Avril McDonald is writing “little stories about big feelings” to give children the tools to cope with their emotions. She explains how some friendly characters are having a big impact on little minds.
I’d always admired how fitness coach Anthony Robbins was able to help adults change negative patterns of behaviour through very simple exercises and I’d used a lot of these in managing my own anxiety.
When my daughter had her first nightmare I used a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Technique called ‘re-framing’ to calm her. I asked her to tell me the story of her nightmare and then we made up a new story, re-framing it together. She loved the new story so much, she made me tell it to her every night and the nightmare never returned. Following this success, I suspected that a lot of parents probably had no idea about these simple techniques, so I decided to try and share them through characters and stories. This is when Feel Brave was born!
Each book tells a story about a real-life situation that a child may face and offers a simple strategy to cope. The Wolf is Not Invited deals with self-confidence and shows children how to make their own fun when they are left out by friends. All the books emphasize the importance of good friends, build empathy and encourage children to talk about their feelings.
These books help children learn about their brains, setting them up for life. Children are literally ‘wiring up’ between the ages of zero and five, so that’s when emotional wellbeing strategies and support should be a huge priority for parents and Educators. When we know why we are doing things, we can start to work out how to deal with our emotions.
Through the books we have created some adorable characters who provide a child-friendly entrance to complex emotional topics. When a situation comes up, I go to the experts in that area and ask them for a strategy that will help children manage this emotion or issue, I then translate that into a story. The re-framing technique I used when my daughter had a nightmare features in The Wolf and the Shadow Monster. I also write in verse which helps, because rhythm, rhyme and repetition is such a powerful method for children to learn.
Anxiety is the emotion that I see children struggling with the most. People I’ve spoken to have attributed this to the fact that we, as parents, are not allowing our children to build up enough resilience. It’s an easy trap to fall into when we try and solve all of our children’s problems. They are literally our hearts on legs so it’s only human for us to want to protect them, but to build resilience we need to give them as many opportunities to learn how to self-regulate in a nurturing and comforting environment.
As parents, we need to try and step back when our child has a problem and support them with good strategies to use. If we can do this while also being as present and possible and engaging with them as much as we can, we will help them to manage their anxiety. They will feel okay to talk about their feelings and know the difference between a problem that they can solve and one that they might need an adult to help with.
Last year I formally partnered with the Life Education Trust and I am working with the Life Education Educators on ideas to help New Zealand children. The Feel Brave books are now being translated into other languages and I am working with one of the world’s largest broadcasters on an animated Feel Brave series, so watch this space.
Top Tips for Parents
Build an emotionally friendly environment
Children need us to be a parent, not a best friend. Build a loving, supportive environment so children feel okay about telling or showing you when they are deeply affected or upset. We might not have the answers but that’s okay. What’s important is that they feel they can talk to you and that they feel heard. This helps them to know that they have the support they need if it’s something they can’t work through.
Talk about emotions
Get your children talking, because when they talk about their feelings and can identify them, they can process them. Work on building good emotional literacy with children by helping them learn feeling words such as happy, sad, worried, alone, left-out and scared so that they have the tools that they need to identify how they feel.
Build children’s confidence
To build self-confidence children need love, security and clear boundaries. Self-confidence comes from having a sense of belonging. Make a family collage so your child can see all the wonderful things they have around them that make them who they are.
Let’s PORSE is giving away two Feel Brave books.
Enter at www.porse.co.nz/competitions
website and NZ online store: www.feelbrave.com