Something Else

For Anti Bullying Week we are re-sharing the review of one of our favourite books!

In therapeutic parenting sessions, many adoptive parents and carers over the years have told me about how difficult it is for their child to make or keep friends. They speak of their sadness for their child never being invited for play dates or to birthday parties.

I often work with schools as part of the therapy plan, to help them think about how to support friendships for their looked after and adopted children. This regularly involves a lot of structuring of playtimes and lunchtimes and building up the circle of friends for the child slowly. Play skills can easily be taken for granted but are often so hard to grasp for children who have been traumatised. Putting in the work to help these children develop even one caring friendship can be life changing for them.

click to read more

Barbara Throws a Wobbler

Barbara is a little black cat with a very expressive face & yellow boots. It’s one of those days when nothing goes right & she has the biggest tantrum. In the build-up to the Wobbler, Barbara doesn’t see her bad mood growing but the worse it gets, the less she wants to play. The Wobbler appears, red & jelly-like, & it gets in the way of any of her friends’ kind attempts to soothe her. At first, Barbara struggles against the Wobbler, then they giggle together, & when they talk, she realises the Wobbler can be unmade & that she can be in charge of her feelings. A feline frolic through a range of emotions & a playful reminder of the power of embracing them all.

All of us, even as adults, can feel overwhelmed by our feelings at times. For children who have experienced relational trauma, the size & strength of the overwhelm can feel very big & frightening indeed. When you have lived with high levels of stress at a young age, it can lead to sensory integration difficulties, hypersensitivity & dysregulated responses. We all have a ‘window of tolerance’ – where our stress levels are manageable & we can stay calm & think properly. Children with relational trauma have a much narrower window & so more easily tip into Wobbles. The double whammy for such children, is that they fear connection with others & find it so hard to make use of support & strategies to regulate & feel better again.

click here to read more

Sidewalk Flowers

A girl in a red coat walks through a grey city with her father. Whilst he is busy she picks wildflowers along the roadside. Then she quietly gifts them to others she meets along the way. As the flowers are shared, the colours on the pages bloom & finally at home, the girl tucks a flower behind her own ear. A book to remind us of the wonder to be found in ordinary things & the beauty of small kindnesses.

One of the delights of this story told only in pictures, is the space we have to weave our own words around it. To explore together how it touches us. When our child has experienced relational trauma in the past, we know this will be harder for them than for other children & so we can more actively take the lead.

click here to read more

The Way Home for Wolf

Wilf is a wolf cub who wants to be fierce & to try everything all on his own. When his elders set out to look for a new home, Wilf finds it hard to accept that he is too small to lead. He struggles to keep up & won’t howl for help. All alone, he falls through the ice but as he spins downwards, a narwhal comes to his rescue. What feels like the end for Wilf becomes just the beginning, as he is assisted by a series of arctic animal friends to re-join his pack. The wolves cuddle him close again & Wilf has learnt he can accept support. A pacy, rhyming story that carries us safely out of the cold & darkness of solitude, into the warmth of friendship, kindness & love.

A young child can naturally show stubbornness, as they begin to explore their identity. They learn first about who they are in close relationships with their primary carers. If they experience their parent as delighting in them, celebrating their strengths & guiding them with their struggles, they develop a rounded sense of self. They feel accepted & have confidence that their vulnerability is valued as much as their independence; that all parts of themself will be honoured. A securely attached child may be wilful sometimes, but they learn that its ok to rely on others, too.

click here to read more

Riley the Brave Makes it to School

Riley is finding it hard to go to school. He’s a little bear cub who has made it through some very difficult times in the past & is learning ways to feel more confident & settled in his fur. He does not look like the adults who are raising him & this creates an inclusivity to the story for all children who do not live with their birth parents, for whatever reason. Sometimes Riley feels cheerful & brave but other times he wobbles & falls back on old coping strategies.

This day starts with a grumpy porcupine moment & Riley feels prickly towards everyone. His ‘safe big critters’, the elephants, turn potential confrontation & conflict into opportunities for playfulness & connection. They ride the bumps of the morning routine together, using therapeutic parenting ideas, clearly presented & cleverly woven into an engaging tale. This is a picture book for any child who struggles with transitions & the adults who support them.

click here to read more

The Rabbit Listened

A small child called Taylor builds a wonderful castle & is feeling very proud. Without warning, disaster strikes & the wooden bricks come tumbling down. Nothing is as it was & all the animals try to make Taylor feel better. Chicken wants to talk; hyena wants to laugh about it & ostrich just wants to forget. When Taylor resists their advice, they drift away. Only rabbit comes & sits close by, warm & quiet. In time, Taylor expresses a whole range of emotions & rabbit just listens. Eventually, Taylor decides to build again, with a renewed sense of hope & excitement. This story is a beautifully simple tribute to the value of unconditional acceptance & the comfort to be found in attuned relationships.

