This short story explodes with joy. The vibrant illustrations & the curly, childlike script invite us into little Layla’s world & the simple pleasures that she finds amongst family, friends & community. It inspires us to notice the small wonders that surround us in our own lives. Layla talks to us about the things she loves – from the night sky, to eating spaghetti & climbing trees. A familiar message right now, to find happiness in our ordinary, everyday experience, is given a charming, childlike twist that warms you like a summer afternoon.
As parents we all wish for our children to be happy & we work hard to fill their lives with positive experiences & happy memories. Many adoptive parents & foster carers have expressed to me their puzzlement at how difficult their child seems to find it to hold on to happy memories, or to remember the lovely things they do together as a family. I remember hearing one parent talk enthusiastically about a day trip to the seaside, full of sparkling moments, & all their child had to say about the day was that she had dropped her ice-cream in the sand.
When a child has experienced bad, sad & frightening experiences in their early lives, before moving to their new family, we know that this can impact on their brain development & their abilities to store good memories. If your ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response has been triggered repeatedly & you have learned to live in a state of high alert for danger, it can inhibit the development of pathways in the brain that are about storing good memories & being in a calm state. This explains a lot about how a child from an abusive birth family situation can move into a kind and loving family and yet still react as if they are in danger.
In family therapy we can work together to help a traumatised child learn how to calm their bodies & their minds. Then they can slow down & process information & experiences in a way that allows them to appreciate their world in a new way & begin to make more positive memories. Structured play, informed by sensory integration techniques; mindfulness-based activities & creating stories to help the child make better sense of their life histories, can all be useful parts of this journey together.
Mindfulness is an invitation to ground ourselves in the present moment. To notice with kindness & curiosity what is going on within us & around us. It can help us develop a more conscious awareness of what is within our control – how we respond & the choices that we make. As a child develops better self-regulation & resilience, they can really begin to take pleasure, often for the first time, in family activities, hobbies & a whole host of other things. To delight in themselves & those around them who love them.
Reading books together like Layla’s Happiness, can be a way of consolidating this process. It invites the child to be self-curious & to consider for themselves what makes them happy. It celebrates the importance of relationships, connection & the natural world. Layla is a little girl who we see supported to grow, flourish & take enjoyment in her world & what a happy gift this is.