Book review ahead. Look for books that facilitate relaxation moments. Stories that reaffirm acceptance, belonging and significance are obvious choices. However, gauge how your child may respond with a book’s title, theme, pace, illustration style and particular wording. If children have had an uncertain or disappointing history with adults, the emotional intensity should be lower key so as to not overstimulate them because the purpose is to practice relaxation. Try these ideas:
Start with topics that are interesting, but not “busy”. Unless the child is already accustomed to managing behavior during reading, aim first to captivate his or her interest.
Check out parts of a book before actually reading. Look at front and back covers. Discuss some of the characters or places in the book.
Sometimes going through the first time, turning pages and slowly creasing them down as you move through the book can be calming.
Be carefree and have fun while reading. Use inflection, pauses, eye contact and even physical sensations. Change voices for different characters, and you coudl even bounce the knee as the story tells of riding a horse. Find the rhythm. Notice the catch phrases. What meaning does the story have?
Incorporate quips or elements from the story in everyday interactions. Of course “I think I can; I think I can” is a phrase that can be spoken when the book is not open at the moment. Rhymes and cadence can help a child learn to activate the pleasantness in experienced in stories into other areas of life. For example, from the Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, a caregiver can use a phrase to help put on shoes in the morning in a less stressful manner: “Left foot, left foot, left foot, right!” might be just the timing to help with patience to get shoes on in the mornings!
Shiny pages. Magazine subscriptions or junk mail can be valuable. Roaming through the pages and identifying objects, how they may be used and what a child would like to imagine with the pictures and words is helpful to releasing cortisol-suppressing feel-good hormones. Perhaps looking a contiguous two-page picture of the mountains, beach or forest is a good imaginary exercise as well. “I wonder” conversations help a child gain a sense of control about stepping into the future and new possibilities. In the calm of spontaneous exploration, a child can begin to trust the process of discovery without fear of the unwelcomed surprise.
Wordless. A new niche in some children’s books is the element of only illustrations. The purpose is to spur imagination for the story. In addition, the plot is slowly released. Children learn what it is and what might be. The ability to focus in the now, but also anticipate what is coming next is a combination of feeling secure about the now so that with the caregiver we can go into something new. With the distinct presence of the adult, a child can learn to manage tensions in a safe, non-threatening exercise.
Writing your own story. Children grow in their awareness of their life story. Stages along the way of their chapter building, adults can using existing props to help a child narrate their current steps. Much like a scrap book or multi-media conglomeration, a child may use the ongoing contributions to be reflective of their development. However, adults can also write their own story and share it with children. It fosters a sense of distance – both near and far. In particular, this relaxation technique helps build enduring skills for not only hot spots, but allows a child and their adult to rest in the security of a shared life story.