Tackling Tough Times? Grab a Book

Getting Real | May 20, 2020

Tackling Tough Times? Grab a Book 

By Claire Swinarski, author of What Happens Next

When kids are going through a difficult time, it can feel impossible to help them. As a parent, I know I’ve felt the urge to put my children in a little hamster ball of protection—and so have you, probably! But our kids are going to face real-world challenges. Instead of trying to protect them from the inevitable, we should be exposing them to stories early and often. Books are one of the best tools we have to approach life’s most difficult circumstances—and here’s why. 


Books help kids develop empathy.

When kids encounter stories about people whose lives are different than theirs, it allows them to practice putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Maybe they aren’t getting picked on, like Mason from The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, but perhaps there’s a child at their school who doesn’t have a lot of friends or seems a little different. It’s one thing for a child’s mom to casually point that out to them; it’s another for a child to spend hours walking alongside a fictional character and accessing a rich inner narrative that helps them understand other kids. Stories help kids start to see things from a variety of perspectives.


Books allow kids to process feelings in a safe space.

If kids are feeling upset about something like a divorce or big move, books give them language to talk about it in a way that makes sense. A story is a confined space with a beginning, middle, and end that can help provide a roadmap for handling an upsetting situation. Take American As Paneer Pie, a story about a young girl feeling caught between two cultures. Reading a story about such a complex topic may seem intimidating, but talking about culture, race, and intersectionality is an important thing to do with our kids. Kids who feel torn between two worlds—even if it’s just one at home and one at school—will be able to see themselves in main character Lekha and be supplied with language to express their feelings and emotions.


Books provide opportunities for conversation.

Asking your child which character in their book is the most courageous, made the worst decisions, or had the happiest ending is a way to talk about meaningful things with a solid, comfortable starting-off point. For instance, in What Happens Next, Abby’s big sister is struggling with an eating disorder. The book could help an adult speak with a kid about a struggle their own sibling is going through. It could also help parents talk about a word that’s tossed around a lot—anorexia—but not very well understood. Stories can be tools to learn about a common disorder or disease in a nuanced, age-appropriate way.


Books make kids feel less alone.

If your child is struggling with feeling like they’re the only person who has ever lost a friend, struggled in school, or experienced trauma, books can help remind them that other kids have faced things before them. Everyone in the world—grown-ups and kids alike—wants to feel seen and understood. Great books can do just that. When I read Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy, I instantly remembered the sadness of being ditched by a close friend. Even as a fully-grown woman, I felt seen when turning the pages of that book, and that’s a feeling everyone strives to experience—kids included.


So next time you want to help your child through a tough time, remember that there are thousands of stories at your fingertips, just waiting to be of use!

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