Riley the Brave

By Jessica Sinarski

Riley is a little bear who has lived through bad, sad & scary times. This lovely story helps us see how Riley has done more than survive, he has found lots of resourceful ways to look after himself. Now he lives with ‘safe critters’ & he is finding that he doesn’t need his old strategies anymore. Riley is learning that the bravest thing of all for a hurt cub, is to be able to trust again, to ask for help, & to let loving carers into his heart. This is a well constructed & wonderfully accessible picture book. It describes the impact of trauma & loss on little brains & bodies & manages to do all this within an engaging tale that will warm the hearts of children & adults alike.

A big challenge for parents, carers & professionals who love & care for a child with developmental trauma, is to find the right words to help the child understand themselves & the world around them. To find a clear but captivating narrative to make sense of how their thoughts, feelings & behaviour are being shaped by their past experiences. Children living with unresolved trauma often struggle with overwhelming feelings & are confused as to why they get so jumbly & behave the way they do. They worry that there is something wrong with them & that they are unlovable.  For a child with a short attention span, a quick fuse & a propensity for easily feeling shame, communicating that we know they are a hurt child & not a bad child   – & that they can heal – is no small task!

Another challenge for parents & carers is staying empathic & caring, when their child seems to be doing their very best to control them or push them away. Living with this daily can make it so hard to stay curious about the meaning of behaviour. This can be especially so if the child has been in their new family for a long time – it can be so disheartening when progress is slow & the temptation for the adults can be to blame the child or themselves. When children experience ‘blocked trust’ & parents experience ‘blocked care’, then positive change becomes very hard to achieve. We need to find lots of resources that help families understand the impact of trauma on everyone involved & that engender hope that there can be recovery.

Riley the Brave is one such resource. Riley’s story celebrates what he enjoys, as well as explaining why he finds other things difficult. It celebrates that he has the opportunity truly to be a cub, & not have to act like a big bear. His elephant carers model lovely therapeutic parenting responses. Everyone is reminded that there is courage in vulnerability. We can all learn to have fewer porcupine and tiger moments, to reconnect & come together with a shared language, to talk & to figure out the most difficult of things.

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