behavior

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Can picture books fix my kid’s behavior problems?

Q: Is there a Berenstain Bears book about not biting people? My daughter has been biting other kids at preschool. Her teachers say it’s getting worse! Is there a book I could read to her showing how wrong this is?

A: Yes! Your question is a profound one. Children’s authors, publishers, teachers, parents, therapists, and children themselves have been seeing books as bibliotherapy for generations. As a result, there are a variety of books both silly and profound that could help in this siNo More Biting for Billy Goattuation. How can bibliotherapy help?Among other things, kids realize...

  • It's okay to have feelings

  • It's okay to talk about it

  • Other people have faced similar problems

  • There are different solutions available

  • Kids can solve problems 

So, where to start? The easy answer is to look up your preschooler’s particular issue in our online catalog. (...type in biting – or any other behavioral issue – and limit to children's books.) If nothing comes up, we'd take a look at A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books. It has picture books indexed under 1,215 subjects, including 53 different behaviors, from “animals, dislike of” to “worrying,” although, biting is not there – but we can look through the 35 books about “fighting.” A cool online resourcehas a few more titles. The Berenstain Bears books often have a clear behavioral message, and kids like to hear stories about characters they know and love. Since there isn’t one on biting, you might take a look at this one; The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends

Berenstain Bears & the Trouble with Friends

I am often asked for books to help a child overcome a particular problem – biting, hitting, whining, lying, stealing, teasing or bullying others, fears, sucking her thumb, screaming or throwing tantrums, etc. Practically every kid does something, sometime! So...is misbehavior a universal experience?

When I was a new parent, I read several parenting books that put forward the view that all children's negative behavior is an attempt to communicate. (Like the 3 below.) These authors proposed that when the behavior annoys, angers, scares, or hurts others, it's very likely an indication that the child has some strong or negative feelings. Therefore, the solution – to all irksome behavior – is to teach the child how to effectively communicate negative feelings & whatever caused them.

   

An adult who spends a lot of time with a child teaches this vocabulary simply by saying aloud what they observe and guess about the child's feelings – but some things just don’t come up until a moment when the parent isn't there to interpret.

Books provide extra scenarios to absorb or to discuss feelings – the characters’, your own, and your child’s – so you don't have to wait for something to surprise you. Any book that shows characters having any feelings can start a conversation. The language of feelings is complex and may take a lifetime to fully explore. Here are my favorite books on the general topic of expressing feelings, in order from those for the youngest kids (2 years) to the oldest (about 9+ years):

         

In addition, the popularity of some rather uncomfortable books illustrates how negative feelings are human and common– it really is a comfort when someone else (even a character in a book) struggles through similar feelings. Here are a few that are wonderful to read to a child. They convey that you will love her and take care of her, even when she has so-called bad feelings, and even when she makes mistakes:

     

All these books (and many others on unrelated topics) show characters feeling something and being heard – by the reader if not by the other characters in the story!

You may not need a book about a biter, a hitter, a screamer, a liar, a thief, or a tantrum thrower. Children's books, by providing a wide range of situations and responses, build the child's repertoire of familiar life experiences. Each book, on any topic, can build understanding, empathy, and self-awareness, and allow your child to witness or imagine possible responses.