Katie O’Donoghue is a child and young people’s therapist with a background in Fine Art and Design. She has a Master's degree in Art Psychotherapy and is in the end stages of a Health Psychology PhD. She is the author of The Little Squirrel Who Worried and The Little Otter Who Tried.
In this blog, she looks at how books and stories can be used as resources to support the emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people in school.
Dealing with challenging times
Life today for children can be very hard, filled with its challenges and complexities. Throughout my work as an Art Psychotherapist, I often hear about the struggles being experienced by children. A place that these struggles are often witnessed, or picked up on, is the classroom. Many teachers have shared with me the huge impact the pandemic has had on their students, identifying both an increase in anxiety and distress for their students.
My children’s books, The Little Squirrel Who Worried and more recently, The Little Otter Who Tried, published by Gill Books, aim to attend to the challenges children face, offering stories of support and care. The tales, gently told, weave psychoeducation and coping skills throughout the pages of the animal’s journeys.
The importance of teaching resilience
Teaching resilience in your classroom can help combat the issues children are facing –educating and empowering them to help work through and problem solve the difficulties they encounter.
The good news is there are lots of actions you can take to support the children in your classroom who might be anxious or struggling. Characters like Little Otter and Squirrel can be kind companions used as a resource to assist you. Below are some examples of how you can empower the children in your lives.
Help children focus on their strengths
The tale of Little Otter aids children in understanding that everyone has strengths and that there are many different kinds of strength. You too can help children to focus on what they are good at. Ask them to draw or write down all their strengths, and the things they are proud of. Identifying strengths can help a child achieve a strong sense of self-worth while also boosting self-esteem.
Encourage problem solving
By teaching children problem solving you can help them recognize that they can learn from all experiences, both the good and the bad, and that mistakes or failings can actually be great teachers. Helping a child to break down a challenge into small bite size pieces, one step at a time, can help them approach situations confidently, knowing they can look for solutions or support for the challenges they encounter.
Share coping mechanisms
Helping the class to learn coping mechanisms can give them resources which help them self-regulate and manage worries. Children can learn coping skills, just like the many animals we meet in the stories of Little Otter and Little Squirrel, imparting their knowledge of breathing and relaxation, to distraction techniques, from worry boxes to labelling emotions.
As a teacher you are an incredibly special person in a child’s life, and you have the potential to make a huge difference in encouraging children to learn the skills which will support them on their journey throughout life.
You can find out more about Katie’s books and her practice on her website.
Looking for more books to support wellbeing in your classroom? Why not check out our book lists? From books to help children explore emotions, to empowering reads for girls, to books about mental health for teenagers, there are lots of titles to get you inspired.