Importance of Bibliotherapy
Bibliotherapy offers a unique tool to help adults begin conversations with children about loss. Bibliotherapy is the use of literature and stories to facilitate conversations with and reveal insight to the reader. Its goal is "to promote [the child's] self-understanding and to calm his fears" as well as to help the child "grow towards emotional health" (Grier, 2006). It is a tool used as an adjunct to therapy used by many professionals working with children and adults. It is often easier to hear a message that is about someone else but to which you can relate.
Bibliotherapy has been used with a variety of childhood and adolescent problems, but is especially recommended for use with bereaved children (Berns, 2004; Carney, 2004; Grier, 2006). Bobby's Books incorporates two different approaches to bibliotherapy: one is very hands on and the other is more conversational. The first approach is the development of lesson plans to accompany several of the books. Each of the lesson plans includes activities designed to bring the books to life for the children and to reinforce the message of the story. Through arts and crafts, music and drama, the children can create a tangible reaction for each story. The second approach is a read-aloud, conversation based format. Upon reading the story, whether to an individual child or in a group, the approach is very conversation focused to allow exploration of theme and character development.
Nationwide, 2 million children under the age of 18 lose a parent each year (US Bureau of Census, 1990), and approximately 1,498,800 children have at least one parent incarcerated (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999). In Ohio, 37,356 children endured their parents' divorce in 2003 (Ohio Department of Health), and in 2004, 1,623 children died in Ohio (Ohio Child Fatality Review, 2004), a number that includes infant deaths, accidental deaths, children who coped with terminal illness, and reflects a vast number of siblings in grief.
Bobby's Books has developed a training designed for parents and professions. This seminar called, "Don't Flush the Goldfish" discusses the importance of identifying the everyday losses in life as opportunities to teach our children to develop positive life coping skills. With the lessons Bobby's Books teaches its adult participants, all of these children may be reached and supported in their grief, whether it is through their local librarian, a nurse at their doctor's office, or their own parents who may have participated in a Bobby's Books training or become aware of the project and its resources.
For parents, this tool can be invaluable. All the conversations you are afraid to have with your children because you either did not know what to say or you are afraid you would say the wrong thing, the books do the talking for you and guide you through the conversation. Your child then reacts to the book so that you know how to address each specific question and the dialogue has begun.
Bobby's Books provides an opportunity for parents and professionals to discuss major issues in the lives of children using a Bibliotherapeutic approach. This project goes the additional step of providing curriculum for each book and training in the use of books. Providing a way for parent and child to be together and heal together is a positive approach to processing grief for the family.
Hilda Glazer, EdD
Playful Therapies Center