Guess How Much I Love You is another classic picture book, originally published in 1994.
It is a simple and sweet story about the love a parent and child have for each other. The young hare and his father enact a bedtime ritual, in which not only is their mutual love for each other reaffirmed but the protection and safety offered to the son by his father is gently highlighted.
This message of love and protection is important for all children but takes on added poignancy for the adoptive and foster families whom I see in therapy, where the children may be anxious about whether they are safe and whether their parents will take good care of them. The repetition in the text lends itself perfectly to creating a calming narrative and atmosphere. And for children who find it hard to sit still, the actions that father and son go through, beautifully captured in Anita Jeram’s illustrations, create a physical story that can be joined in with, incorporating regulating movement into the story telling. It can be fun to stretch arms wide or high to show the width of the love, or to tumble upside down, showing the height of the love, all the way up to our toes!
Some children who experienced abuse and neglect when they were very young, remain terrified of the idea of being small and vulnerable, even long after they have moved into new homes, where they are cherished. It is very hard when you have learned to look after yourself to survive, to allow parents or carers to look after you. So, we need to find lots of creative and playful ways in therapy to help children really feel a new sense of safety in their bodies and hearts, as well as in their minds.
One girl I remember who came to therapy was much physically smaller than you might expect for her chronological age, as are many children who have had traumatic early lives. Although small, she had a very big presence and she would spend a lot of time at home, and initially in the therapy room, taking up lots of space and screeching. Her adoptive parents had become so organised by her anger and controlling behaviour that understandably, they were struggling to see the frightened, little girl underneath it all. We did a lot of sensory-informed play together, to help her to feel more settled and develop her awareness of herself. We created stories to make sense of why she still felt she needed to be much bigger than she really was. We used Theraplay-informed nurturing activities to enable the girl to experience being nurtured, and for her parents to have more opportunities to be physically and emotionally close to her.
We read Guess How Much I Love You, many times, as it became a favourite of hers. At first, she moved around or drew, or rolled on a yoga ball, as she listened. Then, she sat more still and closer to her parents. It became a ritual for her to point at Little Nutbrown Hare partway through the story and say, ‘He is very, very tiny, isn’t he?’ and I would repeat, ‘Yes, he is very, very tiny’. Over time, we saw the magic of her absorbing Little Nutbrown Hare’s willingness to trust in his parent and his confidence that he would be loved and taken care of.
As an added bonus, this wonderful book and the opportunities it creates to explore what it means to be in loving relationships, can be supplemented by a whole range of downloadable activities on the Guess How Much I Love You website, guesshowmuchiloveyou.com