A Book Review of When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
Schools and day cares are closed, meaning time with friends, relationships with teachers, special school events and our day to day routines-CANCELLED. Extra classes and team sports-CANCELLED. Holidays with family and friends-CANCELLED. Playing with friends in the neighborhood-CANCELLED. Time with Grandma and Grandpa-CANCELLED. Their 5th birthday party-CANCELLED. And that doesn't even count Mom and Dad's disappointments!
These disappointments and major changes in routine have a big impact on young children too, who don't fully understand why this is happening OR, more specifically, why so many things are NOT happening!
In my practice, I have found that young children are usually adept at understanding and identifying general emotions, such as, happy, sad, scared, and mad, but are less adept at understanding more specific emotions such as DISAPPOINTMENT. Sure, we are all feeling all of those general emotions right now and disappointment can be a combination of some of those. However, the more specific a young child can be about understanding and articulating exactly how they are feeling, the less the likelihood of major meltdowns. Not to say, meltdowns are not going to happen, but an increased feelings' vocabulary will help to decrease the incidence and intensity of those meltdowns. For example, if a child's plan for a day at the beach is ruined due to the rain, if they are able to verbalize "I'm so disappointed that it's raining and we can't go to the beach," the fallout will be much less intense.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree is a well-written, entertaining story for children ages 4-8. It breaks the 4th wall in writing, meaning it addresses the reader directly which pulls the reader into the story. The book is about a young girl with a birthday wish list, filled with many fun technology choices. However, on her birthday, she is surprised by her grandmother with none other than a . . . LEMON TREE! Needless to say, our protagonist was quite DISAPPOINTED.
Ms. Deenihan, the author, uses much humor in discussing the appropriate response to give Grandma and what you should NOT do with the lemon tree. When our protagonist's friends are all playing with their technological toys, the lucky, lemon tree girl is learning to care for her lemon tree and is not particularly happy about it! The feelings in the book are depicted beautifully by the illustrator, Lorraine Rocha, which add much spunk to the story.
Once the fruits of her labor start to appear, our main character starts to see the joy in a caring for a tree, and grandma teaches her what she can do with those fruits--make lemonade of course! Conveniently, the author shares a recipe for lemonade, so the readers can make it too!
Our protagonist sells her lemonade, with the help of Grandma, through a lemonade stand, bringing joy to many in the community. And . . . she is able to use the money from the lemonade stand to . . . buy something on that long, NOT-forgotten birthday list! Literally, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade (and sell it!) Well, while shopping for her new technological toy, an added message is born in the book which fosters a sense of community and finding joy in activities outside of technology.
I strongly recommend that you buy this book or borrow it from your local library(when you can!) to benefit from these amazing messages, especially during these tough times.
Introduce the word "disappointment" to the child and discuss his/her specific disappointments since the Pandemic began. Share with them some of your own disappointments. I have added an activity below to go along with the story to help your child discuss his/her recent disappointments and ways of coping.
Activity Idea for When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
First of all, MAKE LEMONADE!
If you haven't had a chance to pick up the book yet, here is a recipe. https://wisconsinhomemaker.com/state-fair-lemonade-recipe/
Second of all, MAKE A LEMON TREE!
This month, since we can't really get out to buy supplies, we might have to improvise with the supply list. Use whatever you have around the house that will work-be creative! This project is a little more time consuming than many I have suggested in the past. Feel free to complete it over several days.
-large paper or poster board
-twig (Getting the kids outside to explore for a perfect "lemon tree" twig could be beneficial! If not, cut brown construction paper or paint a trunk.)
-green tissue paper or construction paper cut into small squares
-printed lemons https://www.freeprintable.com/print/free-printable-name-tags/lemon-tag
-printed lemonade pitcher
-glue (strong glue or hot glue gun for twig and elmer's or glue stick for everything else)
-crayons or markers
-construction paper for pot
A Book Review of Stay Through the Storm
Why would we broach the subject of suicide with young children? It's very painful for us to accept that suicide touches lives of young children, but it does. They may have teenage or adult relatives or friends that die due to suicide. They may have suicidal thoughts themselves or may even have made attempts. Even though successful suicides are rare in children below age 10, children as young as 5 years old have successfully committed suicide. Suicidal thoughts at a young age are a major predictor of later successful suicide. Therefore, it is important to address coping with these feelings from a young age. Joanna Rowland, the author, approaches this intense topic in an age-appropriate and gentle manner.
Her theme throughout the book stresses the power of friendship to help us through life's storms. The story helps children understand the importance of reaching out or accepting the help of others when their lives feel full of darkness. "Stay" is a repeated word throughout the dialogue. "Stay" and allow me to care for you. Together we can conquer your hopeless, scared feelings. Tell me about your feelings, I will understand because I am human and I probably felt that way at one time or another too. This will end and we'll get to the other side of it together. If the feeling comes again, I will be here for you then too. This book is an example of humanity at its best.
