As the snow melts and we emerge from under our white blanket, we are again focusing on a far more threatening storm. The talk of war that threatens our peace is enough to send us all searching for the comfort of a blanket to hide under. As the mother of three boys I have discovered that this might not be such a bad idea -- just make sure you bring along a good book.
After Sept. 11, 2001, I struggled with how to calm my children. At the time, I was taking a children's literature course, so I researched what books would be helpful. I came to the conclusion that what you read is not nearly as important as the simple act of reading together.
The Children's Book Council says that "reading books -- any book -- helps children to feel the safety and love that will enable them to cope with a tragic event and its consequences and that will allow them to heal."
Whether the tragedy is national or personal or the threat of violence is from snipers or war, the feelings of instability and loss of control can produce overwhelming fear and anxiety in children. Adults can provide a stable routine and listen to children's thoughts and feelings. Taking the time to sit down and read with your children is one way of giving the comfort and understanding they need to cope in today's world.
First of all, turn off the TV. This alone can go a long way in reducing a child's fear and anxiety, not to mention your own. Just by cuddling up together, under a blanket or not, you are providing one of the basic ways children receive comfort: through touch.
Setting aside time each day for reading establishes at least one stable routine in a child's day. For many children in our area, the disruption in routine has come from a parent being called to active duty. Structure and routine can help to bring comfort and a sense of safety. If a child can count on one thing being constant in the day, what better thing than spending time reading together with a caring adult?
By allowing a child to pick at least one of the books you read, you allow him to feel that he has control over something in his life. Don't worry if your child picks the same book over and over. Repeating the same book gives children a feeling of predictability in an unpredictable world.
Reading can provide a stimulus for children to open up and talk about their concerns. By setting aside time to read we are also setting the stage for time to talk. Reading helps us slow down and quiet down so children can talk more easily and adults can listen more easily. When I finish reading to my boys, sometimes they talk about the story, but sometimes they say something that seems to come from left field. The more we talk, though, I realize it's not coming from left field, but from deep within their souls.
Reading books such as Kevin Henkes' "Wemberly Worried" or Molly Bang's "When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry" can help children recognize and understand their own problems and feelings. Books that are directly related to war can help children find comfort in facts or real-life experiences. There are many good nonfiction books that provide simple and accurate information, such as "Children of the World War II Home Front" by Sylvia Whitman.
Some kids might want to read humorous books for pure escapism. After Sept. 11 my 10-year-old immersed himself in the Captain Underpants series, telling me it helped to take his mind off things.
For others, reading books that deal with death and loss can be helpful. My oldest son and I read Cynthia Rylant's "The Heavenly Village," about people who watch over their loved ones from Heaven.
Some books celebrate life and hope for the future. "Grandfather's Dream" by Holly Keller tells the story of how a flock of cranes returns to a Vietnamese village many years after the war.
There are books that deal specifically with the struggles of military families. "Casey Over There" by Staton Rabin is a wonderfully illustrated picture book; "Soldier Mom" by Alice Mead is a novel about a girl's mother who is called to duty during the Persian Gulf War.
The books you read will be as varied as the children you read to. There is no age limit for reading aloud together; older kids benefit from this time together as much as younger children. While there are no easy answers and no magic words that can take away our children's fears and anxieties, there is one simple thing that you can do to provide comfort and understanding -- read to a child.