It is very hard for parents & carers to see their child grieving. The temptation then, is to offer reassurance & distraction & to try to fix the problem. We do not want our child to hurt. This temptation is even greater for those parenting a child with developmental trauma, one who has had many losses & who can easily become overwhelmed by big emotions; struggling to self-regulate or make sense of feelings.

click here to read more

Over The Rooftops, Under The Moon

A bird sits all alone in the flock. Then in the eyes of a little girl, they feel seen. Together, they explore & appreciate the detail of everything around them. With the bird’s awakening, their white feathers explode with colour when they least expect it. Time passes, the seasons shift & the bird travels far, across snow & through turbulent seas, to a warm place full of feathered friends. The words are lyrical & sparce, but the multi-layered story & rich illustrations speak of many things – understanding oneself & connection with others; the multi-faceted nature of identity & how our sense of belonging is ever changing throughout life.

Issues of identity can be confusing for care experienced & adopted children.  Many who come to family therapy are trying hard to understand their life history, exploring who they are & where they fit in. They can carry a sense of being to blame for their losses, of being bad or ‘other’. Like the bird, they can feel ‘far away inside & far away outside’. Part of any adoptive parent or carer’s role is to facilitate their child’s exploration of identity with love, & to bear witness to it. To acknowledge the rupture in belonging for a child who has been separated from their birth family & allow all thoughts & emotions to be voiced. Gently holding the past & making sense of how it shapes the present.

click here to read more

Listening to My Body

We see a little boy’s growing ability to listen to his own body & what it is telling him, as he makes connections between body sensations, emotions, thoughts & behaviour. On his journey of self-discovery, he rides his first rollercoaster; meets the challenge of finding his little sister has messed up his newly completed jigsaw puzzle & has his first day at school. The story & the practice activities encourage sensory awareness & mindfulness.  This picture book is a simple & helpful guide to becoming more aware of our inner world.

A child first learns about themself & the world around them in relationships with their main caregivers. Loving adults delight in their small child & provide lots of opportunities & commentaries to help their child to make sense of themselves & their experiences. They soothe their child when upset, angry or frightened & help them work out what they need. Through such interactions, the child learns how to self-regulate & becomes confident in understanding & trusting their own body & mind. A child with developmental trauma has not experienced enough good care or soothing early in life & may well have experienced abuse, so they can develop a very fragmented sense of self. They may shut down their capacity to feel sensations or emotions, to protect themselves from the painfulness of past experiences & a world perceived as a frightening & unsafe place.

click here to read more

What Color is Your Day?

The Moffles love connecting colours with emotions & body feelings & here is another beautiful picture book to help you do just that. There is a tender opening question to help us pause & reflect – what colour is your day, my love? – & an expression of unconditional positive regard – whatever you feel is beautiful, because it is you. The rhyming words & drifting, swirling shapes of the watercolour illustrations create a sense that emotions are layered, nuanced & constantly changing. We can watch them come & go, like clouds passing across the sun. This is a book that approaches our inner world in a gentle way, encouraging children to become curious about how they feel.

So many traumatised children have learned to lock their feelings away – in their heads or their hearts. In family therapy, we create stories to help make sense of why this might have happened. Often a child discovers that they found lots of ways to keep themself safe when they had no-one else to do this for them. They learned to feel nothing. We explore how this was very resourceful, when to feel emotions would have been so sad and scary and painful. Then we think about whether it is still helpful to them now. In their own time, we can find ways to practice opening to feelings again, so that their world can become more joyful & colourful.

click here to read more

Can I Sit with You?

A stray dog chooses a little girl to befriend. However she is feeling & whatever she needs, he offers to sit with her & keep her company. He lets her know that wherever she goes, he is willing to walk with her, too.  They enjoy simple pleasures together, like throwing & fetching sticks. Slowly & gently, their friendship grows. When the girl wants to play with other friends, or go out & explore alone, he understands this need. He waits for her, delights in her return, & is ready to sit with her once more. This is a story of companionship, loyalty & learning to love & be loved. A cute, canine tale.

For children moving into new families, pets have potential benefits & challenges. Pets may make the transition easier. They can be a nice source of ‘contact comfort’ – stroking & holding pets & having that skin-to-fur sensation, can lessen the intensity of difficult feelings. Sometimes, children are reassured, when they see their new parents or carers being kind to pets & looking after them well. This is a ‘sign of safety’ for them, useful especially for children who are hypervigilant for danger. But some traumatised children are frightened of pets or may associate pets with previous abuse; or present a risk of cruelty themselves towards the pets.

click here to read more