Friday, July 18, 2014

How Stories Help You Bring Comfort to Your Children During Scary Times.

My Dad was dying. 

I was devastated and I knew my children aged 3 and 5, would be too. 

I realized I needed to tell them what was happening and give them opportunities to ask questions. But I didn't feel I had the language  to explain to them in a way that would be meaningful, honest and age appropriate. 

As a matter of course, when my boys were small, we read together every night and this was a familiar ritual and a comforting time at the end of the day.

I love books and as a parent and educator, I know that appropriate stories are a great vehicle for introducing new ideas to children  and for calming their fears.
So, it seemed obvious to me that whenever my kids had a big change in their lives or were fearful about something, I would find a book to read to them on that topic. 

Cuddling together, we explored difficult situations safely through stories: through characters' challenges, interactions and solutions. 

From there we had all kinds of conversations about their fears, how normal those feelings were and how they could calm themselves.  

They could then tell their own stories. What they were most afraid of and how they might cope. The talking that came from these conversations was soothing, cathartic and empowering. 

As the psychologist Dr Lisa Firestone says in a piece in Psychology Today on helping children handle their emotions:-

The more a child can make sense of his or her story, the more integrated and calm he or she will become. Contrarily, any unresolved trauma can present problems later in life.

When it came to talking with my kids about my father dying, I chose to read them Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. I had read it to myself first, choking on my tears.  It was the perfect springboard for conversation and comfort about the death of someone we all loved. 

Our children have to face many fears and uncertainty during their childhood.

My kids have had to deal with the aftermath of 9/11(having lived in the USA for only 10 days, at the time), their own serious illnesses, their father having a vicious illness and brain surgery, and our family moving continents twice, to name a few challenges! 

Facing them openly in a supportive environment, helps them to feel more in control, build resilience and fosters self-esteem. 

Many children's books have been written to bring children comfort. Often the ideas for these stories have germinated because a parent, teacher or social worker has seen a need to help the children in their care, cope with a very difficult situation. 

There are children's books that deal with fear of the dark, ghosts, moving house, bullies, going to the dentist, vaccinations at the doctor, divorce, loss of a loved one or a pet and other tough situations.

I thought it would be appropriate to share with you an example of a book authored by a friend of mine, who wrote it to comfort her own children and the children in her community. 

Esther, a parent and social worker, lives on a kibbutz in the south of Israel, which has suffered from relentless rocket fire from Gaza for many years. Her children have grown up having to take cover from rocket attacks on a regular basis, when the warning siren of an approaching rocket sounds. They have just 15 seconds from the time the siren sounds, to find shelter.  In Hebrew the warning is called Seva Adom. Color Red. 

Esther wrote the book in Hebrew to help calm the fears of young children. She has generously given me an English translation of the story which I have reproduced below.  

Esther explains here the moving circumstances that led her to write the book in the first place.

"The inspiration to write the story came from my youngest son Tamir.

He was about 8 and at the time I ran a drama group for children his age, on kibbutz. 

We were in a building which had no protection and the Red Alert sounded. 

We were frightened and there wasn't much I could do but have a group hug and get the kids to dash home as quickly as possible. 

While on the path another alarm sounded and automatically Tamir began to run with a girl younger than himself. 

He turned and said to me, 

"Mummy I have to take Sapir home. No one else lives near her and she'll be alone on the path." 

Then he suddenly stopped and said, "But mummy when I come back from her house I'll be alone on the path. Who will take care of me?" 

My heart melted and I knew that I had to come up with something to help him and the other kids understand that there is something that they can do. That it's ok to be scared. That they can express themselves and look together to see what helps them.

The older kids in the Kibbutz now act out the story in front of younger kids and then we invite the younger kids to react to the story and be the colors themselves….

If you would like a copy of the book in Hebrew, please contact Esther at 
Esther Marcus
054 7792827
Kibbutz Alumim

If your children are worrying about what it would be like to hear an alarm for a rocket attack, I hope this story will bring them comfort. It is a beautiful, gentle story that will help children to see that the warning is not something to be afraid of. Instead it is there to help keep them safe. 

Thank you Esther for graciously allowing me to share it on Brainstorm.

You can Listen to it here, or read it below...

COLOR RED   by Esther Marcus

It was that time of year again, when the colors of the rainbow got together for their annual convention. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo-Violet, everyone was there and they were really happy to see one another.

It was really very exciting, soon all the colors would decide who would be chosen "color of the year" – an honor awarded to the most important color.

Indigo-Violet was the first to speak. She stood up and told everyone about the wonderful year she had had. She spoke of the blooms on the jacaranda tree and of the regal lilac carpet they made when they fell to the ground. The parrot's feathers tipped with violet and the indigo butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. Finally she mentioned the beautiful little girls whose mummies and daddies had named them after the beautiful violets on the ground.