Through the illustrations, Lorian Tu, portrays hopefulness through vivid colors. The illustration of the fort on the cover and in the book supports the theme that you are safe and protected and can be helped through tough times.
I highly recommend this book for all children, especially those who have been through or are going through dark and difficult times. This gentle, beautiful story provides coping skills, reassurance and hope to the youngest among us.
Check out this author's website for excellent books on mental health and other topics for young children. https://www.writerrowland.com/
Activity Idea for Stay through the Storm
Have a discussion with your child after reading the book. The following questions can help.
1. If you were feeling really big feelings like sad, scared, confused, hopeless or worried, who would you want to be with you to help you(can be more than one person)?
2. How would that person(s) know you're having big feelings and that you want them to stay with you?
3. What do you think that person can do with you to help you feel cared about and safe?
4. Who do you think would want YOU with them if they were having really big feelings?
After the discussion, make a fort/tent with the child and include their safe people inside the tent.
Directions are below.
And... in the words of Mr. Rogers...
Welcome back to my blog for 2020!!! First things first. It is my Blog Birthday this month! It has been one year since I started this new endeavor. In honor of my Blog Birthday, I have christened my blog with the name of "Psyched Writer." This seemed appropriate for my overall website and the content of my blog. Why, you ask? I am super PSYCHED about reading, writing and reviewing Children's books with PSYCH content. My background is in PSYCH and I am super PSYCHED that you have joined me on this adventure. Please comment below if you have any comments or ideas for blog posts in 2020. Thanks for being here! Now, moving on to the first post of 2020 . . .
A Book Review of A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers
However, eventually children need to get ahold of those BIG feelings and learn to regulate themselves and express those feelings in more socially acceptable ways. If they don't, they will likely have a lifetime of struggles. That is where our job as parents, therapist and teachers comes in. This book, A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers, is a great tool to help us with what seems like, at times, an insurmountable task.
The sing-songy rhyme and fun, simple, writing style make this book appropriate for even the youngest of temper throwers! My favorite thing about the structure of this book is that it uses the point of view of what writers(and actors) call "breaking the fourth wall." This means that the authors are talking directly to the reader. This technique draws children into the story and encourages them to participate. This writing style is very useful for this book as it encourages children to talk about their anger and practice the calming techniques. This book is appropriate for young children ages 3 - 6.
The illustrator, Shirley Ng-Benitez, has created colorful, vivid illustrations that also pull the youngest readers into the book. The feel of the illustrations are calming, but active, which is exactly what needs to be expressed through this book. She created strong facial expressions on the characters which will help young readers with the important skill of recognizing feelings on others.
Through this book, Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen, have done a wonderful job in covering all the bases of helping children with their angry feelings. The following concepts are covered in the book:
1. A description of what it may feel like in your body when you are angry.
"...your ears are quite hot and your cheeks are all red."
2. A definition of temper with very helpful illustrations that further clarify the explanation.
3. Examples of specific behaviors the child may use to express their angry feelings.
"You try stomping your feet, maybe a scream or a shout..."
4. Validation and normalization of the feelings of anger.
"...It's not only you who has tantrums to throw."
5. Age appropriate suggestions of calming techniques, including movement, sensory pressure (giving yourself a hug), muscle relaxation, deep breathing, etc. The suggestions include physical activity along with imagery which is very useful.
A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers reinforces that it is okay to get angry if you know how to express it appropriately. It is written in a gentle, supportive manner that gives little ones the message that they are not alone with their anger and an adult is there to help them.
"...Let's practice together, just you and I."
The authors empower young readers with the message that they have the ability to take charge of their anger. It shows a sense of pride among the children in the book when they practice the skills.
The child likely will not be receptive to this book in the throws of a temper. We sure don't want the book to go flying across the room or have pages ripped out! My suggestion in utilizing this book is to read it regularly when the child is calm. Therefore, when the child does become angry, they are prepared and familiar with what to do. Reminding them and working with them when angry on the strategies presented in this book will go much better if they have the knowledge behind them.
With all the above in mind, there is one crucial technique in helping a child with BIG feelings.
That is to name the feeling(s), help the child explain why they are having that feeling, and validate it. This simple technique goes a long way in helping to calm little ones and to teach them about their feelings. By the way, this is very helpful for adults as well!
The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers which is very thorough and helpful in understanding and dealing with a child's temper. I have included an activity below to reinforce the concepts in this book.
