaction to her behavior, she knew exactly how he felt. At that point, Sera realizes that BIG ANGER was NOT the strongest thing. She then apologized, wishing her Dad would do the same for her.
After the incident, she feared the worst from the teacher. However, he responded with kindness and support, which is an excellent model for teachers reading this book. His reaction also served as a model for the students, as they then offered support too. Due to the other's reactions, Sera learned that "the strongest thing" is actually being calm and kind.
The last page of the book leaves the reader with a powerful message. The teacher and the mother are together in the classroom offering support to Sera. The teacher approached this situation as a team player with the parent. He did NOT call or send a note home about Sera's poor behavior. He solicited the parent to come in and assist him in supporting Sera. Care and compassion in place of punishment. Beautiful. A great message for teachers, parents and kids.
There are so many important mental health messages portrayed in this book. However, I'm going to zoom in on the importance of emotional regulation in children AND adults. Adults who cannot regulate their feelings, especially their anger, create cycles of trauma in families. One of the most important things to begin learning as a child and throughout one's life is to regulate your emotions. If this skill is not mastered by adulthood, it will negatively affect a person's relationships, family, jobs, and overall happiness. Then, without the proper modeling and teaching, the cycle continues with their children.
This is the reason why it is crucial to teach our kids about the different emotions, how they feel in their bodies, what makes them feel that way, and what coping skills work for them. Kids need to be allowed to express their feelings openly when younger, so when they are adults, they will have had much experience at managing them. By doing this, the trauma will not pass on to another generation.
Both men and women can have problems with emotional regulation, however, anger control issues are more prevalent in boys and men. The reason for this is that traditionally, anger has been the only emotion that boys have been allowed to express. It is the emotion that is considered more "manly." Even now in 2022, some boys are still getting the message, "big boys don't cry," or "you're acting like a girl," when expressing any emotion besides anger. By keeping all of the feelings besides anger inside - sadness, hurt, disappointment, fear, etc.- those feelings get wrapped up in one big package called ANGER and that anger grows exponentially inside them.
For this reason, we need to teach our boys about ALL OF THE FEELINGS. and ALLOW, AND EVEN ENCOURAGE THEM, TO EXPRESS THEM OPENLY. By doing this, they can practice coping and regulating, so by the time they are adults, they will be experienced emotional regulators. Then, and only then, will they grow up to be men who don't continue the cycle of anger and perpetuate trauma in their families. Instead, they will act as models for their children for dealing with emotions appropriately. That is the cycle we want to perpetuate.
If, as a society, we understand that expressing and understanding all of the feelings makes us stronger, not weaker, the more homes like Seras' will have plenty of room for love and happiness.
If you wish to purchase this book, or check out the many other mental health books written by this author, visit Hallee Adelman's website HERE.
An Activity Idea for The Strongest Thing
MY HOUSE IS LIKE A SANDWICH
Sera describes her house "like the middle of an old sandwich, squished and dark and icky."
For this month's activity, we're going to use this simile, make a sandwich and have the child fill it with the feelings in their house.
NOW, LET'S BUILD OUR OWN SANDWICH!
-White or beige cardstock or construction paper
-Construction paper in many colors
-brown and black markers
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
A Book Review of Catching Thoughts
Catching Thoughts is an empowering picture book for children ages 4 - 8. The author, Bonnie Clark, introduces thoughts using a balloon analogy, which helps children think more tangibly about this abstract concept. The main character starts out with "just a teeny, tiny, little thought" that grew into a bigger and more bothersome thought that took over her mind.
"It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought."
After many attempts, she was unable to get this big, negative thought out of her mind. When she acknowledged the thought, she was able to see that it wasn't as powerful as it appeared. Only then was she able to catch other thoughts that were more positive. When the negative thought started to come back, she simply acknowledged it and "gently pushed it to the side." This is an important insight in dealing with negative thoughts. They can't be forced out, but if they are acknowledged and consciously set aside, one is able to make room for accepting more positive thoughts.
