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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Shelter for Sadness

A little boy builds a shelter, in which he can look after his Sadness, with all the care, empathy & acceptance that he knows it deserves. Sadness is a soft & scruffy little character, who shifts in shape & size & seems to know what it needs, if the boy looks & listens well. Sadness holds its own beating heart, which is visible, not hidden away & we see the boy treat it gently & without fear. This is a story that honours sadness & invites us to explore our relationship to it.

The beautiful illustrations show us how sadness can alter & elicit different moods, like the different seasons of the year. Whatever the season & however big or small, loud, or quiet sadness becomes, we are shown that it has a right to be there. We see that the boy can shine a light on Sadness or hide it away; visit it as often or as infrequently as feels right, & we are reminded that there will be good reasons for doing both.

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The Worrysaurus

To be fair to this little Worrysaurus, he has a point when it comes to British summertime weather & planning picnics! Putting that to one side, this is a sunshine picture book whose soothing rhymes gently explore anxiety & share coping strategies that warm the heart.

Many children with developmental trauma worry terribly about all sorts of things & struggle, as the Worrysaurus does, with uncertainty. Their parents & carers are well versed in ensuring structure, routine & predictability, to help their child to cope. All children worry, but a traumatised child’s anxiety can be especially big & overwhelming. When you have had bad, sad & scary things happen in the past & from an early age, it shapes the brain & central nervous system & processing of experiences. It sensitises to danger & preoccupies with keeping safe – even when there isn’t any danger there at all. It manifests itself in phobias & obsessive-compulsive behaviours. How important then to help a child recognise what is happening in their body – the physical manifestations of anxiety. To help them stay grounded in the present & not be pulled into the ‘trauma timehole’, responding as thought they are back in those frightening experiences again.

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My Heart

This picture book is a gentle journey with a little girl through different emotional states, honouring them all & highlighting how they come & go, just as day follows night. It is a poem on the heart, providing a multitude of metaphors to help explore our inner worlds. We navigate a path through light & shade, experiencing how it can feel when our hearts are open or closed, broken, or mending & growing. Here is an invitation to listen inward with kindness & to look outwards, with optimism & a sense of belonging.  

We learn that some days, the little girl’s heart is a fence between her & the world & she looks so small & alone. This image reminds me of many of the children that I have worked with in therapy, where the impact of trauma has confused their inner voice & shaken their belief in themselves & the caring adults around them. These are the children who, because they are hurting so much, have lost their capacity to experience comfort, curiosity & joy, as they are in defensive states so much of the time. They are terrified of listening to their minds or hearts, or of being open to the influence of relationships, as this would make them vulnerable to the pain of hurt & rejection again.

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