Storybooks are powerful and can be a great support to children in unfamiliar and uncertain times. They also give children the opportunity to learn about moral concepts that they might not necessarily be presented with in their normal, day-to-day life.
Offering comfort in uncertain times
When we go through a challenge in life, our worries can be eased if we know or hear of someone who has overcome the same or similar circumstances. Even if we are unsure about how to move forward, or feel lost and in unfamiliar territory, knowing that someone else has been there and come out the other side, often offers us reassurance and shows us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if we can’t see it yet.
Characters in storybooks have the capacity to be that same ‘friend’ for children and can pave the way and offer reassurance at times that feel uncertain. When my daughter started school, it was a huge transition. There were lots of practical changes that she was going to encounter, but I also knew that emotionally it could present challenges too.
Children experience lots of different feelings (positive and negative) through times of change and how we support them to manage these different emotions can not only have an impact on how smoothy these transitions go, but on how well they settle in the future.
Through my business, Early Years Story Box, I’d already been writing storybooks and seen how invested my children had become in the characters. They made reference to them if they encountered similar situations to the storylines and it was like the characters were familiar friends that they trusted.
To my children, these shared circumstances with the characters were just something they had in common. Seeing this made me realise how much they actually absorb from storybooks, and because of this, it made perfect sense to me to start creating books to help prepare children for big life events such as starting or leaving their nursery/ childminder or starting school.
All of my books are inspired by my children and by my own journey as a parent, so with my daughter’s first day at school fast approaching, I set off on a mission to create a book about Little Bear going to school for his first day. I decided that in this story it would not only prepare my little girl for school life but would also normalise different emotions and acknowledge how Little Bear felt along the way.
To my delight, this story not only took away the fear of the unknown, but also normalised all of the different emotions she was experiencing and reassured her that everything was going to be okay. It also gave her an outlet to talk about her own feelings because she could identify with the main character and what he was going through. Her first day went smoothly and at the end of the day we spoke about it all with a few references to her new friend, Little Bear.
Teaching children about values and moral concepts
Stories are also powerful because they can teach children about different moral concepts and values. I will never forget the day that I, like many parents out there, was having a stand-off with my little boy trying to get him to apologise for walloping his sister with a teddy. The more I told him to say ‘sorry’, the more he dug his heels in and screamed ‘no’. It was a nightmare. In that moment I questioned my methods and wondered if there was a better way because after all, ‘sorry’ is just a word with no meaning, until someone also changes their actions.
Was making my little boy say ‘sorry’ actually teaching him to be more empathic and to take responsibility, or was it teaching him that this was just a magic word that fixed everything? Knowing how successful stories had been at supporting my children through challenging circumstances made me wonder if stories specifically written about moral concepts would be as powerful at planting positive seeds and teaching my children different values.
This stand-off with my son, along with many other situations, was the inspiration behind another book called ‘Sorry Sidney’. A story about a little snake who is upset because his friends are still cross with him despite the fact that he says ‘sorry’ all the time. This little character soon realises that he also needs to change his ways for this word to have any meaning to the people around him.
To my amazement this story taught my children this important lesson and I even heard my daughter telling my son that he was being a ‘Sorry Sidney’ the other day, which stopped him in his tracks. It’s incredible how much children absorb and how much of an impact stories can have when they are presented to children at the right time.
At the end of the day, children learn so much from what they experience. As parents, carers, practitioners and teachers, we influence them massively by our own actions and it is important to model in ourselves, everything that we want to see in them. However, there are times when children need more reassurance than our words can give them and when certain values need to be reinforced for the message to be truly heard and absorbed. In these moments, stories are the perfect solution and can be a powerful tool to support and guide children down a positive path. It will always be our responsibility as adults to pave the way for our children. However, stories are wonderful for reinforcing and watering all of the positive seeds that we ourselves work so hard to plant in children every day.
Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.
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