Through her empowering language, Ms. Clark demonstrates to children that they have a choice to change their negative self-talk. The illustrator, Summer Macon, does a wonderful job with the pictorial representation of the change in mood and behavior using color, facial expressions and actions that corresponds to pulling in positive thoughts.
I strongly recommend this book to help children learn, and adults remember, the power they have over their thoughts. To reinforce the concept of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, I have included an activity below.
To purchase the book or find fun activities, check out the author's website here.
Activity Idea for Catching Thoughts
-Balloons (various colors)
-Black permanent marker
A Book Review of My Quiet Ship
Quinn becomes the commander of his Space Ship, directs his crew (stuffed animals), which gives him a sense of control in a situation in which he feels helpless and scared. Quinn's scary situation is his parent's loud arguing. This book can be helpful to kids in a variety of difficult situations, even if it is coping with their baby brother crying or sensory overload.
The Space Ship is a peaceful place where Quinn can go into his mind to help calm himself and to identify his feelings. The Space Ship is Quinn's haven. This book can encourage readers to use their own imaginations and create their own havens to help them cope. It is helpful for children and adults to pull themselves away from the source of their big feelings temporarily and try to find peace within themselves. It is similar to the concept of a Safe Space in schools where a child goes to a quieter part of the classroom with comforting objects in order to re-group, ponder and get in touch with their feelings. Quinn also tries to draw, which is another great coping mechanism to model to the reader.
In the story, the arguing became so loud and Quinn's feelings became so big, that his coping strategies no longer worked. Eventually, he gathered the strength to confront his parents and express himself about how their yelling was making him feel. This is important as others may not be aware of how their behavior is making you feel unless you tell them. Through the story, the author acknowledges the strength and bravery it takes to confront a situation and express your feelings.
Expressing feelings is the most important part of this process. When Quinn expressed his feelings, it had the positive effect of making his parents aware and most importantly, getting his needs met. Quinn describes how his feelings are affecting his body, which is a great way for kid's to start to identify their own emotions. For example, "...from the sounds that hurt my ears and make my heart ache." and "...the sounds that make my stomach sick." Identification of feelings based on how it feels in your body is crucial.
Through her illustrations, Sonia Sánchez gives the reader a sense of turmoil that is experienced through Quinn. By the end of the story, Ms. Sánchez uses her illustrations to create a sense of calm in the reader. She captures the feelings of the characters very well, which pulls the reader in to the emotion of the story.
I highly recommend this book for teaching coping skills and the importance of expressing feelings, especially with kids in difficult situations. It can lead to deeper conversations about what the reader experiences in their life, how they can cope and how they can use their skills to gain control over their situations.
I would like to caution readers on a couple of points in the story. Escaping through imagination excessively, without confronting and addressing the feelings, can become a maladaptive strategy to respond to trauma and lead to dissociative symptoms later in life. Additionally, there are trauma situations in which it would not be safe for the child to confront the adults about how they are feeling and could lead to further abuse. In this situation, help the child develop a list of other safe adults they can access for help, if the situation is out of hand and safety issues are prevalent.
You can access Hallee Adelman's website to purchase her book or check out other books by this author here.
Activity Idea for My Quiet Ship
Construct a Space Ship with the child as a means to explore events that make them want to escape and to help them identify related feelings.
These questions may help get the exercise started.
1. What is Quinn trying to escape from when he takes off in his Space Ship?
2. What feelings does it give him when his parents argue?
3. Do you ever feel a need to escape from something that gives you big feelings like Quinn?
4. What big feelings do you have when that happens?
5. What would be your best way to escape in your imagination?
6. What could you do to make others aware of how you feel and to get what you need from them?
Empty toilet paper roll
cardstock or construction paper
red/orange tissue paper or construction paper
silicone or other strong glue
markers or crayons
Follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn