Even if I Did Something Awful

By Barbara Shook Hazen

This story is a sweet exploration of the unconditional love of a parent, and also teaches that love involves helping a child to make amends when they get things wrong. Another gentle message in the story is that parents get things wrong, too – all parents get cross and shout sometimes, but this does not mean that they do not love their child, or that they are a bad parent.

The little girl thinks of situations in which she might mess up or do things she isn’t supposed to do, from crayoning on the carpet to pulling down the curtains, to pinching the baby. Her mother responds playfully & lets her know that if the situations were even worse than the little girl had imagined, she would continue to love her, no matter what. Even if her daughter had played so rough, she pulled down the Empire State Building, she would love her but also make her pick it up again! Eventually, the girl confesses that she has accidentally broken a precious vase, playing ball in the house. Her mother says she would still love her even if it wasn’t an accident, but she might also get cross & shout before being able to help her clear it up.

The story illustrates the ‘two handed approach’ that we aim for in therapeutic parenting – love and acceptance, alongside clear structure and boundaries. We think about how we can connect with our children through a PACE-ful approach (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy) helping them to feel understood, before we move to correct their behaviour & help them to learn from their mistakes. Both of these hands of parenting are important, but correction is always easier if we have connected first. But this isn’t easy to do all of the time!

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All Kinds of Families!

This imaginative, rhyming story invites us to think about how many different families there are in the world, created in all sorts of different ways. It explores diversity through playfully making families from lots of inanimate objects and has a repeating phrase that gives it a sing-song appeal – bottle caps, gingersnaps, buttons or rings, you can make families from all sorts of things!

Whilst I know there has been some criticism of this book for not explicitly talking about non-traditional or multicultural families, I have found a usefulness in the story’s lack of specificity about what makes a family, which I think gives it a broad appeal and makes it a gentle introduction to exploring family structure. Over half of the pages are creatively dedicated to thinking about families being made up of diverse objects as knives and forks, thimbles and marbles, pebbles and seashells. If I have any reservations, it is that although the illustrations are beautiful, there is a lack of variety in the human families depicted – a missed opportunity for true inclusivity.

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I Love You the Purplest

This story follows a mother and her sons through a day of outdoor adventures. As they dig for worms, row their boat and fish together, Max in his red wellies and Julian in his blue wellies, the boys ask her which of them she thinks is the best? The questions Max and Julian ask might seem light-hearted but both boys are seeking reassurance of their mother’s love. She gives them answers that highlight beautifully their individual qualities & abilities.  At bedtime they ask her who she loves the most and she finds a way to let them know that they are both unique and that she loves them equally.

Sibling rivalry is of course natural and common in all families but for adopted and fostered children, it can take on a whole new level of meaning. Early experiences of abuse, neglect, loss and rejection can lead children to feel terrified about whether they deserve to be loved and whether there is enough love to go round. So, in family therapy, we use lots of playful ways to communicate to children that the love of their parent will never run out and that there is more than enough for them, as well as their brothers or sisters.

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Fred and the Dread Monster

By Bryony Irving

This story is written especially for those adopted children, who worry dreadfully that even though they have a forever family, they might lose them. Freddie Fretter loves his new home, but he starts having nightmares that he is going to be sent away again. Every night Freddie is visited in strange dreams by a big and very smelly Dread Monster, that bars his way into the forever family room, like a nasty nightclub bouncer. At first, Fred tries desperately to cope with this all by himself but over time he learns that his parents really can help him and together they can beat the monster.

So many adopted and fostered children that I have worked with in therapy have terrible worries that good things won’t last. Their experiences of loss, abandonment or multiple moves and changes of carers in the past, have taught them not to trust the adults that say it is going to be different this time. So very sadly, they often have internalised the belief that they are to blame for the bad things that have happened to them and that they don’t deserve to be happy. The more they begin to invest emotionally in the parents that are showing them love and nurture, the more terrifying the thought of losing them again becomes. The foul Dread Monster blocking Fred’s way to connecting with his family is a powerful, visual representation of this fear.

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I Love You, Stinky Face

This story provides a fun and colourful opportunity to explore the unconditional love of a parent, as well as a child’s need to feel cherished and accepted for exactly who they are. At bedtime, the child asks, ‘Would you still love me if?’ and imagines themselves as a host of strange creatures, to test their parent’s commitment to them. The mother answers in caring and humorous ways that reinforce that there are no limits to her love.

Children who have experienced abusive pasts and often multiple moves between different homes, can come to internalise a belief that it has been their fault and that they are bad. They will find lots of creative ways to test out whether new parents are truly going to stick with them, or whether they will be rejected again. Even if the adult is kind and patient, the child’s fear can be that this parent just hasn’t realised how bad they are yet. They self-sabotage even the good times, as they feel they don’t deserve them. The expression, ‘I love you, stinky face’ seems to perfectly captures this fear and anxiety.

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Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas is an endearing story of a bear who wakes up needing a hug. He sets off to find one, but each hug he gets is not quite right – Douglas is big and a bit awkward, so not many creatures are eager to hug him and he finds giving them to be trickier than he thought. Finally, he finds a hug that hits the spot and learns that the best hugs are from those who love you.

One of the things that adoptive parents and foster carers often talk to me about is that their children struggle to have cuddles with them that feel genuine or comfortable. They report their children hug too tightly, or seductively or aggressively. Sometimes they will hug but then complain of being hurt, or that their parent has ‘coffee breath’, and push them away. Some children seek affection only at the times they know their parent is busy and likely to put them off, and some avoid hugs altogether.

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My Many Coloured Days

This beautiful book from Dr Seuss, uses colours and animals as a way to describe emotions. It won’t come as any surprise to you that here at The Moffles we like this very much! The vibrant pictures tell a story of different days being different colours and bringing all sorts of moods and feelings with them. One of the many lovely things about the simple but powerful text is how all the different emotions are treated equally – there are no ‘bad’ emotions, they are just what they are. Another lovely thing is how the story invites children to think about how they feel in their bodies when they have different emotions, or different coloured days. For many children who have experienced trauma, being able to connect with how they are feeling on a body level can be very difficult and even frightening. This is a book that approaches the subject in a gentle and fun way, inviting children to start to become curious about how they feel.

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All Together Now

This sweet book tells the story of a Mummy Rabbit, who brings together a group of disparate, little ones to create a special family. They look very different and have their own ways of doing things, but they all have a special song that they sing together. It is a story that celebrates difference, as well as everything that binds us together.

Part of therapy can be exploring what it means for an adopted or fostered child to have another child living with them in their family. So often parents and carers tell me about the challenges posed by the sibling rivalry and conflict between their children. How their children always seem to be on the lookout for whether they are being treated equally and how huge the meltdowns can be if things don’t seem fair!

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The Boy Who Built A Wall Around Himself

Children who have had been hurt or neglected, by the very people who should have loved and protected them, can come to believe that they are bad, and that the world is a scary place. It can be too frightening for a child to think that a parent or a carer cannot look after them properly, and easier to believe that it is their own fault that their needs are not being met. These children often learn to lock their feelings away inside. They learn very early on that it is better to try to look after themselves and to feel nothing, than to open themselves up to the heartache of being let down again.

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Something Else

Something Else is a book I bought many years ago, that is still one of my favourites and one that I often recommend to families and schools. It is not a ‘therapy’ book, but it is most certainly a helping book. It speaks to the importance of creating belonging and having friends. It is a useful addition to any set of resources for starting conversations about respecting diversity and being kind.

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. Their children are the ‘social butterflies’ in the school playground, or the ones who attract trouble and are at the centre of playground dramas. Or the ones who are ignored or teased and left feeling upset. They speak of their sadness for their child never being invited for play dates or to birthday parties. Their children were hurt when they were little, before they came to them, and often did not have a loving adult in their lives to help them make sense of themselves and the world around them. Now the child is struggling to catch up and just doesn’t know yet how to feel comfortable in their own skin, or how to connect positively with other children.

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