Story power

Teach your child emotional intelligence through great books

In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon" To this day my oldest son?now a strapping 17-year-old?gets Goodnight Moony-eyed when he hears me read these lines, though nowadays I'm reading to his youngest brothers. Just goes to show how the stories we read our children night after night stay nestled in their hearts forever.

And, I must admit, they nestle in mine. Thirty years of turning pages with my children hasn't diminished at all the wonder of children's stories. I still perk up at the rhythms and well-chosen words of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I'm still captivated by the whimsical images of Runaway Bunny. But there's much more in those pages than meets the ear and eye. The longer I read with my kids?from books like The Rainbow Fish and Where the Wild Things Are, The Tales of Narnia and David Copperfield?the more I appreciate the deep impact stories have on the lives of children.

The Emotional Factor

There's nothing like snuggling up with your child and digging into a wonderful story. Not only does reading to and with your child help her develop a love of books, it helps her develop emotional intelligence as well. Emotional intelligence is what we use to discern what we feel?anger, joy, frustration, contentment?why we feel it, and what we can do about it. Emotional intelligence is a vital skill to teach our children, and they need our help to find appropriate ways to express their feelings. Stories can be one of the most effective tools for doing that.

Well-chosen stories give meaning and structure to the way a child sees the world. They reinforce biblical values such as kindness and compassion. Most of all, they offer a safe, secure context for sorting out feelings.

Unlike adults, who can reason through emotional conflicts?feeling something we'd rather not?children lack the language, tools, and experience to do so. For example, a child with a new brother or sister may experience a host of new emotions. Though sibling rivalry and anger toward parents are normal, the child doesn't know that. When these feelings well up, they're ugly and frightening. The child thinks, Mommy says I'm good when I'm nice to the baby. But when he cries I want to make him stop. I must be very bad. The right story can help the child begin to understand those confusing feelings.

Some of my favorite stories are the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban. These stories feature a young badger named Frances whose experiences are common to all children. A Baby Sister for Frances deals with sibling rivalry. In A Birthday for Frances, the ebb and flow of generosity and jealousy that come when it's someone else's birthday are handled with charm and humor. In Bedtime for Frances, Frances tackles her fears of going to bed. Because the unfamiliar feelings are projected onto a creature that doesn't look like the child on the outside, but seems a lot like her on the inside, the books let the reader step outside of herself and see her feelings more objectively. That Frances is transparent, that she warbles funny tunes about her quandaries, and that her parents love her no matter what?these make the stories even more appealing and fill the child with hope that she, too, can begin to deal with her feelings.

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May 25

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