Give the Gift of Healing Through Literature

–by Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

 

Manager’s note: A few years ago, I started buying my kids’ Christmas gifts to the mantra “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” Here are some ideas for the “read” part. Look for other ideas soon, as well as tips for trauma travel. And if the holidays already have you down, hang in there. Here at ATN, we’re on your side!

 

In an upcoming series of blogs, Janyne, who is a childhood trauma survivor and frequent ATN blogger, will be teaming up with Heather Thompson, MS, LPCC to combine Janyne’s professional experiences as a Children’s Literature instructor and Heather’s counseling experiences with children and families to share books that provide bibliotherapy specific to those children who have experienced attachment wounds and/or trauma. This is the first post in that series.

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The very first college class I taught was Children’s Literature. This course had been my favorite in college and some forty years later, it still is. While teaching young children and adults, I learned that the most palatable and enjoyable way to get a concept across was to find a children’s book in which it was illustrated. While healing from extensive childhood trauma, I realized that I had learned this as a child. I used the literature in my world to find meaning at and around the edges of my experience. Although I became a teacher educator who understood the power of literature, when Heather and I reconnected and she shared the books she was using in her therapy practice, I knew that she had taken bibliotherapy to a whole new level.

As Heather enthusiastically shared her books with me, I once again realized that the books designed for children say as much to the adult who reads them as they do to the child who listens. It is the kind of shared bonding experience that builds both concepts and relationships.

The following three books are the ones we have chosen to share in this first blog. The descriptions are attachment- and trauma-specific, often drawn from my (Janyne’s) own experiences. The applications and suggestions for parents, teachers, and therapists alike come out of Heather’s use of the book during therapy.

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You’re a Crab! A Moody Day Book by Jenny Whitehead

Emotions are often terrifying to children who have experienced trauma. Their moods and reactions to the emotions are often over the top and difficult to understand. In this delightful and colorfully illustrated book, animals, including the crabby crab, talk about all types of emotions: “But on really tough days, when you’re not in the mood to play at all, you can be a hermit crab and I can be a hermit crab and we can sit in our shells side by side in the sand until you feel better.” This book is a wonderful example of how to accept all of our emotions and the importance of simple presence.

In therapy, at home, and in the classroom:

This book is such a beautiful picture of co-regulation. The “big person” takes care of the “little person”  Rule number one of my counseling office: The big people take care of the little people. In this book the big person or primary caregiver, offers up many different strategies for dealing with a “crabby day.” Sometimes you are hungry, so maybe getting outside and playing will help. Doing something creative can cheer or calm you. Other times you just need a hug, or lots of hugs. But when things are really bad you just need your big person to be present, calm, and supportive until you feel better and ready to engage. This book paints a wonderful picture that will stick with you.

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I Will Love You Anyway by Mick Inkpen, illustrated by Chloe Inkpen

As the owner of a new puppy, I found this book to be particularly delightful. It reminded me of how I am sometimes more patient with my dog than with my children. The adorable puppy in this book does everything puppies do, including running away, before realizing how much better it is to stay where he can be kept safe. Overcoming the flight instinct in traumatized children is one of the most difficult problems for educators and parents, especially since the very act of keeping them safe is often an additional trigger. This book helps address this in ways that build trust and diminish shame.

In therapy, at home, and in the classroom:

In working with children that have experience relational trauma, I have seen the best and worst sides of humanity. Because of trauma, children often create strategies for survival. Often these strategies do not translate to a home that is safe and stable. These strategies feel manipulative and hurtful to the parent. The child’s “bad behavior” becomes part of their personhood. I love how adorable this puppy remains though out the book and you find yourself rooting for him. This story is a gentle reminder to parents to delight in the child and love them always.

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The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald

“I’m a baaaaaad seed. Do you want to know how bad?” Children who have experienced trauma view themselves through the lens of negative experiences and the shame created by their trauma. Their behavior is not who they are; it is what happened to them. After a description of all his bad behavior, the little seed says, “I just can’t help it.” He goes on to explain how he wasn’t born a bad seed but how bad things happened to him…until he was rescued and then decided to be happy. “It’s hard to be good when you’re so used to being bad. But I’m trying. I’m taking one day at a time.” He goes on to conclude, “Maybe I’m not such a bad seed after all.” What hope this could bring to a child who, like the seed, “just can’t help it.”

In therapy, at home, and in the classroom:

Again, trauma translates as bad behavior in a child who has created strategies to survive in a hard world. This book gives you insight into how trauma not only hurts a child but has a profound affect on his or her behaviors. The child does not desire to be “bad” but is driven to it by their need to survive. It takes safety and a caring adult to help them navigate a new world. I have seen many a child transformed as they begin to see themselves through a new lens, often the powerful lens of a caregiver that can see past the behavior and into the beauty and value of the child.

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What about you? Do you have book ideas you’d like to share? Add them to the comments below!

Janyne McConnaughey, member of the ATN Board of Directors, is a retired teacher educator and Professor Emeritus who taught every age from preschool to graduate school during her forty-year career. She completed a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, from the University of Colorado—Denver in 2006, with an emphasis in Early Childhood and Math Education. After retiring, and an intensive healing journey for significant childhood trauma, she now devotes her time to writing, speaking, and blogging. Along with Brave: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma (2018) and Jeannie’s Brave Childhood: Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Trauma (2019), Janyne is working on a prequel to Brave which should be available in 2020. She and her husband Scott, are now living in the Seattle area near their children and grandchildren and love exploring the Pacific Northwest.

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