All the colors clapped their hands and smiled.

Then Blue got up and enthusiastically recounted all his important duties. He had filled the seas, the lakes, the rivers and the waterfalls with his fresh color. He had decorated the fields with blue pimpernels and given ink to children's pens so they could fill their exercise books in school. A blue sapphire twinkled on his finger and the blue skies looked down from above.

All the colors raised their heads and cried "Blue Blue Blue we love you!"

Next came Green who had the most to report. He spoke of the trees, flowers and green gardens which are so beautiful to look at. He spoke of everyone’s favorite healthy salad vegetables, cucumbers, broccoli and green peppers. He mentioned juicy grapes and even seaweed and frogs.

The other colors sang: “We are green big and small, working for the environment one and all.”

The microphone passed to Yellow. He had had a hard year working in the burning sun spreading heat and light. Yellow had colored banana skins and the petals of the sunflowers and daffodils. Together with Yellow arose Orange, the color of tangerines, the color of the goldfish and sweet sweet carrots.

Yellow and Orange were received affectionately and all the other colors applauded their co-operation.

“When two colors merge
A bounty of shades emerge.” 

Than it was color Red’s turn. But something sad happened and Red didn’t get up to speak. He crept into the corner and even began to cry quietly.

All the other colors surrounded him and asked “What has happened? What is the matter?”

Red blew his nose and stopped crying. “I had a really sad year” he explained, because of me, many children are scared and frightened. Every time they heard “COLOR RED” on the loudspeakers they began running and crying. Even cats and dogs hid under the beds. He said that nobody even wanted to hear the words “Color Red” any more and continued weeping quietly.

Then the other colors understood how Red was feeling.
It was all because of the Kassam Rockets threatening the people in the south of Israel. It’s really sad. No one wants to hear or meet a Kassam rocket. They wreck houses, set fire to fields and even hurt people and children.

“Wait a minute” said Blue, “the children aren’t scared of you. The opposite is true. You warn them of the rockets. You give them a chance to run to a safe place.”

“Yes”, said Orange “You help the children just like the red flag on the beach telling them to take care and not to go into the deep water. You are their friend. You look after them.”

Indigo-Violet carried on: ”Don’t forget the wonderful rich color which you give to tomatoes, strawberries, peppers and roses. You are the symbol of love. Maybe you are even the most important color of all!”

“No! No! No!” Red answered drawing himself upright. He wiped his tears and said “I’m not the most important, we are all important but now I understand the job I have been given and I’m pleased that I can help in my own way.

All the colors lifted Red up high on his chair, they clapped their hands excitedly and proclaimed him “Color of the Year” and broke into a song:

“Color Red, color Red you are great
You warn the children so it won’t be too late!”

“Color Red, Color Red you are the best
Letting the children of the South be at rest!”

Color Red, color Red we love you
Looking after the children in all that you do!”

Afterwards, the colors danced together hugging Red and forming a rainbow over his head just like a birthday crown.
The rainbow was beautiful and everybody realized that they each had an important and special job to do.

And most importantly….Color Red was happy.

Our children are caught up in many situations that adults have created or are caused by nature and are difficult for children to understand. 

Stories are a wonderful way for adults and children to connect, for conversations to begin and for childrens' fears to be validated. 

Through this process children can learn to cope with these challenges and come through many crises, stronger, calmer and having a sense of control.

Have you ever had a situation where you wished you had a book to help explain the circumstances to your children?

When has a story helped your child through a tough situation? 

Do you have a book to recommend that has helped your child through a difficult life crisis? 

Please leave a comment with all your thoughts or a book title so we can build a list of books to bring our children comfort. 

Take care and stay safe


You may also find these posts comforting:-

How to Teach Our Kids to be Kind

How to Talk to Your Kids About Violent Death and Terrorism

P.S. You can email me at 

or contact me via Twitter @bringingcomfort

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  1. Sometimes you need to write the book yourself when what you need hasn't been published. When Jeremy started going on the bus to school we knew that it would be a major change for him and also knew he would need to know the routine really well before he even got on the bus. We created a photo book for him, starting with his wake-up routine, and then got a nice bus driver to let us take a picture of him boarding the bus, then exiting the bus. We read the book every night for weeks leading up to the start of school. When school started Jeremy did really well - and took the book with him to school for weeks! The teachers loved it too!

    1. That's so true Suzette. It sounds as though the book you created for Jeremy was just what he needed.t was personalized, perfectly for him.
      We did something similar for Jacob before he first went to day-camp. He was very anxious about all the new experiences. So we took pictures of the bus, the counselors the room he would be based in and put them together in a book along with pictures of his family. That way he took us to camp with him and became familiar with all the new faces beforehand. It was also great for him to point out to us who he had interacted with during the day. Making a book for your child to help with new experiences is a great idea.
      Thanks for the reminder and for commenting.