Today I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for the very beautiful ‘The Tide’ which captures a child’s perspective on her grandfather’s memory loss. I also have a special piece from Clare about using picture books to promote resilience and positive mental health.
This is a story about a little girl, her grandfather and his memory loss. The family go for a day out at the beach. They build sandcastles, hunt in rock pools and eat ice creams. Although the little girl’s grandfather sometimes does things which are a little unusual, or forgets what he has done, she lives him just as much as she ever has because she understands how annoying it must be to forget how to do things properly.
The tide is a gentle metaphor for the ebbing and flowing of Grandad’s memories and although the terms ‘dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s’ are not specifically mentioned, this touching story would provide the perfect starting point for a conversation about these topics. Ashling’s warm, soothing illustrations brilliantly capture the magic of a day at the seaside.
Now it’s time for Clare to talk about an issue which I’m a real advocate of, how picture books can promote resilience and positive mental health in children –
“Life is tough, but so are you.”
At least, so the saying goes. And as adults, despite the challenges we face in our day to day lives, we learn to be resilient with time, love and support from those close to us.
But does the same go for children? What is the best way to support young people through the ups and downs that life brings? The blows that as adults can sometimes feel impossible to overcome.
Whether you’re facing a house move, a new baby or something more serious, our instincts are always to protect our children. This might include keeping up the perception that everything is and will be ok, even when we can’t guarantee it. Of course, this kind of reassurance is very important. But there is also a place for modelling to children that it is ok talk about and express how they feel, communicating worries and emotions, both good and bad.
We know that with the rising profile of mental health, talking about and naming how we feel is an essential part of positive wellbeing. But overly questioning children can make them clam up. So how can we start a dialogue without being too pushy? How do we strike the balance right?
As a primary school teacher, I have always used stories to deliver and unpick big, important feelings with children. For example, social stories can help children nervous about their first school trip. Helicopter stories, told and brought to life by children in their play and in their own words, are great for getting to know children and building trust. Modelled storytelling with small world characters can reinforce positive experiences and values, such as a bedtime routine or sharing. But it is important not to overlook the value of simply sharing a book together.
My first picture book with Little Tiger Press, The Tide, illustrated by the wonderful Ashling Lindsey, covers themes of family, growing older and dementia. In writing it, I gave a lot of time to thinking about how stories can be used to open up a dialogue to our emotions.
Stories can be an excellent way of broaching difficult subjects with children. It isn’t always easy for us to speak directly about how we feel. Naturally, we can be scared and feel vulnerable and children are, on the whole, no exception. It is also difficult to unpick exactly how or what we are reallyfeeling. But a book can be a gateway into a parallel world, where it might be easier talk about and unravel our emotions because we are in the safety of another character’s story.
Of course, there are no easy fixes for most of life’s problems. But recognising and communicating how we feel, in one way or another, is a healthy first step into managing a problem.The idea being, that if we can name and understand an emotion, we can start to trouble shoot how best to move forward. In the context of a grandparent with dementia, for example, a child might be able to recognise that a character in a story feels sad and frightened when her Grandad forgets. This could potentially help them understand and verbalise that this is how they feel, too.
Importantly, books are also a great way of letting a child know that they are not alone in feeling the way they do. There is nothing more comforting than knowing that someone, at some point in time, has had a similar problem to you. You are not the only one to struggle.
And thankfully, there some fantastic picture books out there, covering all kinds of subjects. Divorce, serious illness, operations and bereavement, for example. There are also books on more everyday situations, such as starting school,potty training and moving house.
The Little Parachutes is an excellent resource if you are looking for something specific. https://www.littleparachutes.com/ They recommend an extensive collection of books, arranged very helpfully by topic. They also provide a short overview to help you decide if the book is the right one for you.
Here are a few tips for sharing stories in this way;
Of course, we would love to protect our children from all the hardships that life offers. The well-known phrase ‘wrapping up in cotton wool,’ can feel very appealing sometimes. But they can be more resilient than we give them credit for. Trees and plants have a flexibility that enables them to wrap around objects and incorporate them into their growth. And we can learn to be resilient in the face of challenges too, with time, love and support from those close to us.
Reading stories isn’t the only type of creativity that can be used to support children through difficult issues. It might be that drama or music or dance or art could also support your child expressing how they feel.
But if you are looking for a non-threatening way of exploring something tricky, a book could be a good place to start. And I know I speak for all involved in the making of The Tide, when I say we are thrilled to think that our story might play a small part in supporting families with a difficult diagnosis, helping them live well with dementia.
Clare is a primary school teacher and children’s author who lives in the South West of England with her husband and two children. She writes picture books and early readers, sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical, but always hopes her books bring a little added something to story time. You can find out more about Clare here on her website www.clarehelenwelsh.com or by following her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh. She is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary.
Excellent advice from Clare on the power of books to start difficult conversations. Thank you.
*Thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending me this title to review*