To learn more about these authors and other Feel Better Books in this series, check out this link to read an interview. https://maginationpress.apabooks.org/?p=1254
Activity Idea for A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers
This book provides valuable strategies for young readers to help control their BIG feelings. It will be helpful for the adult to practice these strategies together with the child often. It is also a great idea to model using these strategies in front of your kids when you, yourself, become angry.
A technique I have used often in my practice with young children is to utilize role playing techniques to practice important skills. This is like "pretending" and very enjoyable for young children. But first, we need to make a visual aid together.
Stop sign template http://www.supercoloring.com/coloring-pages/stop-sign
Sturdy card stock paper
Markers or crayons
Role Playing Exercise
1. Let the child know that you'd like to play a game of pretend.
2. Tell the child that you are both going to take turns pretending to make the other person angry and practice how to handle your anger.
3. The adult starts and, for example, may give the child a toy and then grab it away from them.
4. The adult holds up the handmade STOP sign in front of the child (Giving the message that you stop and think first before reacting).
5. The adult then says "How are you feeling?" or "How did that make you feel?"
6. For younger children you may have feeling pictures nearby so they can choose.
7. Acknowledge their feeling(s) and state how it would have made YOU feel if it happened to you. Maybe ask if it ever happened to them before or tell them about a time that it happened to you and how it worked out.
8. Ask the child "Is it okay to feel that feeling?" "Would it be okay to hit me or call me names?"
9. The adult then asks the child "What can you do instead to calm yourself down?" Show them the options in the book as ideas if necessary.
10. Practice the skill they picked together.
11. Ask how they are feeling after you complete the practice. If they are still feeling angry, have them pick another technique from the book and practice that one together.
12. Provide much positive feedback to the child when practicing the techniques.
13. Now it's the child's turn to make YOU feel angry. Coach them through this. Make sure they hold up the stop sign for you after they make you angry. Handle it inappropriately at first (for example, you can yell or say "You're not my friend anymore!" so they can remind you what you can do. Practice the skill together.
14. Make it fun!
A Book Review of Once I Was Very Very Scared
Trauma that we experience as children can lead to behavioral, emotional, neurological and physical challenges throughout our lifetimes. For this reason, it is crucial that trauma(s) experienced in childhood (and in adulthood) be addressed as soon as possible. Research has shown that the most important factor in determining resilience to trauma is having a sensitive, caring caregiver to help you through it. I have chosen this book for April's blog post as trauma affects many, many children. Some of those children may be in need of psychological assistance and some may not. If not, it is still crucial that the adults in their lives address the feelings and responses to the trauma. Once I Was Very Very Scared is a perfect book for this purpose. It can be read and discussed by caregivers and/or can be a great resource for therapists. The great news is that there is a Spanish version too!
Chandra Ghosh Ippen skillfully presents the emotional material of trauma in a fun, non-threatening and relatable way for young children. Once I was Very Very Scared is appropriate for children ages 3-8 but could also be useful to older children and adolescents. The book is quite long and covers an intense subject matter. Therefore, for the younger children, I would suggest reading it in two or more sittings to leave room for processing and discussion. Going through the entire book in one sitting may be emotionally overwhelming for some.
The book starts out as a group therapy session utilizing adorable animals illustrated by Erich Ippen Jr. The Porcupine character acts as a therapist and works at establishing trust and providing a safe place for the animals to express themselves. This is an excellent book for opening up dialogue about a child's particular trauma and providing them permission to discuss it. It portrays many different scenarios of traumatic events with which many readers may be able to identify. This can help the reader in not feeling so alone with their trauma.
Through the dialogue and behavior of the animals, Ms. Ippen accurately portrays flight or fight responses and many defense mechanisms in action. She does an excellent job describing how trauma affects us all in different ways and uses many internalizing and externalizing behaviors as examples.
The book wraps up on a hopeful note by exploring many coping skills. Through the animals, Ms. Ippen makes clear the individual differences in how we can cope with difficult situations in a healthy way. This exploration of coping skills leaves much room for the caregiver or therapist to teach different coping skills and explore with the child what works best for them.
Frequently in my practice, I utilize Once I Was Very Very Scared as a starting point to open up the conversation about trauma. I engage the child in many activities throughout the process of reading the book and utilize it throughout the therapy process. It is very conducive to incorporating therapeutic activities personalized to each child. I have provided ideas below.
Activity Ideas for Once I Was Very Very Scared
After reading through the book once, there is a page that states "I wonder what scared you." This is a very important page to return to and open up dialogue on specific experiences of the child. Since there are pictures of various scenarios of trauma experienced by the animals in the book, I ask the child to draw a picture of the time they were very, very scared. After they complete this, it is important to ask many questions about their picture and have the child express as many details as possible about what happened. The sensory process of drawing and/or coloring is also therapeutic. Watch the child's behavior for reactions in discussing their trauma. It may be necessary to go through this process slowly and incorporate some relaxation/meditation techniques along the way.
