When we think about our childhood among many of our fondest memories are often books that we read or were read to us. This should not be surprising as story telling is a universal human feature that crosses cultures and spans human history. While often entertaining, stories have always existed to teach lessons.
Children’s story books are an easily accessible set of tools we can use to help children to develop resiliency abilities and become more accurate and flexible thinkers. Also let’s face it, these books also help us when we find ourselves having to tackle the hard topics with our own children or the children that we work with.
By the age of three children are actively trying to make sense of the thing that are happening to around them and to them. Without guidance and help they often come to conclusions that are both inaccurate and damaging. If their parents are fighting they might come to the conclusion that is “cuz’ I’m a bad boy.” or when someone doesn’t want to play they might think it is because “she doesn’t like me anymore, she thinks I’m stupid.”
When children establish such negative beliefs and non-resilient thinking patterns this can result in a loss of self-worth along with other psychological and behavioural problems. Attempting to address these issues directly however is difficult as many children will not be able to clearly state the problem and either shrug their shoulders or say “I don’t know”. What is more, many of the topics and issues teachers and parents might find themselves uncomfortable talking about.
Luckily for us story and picture books are a wonderful, interactive and pleasurable way to address these topics both indirectly and as a way to discuss the issues more directly. Children love listening to stories. Good stories offer multiple layers for learning and discussion – opportunities for readers and listeners alike to validate their experience, broaden their perspective, and generate positive solutions to everyday problems and provide a safe way to help children articulate their beliefs and imagine positive outcomes for the challenges they face. Story books can provide children with concrete examples of how accurate and ﬂexible thinking makes a positive difference in the way a character handles adversity.
When we look at the core resiliency skills supported by research and the literature we see that story books can help children develop many of these. For example, story books increase the capacity to value and identify with one’s own culture and at the same time value the culture of others, a key resiliency skill. We can’t ignore that stories stimulate imagination of creative play, another critical ability associated with resilience in harsh circumstances.
Igniting children’ imagination with stories develops these key skills and facilitates communication. Children love to make up their own stories based on pictures in storybooks. We can say, “Let’s make up a story about the people in this picture.” When teachers use this technique, they are surprised and fascinated with children’s enthusiastic and creative responses. As children express their ideas about why the characters in the picture act in certain ways, teachers report gaining valuable insight into their beliefs about the world and this, in turn, helps them better understand children’s feelings and behaviour.
The long term impact of stories on children’s development can be attested to by adults who have triumphed over severe childhood adversity. These people often refer to literature as “an inﬂuential and satisfying companion in their childhood, because they felt the author was writing to them personally.”
Learn more about using children’s books to develop resiliency skills
- For a list of children’s books that promote resilience http://www.reachinginreachingout.com/resources-booksKids.htm
- Article on “Using literature to Promote Children’s Resilience” by Jennifer Pearson , with contributions by Darlene Kordich Hall http://www.reachinginreachingout.com/documents/CCCF-Fall07-English.pdf
- Learn techniques for using children’s books in detail in their Resiliency Guidebook http://www.reachinginreachingout.com/resources-guidebook.htm