When our children come home from school depressed and crying, wailing and sobbing, we hurt with them! We were not there to help them.
Sometimes they acted out of a raging emotional storm in a not-so-positive way, and then were sent to the principal’s office. With that news, we hurt some more. We couldn’t be there.
Kids face problems alone. Some issues include mistakes and embarrassment in class, teasing, name calling, mockery, fears and anxieties.
What can we do to help them? Is there a good answer?
Oh, yes! There’s a strong, proven, researched method to significantly help our kids in advance!
This method’s strength comes from giving extra special attention to the concept that children’s emotions dominate their actions.
With this method, we can easily help them develop positive, Staying Up power, when we can’t be there.
It’s something like the two choices of every bird in the air: 1. Stay up or 2. Go down
The best practice is different for the younger child and older child.
The younger child method
To help our younger child develop Staying Up power, researchers have discovered that identifying emotions while reading books together is effective. Child psychology therapists call it bibliotherapy.
We found several similar educational bibliotherapy research projects, which invited parents to read selected picture books to their younger children. They asked parents to focus on three goals.
First; help the child identify the feelings of the characters.
Second: help the child personally identify with a character.
Third: help the child make personal applications.
Here are some valuable suggestions. Like cooking a meal, season your reading time with frequent questions like, “How do you think (the characters) feel right now?” and “Why did (the hero) do something like that?” Mix in action by asking them to act out a character. That could be extra fun, or slightly dangerous!
After the story is read, ask your little one to draw a picture. This often gives precious insight into what touched the child. Be sure to name and discuss the picture’s emotions.
Later, if present when a child is in an emotional storm, remind him of a book character he identified strongly with. Ask, “What did Mr. Wise Owl say?” or “What did Johnny Rocket do about that?”
These studies conclude that reading picture books with children is linked to a greater emotional understanding. Increased emotional understanding has a positive effect on self-image, self-control and good choices when a parent can’t be there.
The older child approach
As children grow they need more text and fewer pictures. Educational research shows that, when strongly encouraged to read, older children will identify with a character in a story.
Starting in the middle school ages, students will embrace and hold a concept better when writing down a favorite character’s comment. This can be especially helpful in a Christian family with a statement from a scripture character.
One Christian school teacher related an experience with a middle school student (we’ll call him Billy) who was often in afterschool detention. Billy had a challenging homelife, but now was being sponsored in a private Christian school.
Mr. Brown required him to write and memorize Psalm 23 statements from one of his favorite Bible heroes, King David.
Billy complained loudly, but eventually memorized the Psalm. Mr. Brown related the following conversation with Billy at the beginning of a class later in the school year.
Billy: You were right Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown: (In disbelief!) Ahhh…did I hear what I just thought I heard? Would that person say that again please?!
Billy: Yes! You heard right Mr. Brown! It was me. I said…you were right!
Mr. Brown: (Still in disbelief!) OK Billy. I’ll bite. What is it you think I was right about?
Billy: You were right to make me write and memorize those verses Mr. Brown. You were right!
Mr. Brown: (Now, stunned!) Tell me why Billy. Tell me why you’re saying this.
Billy: I was mad at you for making me write and memorize those verses, but when I’m at home alone, and I want to go do something I should not do, those verses talk to me. It’s like King David talking to me Mr. Brown. Even though I don’t like it sometimes, what he says talks to me and helps me do the right thing. So, I want to thank you Mr. Brown. Thank you for helping me!
Like Mr. Brown helping Billy, we can help our children cope when we can’t be there. We can help them obtain Staying Up power by reading books, reading the Bible, discussing emotional interactions, decisions and comments made by their favorite characters.
They will not forget it…when they are alone.
Steve Davis is an adjunct professors at Trinity International University where Steve teaches adult development and writing. He can be reached at [email protected]