There is page near the middle of the book that shows all the animals with different feelings. This is a great page to reference while asking the child to point to which feeling(s) they had during their trauma and what feeling(s) they have about it currently.
In addressing defense mechanisms and coping skills, I find role-playing very useful. Role-playing using puppets, animals or dolls is a great way to engage with young children while minimizing their discomfort as it is a step removed. Making simple puppets of the animal they identify with in the book can be a fun and useful activity for this purpose.
While reading the book, ask the child what animal in the story acts most like they do when they feel very scared. Google coloring pages of that particular animal and one of a porcupine for the therapist character. A good website for this purpose is www.coloring.ws and click on animals. Print out a coloring page of a porcupine and the child's chosen animal from the book. Printing on card stock can be useful for making a more sturdy puppet. If the animal is a full page, you may need to scale it down to 70% when printing.
Ironically, while writing this post, I received a notification from Piplo Productions that they now have free downloadable finger puppets on their website! This is another option to carry out this activity. Go to piploproductions.com, click on Our Stories, then Once I Was Very Very Scared, then Resources and you will find the free downloads.
crayons or markers
craft stick (large popsicle stick found in craft stores)
A Book Review of The Rabbit Listened
Having a friend just sitting beside you through a tough time can be incredibly comforting and therapeutic. When the person chooses to talk, being with them is being there to listen. Just listen. When a friend or loved one is hurting, we have a tendency to want to fix it. We want them to be happy. We can't tolerate seeing them in pain. But sometimes in life, we just need to sit with our feelings for awhile. It can be deeply comforting to have someone you care about joining you in sitting with your feelings. This helps you not feel so alone.
In her recent Children's book, The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld describes the concept of "being with" beautifully. She presents the concept at a level very relatable to young children. This book is simple, yet powerful. While it is geared toward children ages 3- 7, we can all learn a great deal from this book.
The story starts out with Taylor, a young girl, building a very special tower out of blocks that elicits much pride. Out of nowhere, a flock of birds fly by and knock down her prized castle. Her creation is ruined. Ugh. The dreaded experience that evokes big feelings familiar to all children.
Ms. Doerrfeld does an amazing job illustrating Taylor's strong feelings. As expected, a parade of well-meaning friends come and want to help Taylor. Chicken tries to make her talk, Bear tries to get her to growl and shout and elephant tries to help her rebuild. Taylor is not interested in any of this. Many other friends come by to try and make it better for Taylor. Nothing works.
Until finally and quietly... Rabbit slowly comes up and sits very close to Taylor so she can feel his warm body. The Rabbit sits in silence by her side. He listens when she feels like talking, or shouting, and listens closely to all of her ideas. After Taylor goes through the process of working through her feelings at her own pace, she decides to rebuild. At that point, Rabbit is still by her side sharing her joy of being ready to rebuild.
The Rabbit Listened is helpful to ALL children(parents, therapists and teachers too!) This book is a frequent go-to in my practice with children who have difficulty regulating their emotions. It provides insight to these children as to what they may need to calm themselves. The book also provides insight to their caregivers as to how to manage their child's big feelings. Additionally, I utilize this book for kids that have recently gone through big struggles in their life, whether it be a death or a separation in the family. In addition to gaining personal insight, this story teaches children how to be a good friend and to help others who may be struggling. The Rabbit Listened covers a universal topic that can remind us all that simply "being with" someone is the best gift you can give.
After reading the book, why not create a Rabbit who will sit quietly and listen to you? Or that you can lend to your family members or friends when they are struggling? See below for instructions.
Activity Idea for The Rabbit Listened
Making a sock bunny together with the child and discussing how the bunny can sit beside him/her when he/she is having big feelings is a great therapeutic activity. They can also talk to the bunny about their big feelings. The bunny is simply there to sit and listen. The bunny can also be used for them to help other people and lend him out as a sitting buddy to a family member or friend who is struggling.
To drive the concept home, I do role playing in therapy, having the child pretend they are sad, mad, or scared and setting the bunny quietly next to them. As the therapist, I pretend to have big feelings and the child then places the bunny next to me. We then discuss how it feels to have someone next to you, sharing your big feelings and listening. We also discuss situations that have occurred in their life when it would have been helpful to have someone sit by their side quietly. We discuss situations their family or friends may have experienced that they think would have been helpful to sit quietly by their side and how this might make them feel.
An adult-sized sock
2 cups of rice
measuring cup with spout
2 large sturdy rubber bands
felt or foam sheet
tacky craft glue
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