How Children's Books Help Me Mom
Between being a mom to two young boys, volunteering, working, writing, taking care of the household and trying to work out regularly, I have zero brain space to answer the thousands of questions I receive from my kids on a daily basis.
Why is the sky blue? Hmmm something about electrons? What are some other dinosaurs besides T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops? Ummm Munchasaurus? Thank goodness for Google, and most importantly for me, books.
I love Internet search engines for more concrete and science-based questions, but for harder to explain concepts like empathy, inclusion and kindness, I turn to books.
Certain books help me explain these concepts to my children in a way they can understand, while providing important bonding time. And, we all know how important it is to read with our children! They (and us) not only get snuggle time, but by reading to our littles, we encourage and inspire their imaginations. We also introduce them to new concepts while helping them develop listening, language and reading skills.
Have you ever read a book more than once…or twice…or ten times to your child? I think we’ve all been there. After the tenth reading, have you tried to skip some words, and let’s be honest, pages? I’ve tried a few times, and every single time my kids know exactly what I’m skipping. They know the cadence of the story and the actions occurring.
We all have our favorite books. I try to cajole my kids into reading The Gruffalo almost every night, because…basically I’m just obsessed with it. The rhyming, the trickiness of the animals, the ridiculous look of the Gruffalo, the cunning of the mouse – I love it all. My kids don’t quite understand the somewhat scary concept that the mouse is in danger of being eaten pretty much every page, so that’s a plus.
There are also books that I love reading to my kids that give me hope as a busy mother. One of my favorite Bernstain Bears books is Too Much Pressure. Mama Bear basically has a break down trying to keep up with all of Brother and Sister Bear’s activities (I’m pretty sure Jan wrote this one on her own). She ends up crying on her bed and every time I read it all I can think is, “I feel you Mama Bear, I feel you.”
I love this book too because it helps my kids understand and put a name to the feeling of pressure, a concept that isn’t particularly easy to describe to a child. The message that it’s OK for adults to need a break too (and even a good cry) is important. Even Mama Bear, who seemingly always has the answers, feels some pressure now and then!
Speaking of pressure, why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to the point of feeling miserable? And it’s not just us – our kids feel the pressure too when they’re over-scheduled. Too many activities is just one example. There’s pressure surrounding the objects in our lives as well – strollers and diaper bags, the hottest toys and the newest gadgets.
In Too Much Pressure, Papa and Mama Bear decide to limit the number of activities for their cubs. No one loves running around constantly – not even deep in bear country.
Pressure manifests itself in different ways at various stages in our lives, and perhaps one of the most difficult times of transition is entering school. Along with being away from home and learning new ideas, children also have to navigate friendships and “fitting in.” In Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae (illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees) Gerald the Giraffe longs to join in the yearly Jungle Dance. Unfortunately, he’s very awkward and gangly, and he’s laughed off the dance floor before he can even begin. Cue a special cricket who tells him – “Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.” Gerald finds inspiration from the music of the jungle and realizes that he CAN dance – and shows all of the other animals his amazing moves. I love this message – we don’t have to all dance the same way, act the same way, talk the same way, or look the same way – we should dance to our own beat and be proud of our diversity.
Another concept that I sometimes find hard to soothe is fear. We know what it’s like to be afraid, but as we grow older our fears evolve from monsters lurking in our closets to scary variable interest loans. Our childrens’ fears can seem silly and irrational to us, and at the end of a long day it’s easy to become dismissive and lose patience without hearing their fears out.
I hit a point at night when I’m just over the whole bedtime struggle. I’m less: “I hear what you’re saying and I understand that you’re afraid there’s a monster in your room. Let’s go get the monster spray bottle we crafted together after searching Pinterest for hours and tackle this fear together!” I’m more: “Get into bed. There are no monsters.” But, one activity I’m always up for no matter how tired I am is reading.
Thankfully for us tired parents, there are many books that help teach how to overcome fear. One of my favorites is Pete at the Beach from the Pete the Cat series by James Dean. Pete at the Beach is succinct and engaging. Pete is hot at the beach but is afraid of getting into the water. Pete’s brother Bob and his Mom finally encourage him to try getting just his feet wet first. He enjoys the cool water, and eventually swims out to learn how to surf with his brother. Even when Pete falls down, the text reads, “It was scary, but it did not hurt.” I love how simple the story is, and that I can use this lesson when my children are scared to try something new or even just scared in general.
So instead of saying “Stop being scared,” I can say, “Remember Pete at the Beach? He was scared but he tried.” This book helps with generalized fear as well. Pete felt afraid of what might happen when he entered the water. We can ask our children what they are afraid might happen. Hopefully from this question they can better vocalize their fear.
At my baby shower I was given We are in a Book from the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. That was seven years ago, and I still remember the joy I felt reading the story to my baby bump. I’ve collected pretty much all of his books over the years. One that really spoke to me as a way to show my children that I hear their frustrations is Are You Ready to Play Outside?
We’ve all felt frustration when plans are changed or canceled, but we can usually move beyond the disappointment and carry on. Not so much for children, who can become so fixated on the disappointment that they have a hard time recovering (cue tantrum).
In Are You Ready to Play Outside? Elephant and Piggie are excited to enjoy a day outside running, skipping and jumping when their plans are foiled by a downpour. Piggie is distraught until Elephant notices that two worms are managing to have fun in the rain. I won’t spoil the ending because that’s half the fun of these books but suffice it to say that the lesson is: we have the ability to change a not-so-great situation into a good one. Again, it’s a simple lesson, but one that I’m grateful to have in my back pocket when my sleep-deprived brain isn’t synapsing fast enough to explain a better alternative to plans that were changed. “Remember when Piggie was so mad they couldn’t play outside? Let’s think of something else we can do that’s also really fun!”
I swear 90% of my “momming” comes from books. For those of us without enough mind space to tackle these deeper conversations after a full day (or even morning) of adulting, we can choose books that help us explain these concepts to our children. It’s not just reading – it’s bonding, learning and special for everyone involved. I'm thankful for all books, but especially the ones that give me a relevant way to communicate complex concepts to my children. Now excuse me while I prep for tomorrow by looking up animal poop facts. I'm nothing if not prepared.