Have you ever bought a self-help book for yourself? There are thousands of excellent books around, all dealing with different topics: self esteem, relationships, death, communication, the list goes on. While we may be quick to purchase self-help books for ourselves, many parents overlook the therapeutic value of junior fiction for children. Children learn through play and reading is a favorite play activity of children. As children engage with the books characters, the reader enters a dramatic mind space of problem solving and integration. With the help of the struggles and achievements of the characters, the children also learn the social rules of behavior and different ways of seeking help. The twenty questions that often follow story end are the child’s way of relating the story to the child’s own life and the things they easily understand. If a child reflects upon the story, mentions something from it days later or incorporates story line into their artwork, the story has been successful and the child has entered a process of self-help. All this from a single piece of junior fiction: lovely.
This process is called Bibliotherapy: the use of books to help children solve problems. Many therapists use Bibliotherapy (I LOVE it) although the process is a little different to how you would use it at home. In my therapy room, I use it as a structured interaction technique between the child and myself. I guide the child through each stage of integration and set a well considered therapeutic activity at story end. I measure the success or otherwise of the integration and I adjust my ongoing use of bibliotherapy to suit.
You don’t have to do this though. Bibliotherapy is something that you can do at home, with very little knowledge about how it works at a cognitive, emotional and behavioral level. If you know how to choose books in a store or library, you already know how to seek out a book for a particular social situation or behavior that your child may require some assistance with. You know how to locate bibliotherapeutic resources.
Bibliotherapy serves three purposes to a child,
1. Identification: the child identifies with not only a character, but also a social situation. This identification acts to create a flow of learning different behaviors.
2. Catharsis: Through the identification, the child becomes emotionally connected with the character or social situation and is able to act out or discuss their own emotional responses to the situation in a safe and caring forum.
3. Insight: Through discussion and play, the child realizes the link between the story and real life and how their own issues may be addressed or solved.