We all buy self-help books with the best of intentions. But often the very thing that had us reaching for the self-help section in the first place stops us from settling down to read the book. We have too much to do. Our ability to concentrate has disappeared. We’ve lost all hope that the book (or anything else) can change the situation. So could we have more luck if we turn our attention to another part of the bookshop? Here’s my guide to getting the most from a hidden source of self-help wisdom: the children’s book.
Put the joy first
How often have you ploughed your way through a self-help book only to find it didn’t have the answer you were looking for anyway? Reading should be a pleasurable experience. When you take a beautiful children’s book with an entertaining adventure of a story then the chances are that even if you don’t discover the answer to life’s woes you might have had a momentary giggle. This might seem like a small consolation prize but often getting our lives back on track is not about the grand gestures. It is about regularly topping up our emotional batteries with pockets of pleasure.
Keep it short
Children’s books are brilliant at getting to the point without waffle, making them the perfect choice for when you are low in mood, concentration levels or time. An example of this is the very lovely Huge Bag of Worries, which is written by Virginia Ironside and illustrated by Frank Rodgers. The book explores how to deal with worries and one of the points that it makes is that sometimes we are carrying worries for other people. Perhaps, it suggests, we could hand them back. The simplicity and succinctness of this self-help wisdom makes it easy to remember and the accompanying illustration gives a visual representation you can squirrel into your memory too. In fact, I like to think I do a brilliant impression of the little worry monsters but the written blog form does not allow me to demonstrate. Alas!
Engage your brain
When people have experienced trauma, one of the impacts can be seen in the links between the right and left-hand parts of the brain. I have no evidence for this but my sense is that children’s books help to bridge the two parts of our brains. On the one hand, they make us think about language, logical ideas, present and future. At the same time, they engage our feelings and creative selves. As such, my hypothesis is that perhaps they help us take on board self-help strategies much more effectively than books that only seek to engage our language and logic-orientated brains. When I experienced a bereavement, for example, the books on loss that brought me the most comfort were the books written for children and young people: in particular the wonderful Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine.
Say hello to your inner child
The difficulties that lead us to pick up a self-help book might belong to the adult world but often the insecurities that are keeping us stuck belong to a much littler version of ourselves. Children’s books offer reassurance to those hidden parts of ourselves in a way that makes sense to them. For example, if you’ve read every self-help book on the market about getting a good night’s sleep and everything has failed then it might be time to think whether your inner child is getting in the way. Do they need reassurance that it’s okay to go sleep? Are they playing a power game at a time of the day that requires firm boundaries? Are they feeling unsafe or worried? Give some thought to what might be going on for your inner child and see if there’s a book on sleep that addresses their concern.
Routines offer children a sense of safety. After a day of adulting, you deserve some cosy unwind time to help you relax into sleep and children’s books make the perfect quick read at the end of the day. In her audible book, Bedtime Stories, Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés argues that we all “go to sleep as children and awaken as children”. Adulthood, she suggests, is “only a disguise that we wear during the daytime”. If you think this theory has merit then look for books with a strong sense of story-telling to introduce into your bedtime routine. Stories are the royal road to sleep according to Estés: “we listen with the hearing of a child to stories and we imagine images with the spirit of a child”.
One of the things that can get squeezed out of our adult lives is freedom to be creative, imaginative and to inhabit a world of innocent fantasy. Children’s books offer us a ticket into magical worlds away from the tedium of our everyday lives. From the protest of unhappy crayons to adventuring around the world with kangaroos, there is likely to be something that captures your imagination. Choose well and your journey into Bookland can entertain and educate.
If you’ve been convinced to try some self-help children’s style then I have recently added a section to the library where I will be reviewing books for the inner child. You can check out my latest BookTube video too, where I chat about the self-help lessons that can be found in three of my favourite children’s books.
What children’s books have taught you something about self-care? Let me know below.