A Book Review of Mama's Waves
These severe ups and downs that affect an adult's ability to parent their children are often caused by severe depression, bipolar disorder, other serious mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many of these difficulties may be due to the parent's own trauma experienced when they were a child. Ms. Ippen describes this well through a quote from Ellie's uncle about her mother, as follows:
"When we were growing up, things were pretty stormy. Her boat got tossed around
by waves until the waves became a part of her."
I have worked extensively with children living in these situations. Through this experience, I have learned that there are very few, if any, parents in this situation that don't love and yearn for their children. However, in many circumstances the children are not safe with them, so they are often removed and placed in a safe environment. In these instances, it is crucial for the child to get the message that the parent is not a bad person, but a person with problems that needs help. It is equally crucial for them to know that their parent loves them and will always love them, whether they are living with them or not. But, that they are unable to care for them due to their problems. One of my favorite quotes from the book explains this beautifully:
"Your mama's dealing with big waves, but we won't let those waves wash away
her magic and love."
It is important to encourage the child to talk about their parent and express their feelings. Ellie's uncle plays a crucial role in this discussion by remembering together the "stormy days" and the "smooth sailing" days. Positive memories are something that the child can treasure forever, so remembering them is very therapeutic. In the book, Ellie remembers the "rainbow cookies" that she made with her mom. This also can provide a hint for the caregiver on activities that they can continue that will promote positive memories and comfort within the child.
In the story, the foster parent made contact with the uncle to visit the child, as her mother missed their scheduled visit. It is not always possible to meet with other family members, but when it is, it can preserve those important family connections. It is extremely comforting for the child to meet with an appropriate relative that likely may feel the same love, pain and worry that the child does toward their parent. Ellie and her uncle share mutual worry for Ellie's mother and share a hope that she will get help. Kids often worry about their parent when separated, especially if they played a caregiver role to that parent when they were living with them.
The illustrator, Erich Ippen Jr., portrays strong emotions through the facial expressions of the characters. The colorful sprinkles and rainbows throughout the book give a feeling of hope for the future.
There are few books available on this all-too-common topic of parental mental illness/substance abuse and separation of the child. This book was published recently and is one of the best ones I have read on the topic. I strongly recommend this book for therapists, case workers, family caregivers and foster parents to provide insight and comfort to young children in this difficult situation. It is a great book to spark conversation regarding the child's specific experience. I have provided an art activity below to help get this conversation started.
If you are interested in this book or other books by this author, please visit her website here.
Activity Idea for Mama's Waves
Large piece of paper (I cut mine from a roll)
Blue watercolor paint
Dark color Markers
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
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...
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)
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