Beautiful Oops!

By Barney Saltzberg

This is such a fun & interactive book, full of beautiful illustrations, pull out pages & pop-ups. Some of the pop-ups might be a challenge for children who haven’t yet learned how to treat books gently, so hold this in mind! It focuses on that important life lesson – it’s ok to make mistakes. A tear in a page is turned into a crocodile’s mouth. Drips, smudges & smears on paper are opportunities to get creative & turn them into something else.

Everyone can worry about making mistakes, but for some children who have experienced trauma in their lives, the fear of making mistakes can be huge. It can be paralysing, or it can lead to huge outbursts of anger or distress. Adoptive parents & carers describe to me how their child will refuse to even try something they might find tricky. Or how they have refused to recognise their accomplishments – ripping up or throwing aside what seems to be a perfectly good drawing or piece of schoolwork.

Parents & carers are often puzzled as to why their reassurance, praise & encouragement of their child does not seem to work very well & why the fear of failure persists. We work together in therapeutic parenting sessions to help develop an understanding of how children who have been abused or neglected in the past can come to see themselves as very bad. They have become hypervigilant for any ‘evidence’ that supports this belief & tend to ignore any evidence to the contrary. When they are offered praise or reassurance, the child just wonders why it is that others cannot see how bad they are yet. They worry about when they will be ‘found out’ for being the worthless child they really are. They worry they will experience rejection & loss again.

So rather than offering reassurance, we work together in family therapy to help their child make sense of where their feelings of worthlessness & fear of failure may have come from & why they might get so big.  We create stories together – empathic narratives – about how their experiences in the past have shaped how they think, feel & behave now. We work to help them hold in their hearts that they are not a bad child; they are a hurt child. & when they feel that we understand too, where their perfectionism or self-sabotage is coming from, they often become more open to thinking with us about how to do things differently next time.

Alongside narratives, we try to find lots of playful & creative ways to model that we are comfortable with making mistakes, or not being perfect, ourselves. We mess up in light-hearted ways playing games together (often to their child’s delight!) or exaggerate our pride in our messy drawings of stick people. I set ‘homework’ of making at least 3 mistakes before the next therapy session, or practice getting a small thing wrong together. We make any praise of their child low-key & very specific, whilst they’re trying it on for size & learning to feel more comfortable with it.

Reading books together like Beautiful Oops! is another lovely way of helping a child become less sensitive to making mistakes. There is an invitation to approach imperfection with equanimity & to see the opportunities for trying again. This is so valuable to parents & carers too, who often worry about whether they are doing a good enough job. As I’m always saying, remember we don’t do perfect! Good enough is good enough.

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