Using books as a therapeutic tool, bibliotherapy, can be a powerful experience. As children face new situations and demands, they typically will experience some degree of anxiety, which is normal. In fact, learning to feel distress in certain situations can help prevent children from dangerous situations. But there are also everyday worries, where children need some guidance from parents and caregivers in order to fully process their feelings. Books can help children address routine worries and fears. However, if you suspect that your child is experiencing anxiety that is excessive and uncontrollable, please contact a mental health professional. Now let’s take a look at the two stages of childhood development that children who read middle grade books are going through and the sorts of books that might ease worry during each phase.
Children (ages 6-10). During this period, kids may fear outside dangers, especially, but not limited to, natural disasters, robberies and accidents. Often, these fears stem from what they’ve heard about on the news. Transitions may be difficult, especially during the beginning of school when they must adopt new routines.
If your child is feeling powerless in the wake of a natural disaster, you might want to give them books that empower. Also look up news stories about children who have raised money for hurricane Sandy, for example, or kids who have come up with creative fundraisers for non-profits. You can also look for books that focus on small victories that help the environment. For example, you can read about a character who recycles, or works on a way to save the rain forest. The Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a wonderful book about a 12 year-old confronting hurricane Katrina. To calm going-to-school fears, you can guide them to some funny school stories such as the classic Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar.
Children (Middle School age and up). During this life phase, it’s normal to worry about social status and acceptance, as well as academic and athletic performance. Additionally, older teenagers may worry about their future.
For tweens (and teens), consider looking up the early years of people whom they admire and sharing these stories. You may discover that a rock star, athlete, actor or author was shy, or overcame adversities to get where they are today. Check out Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary about the brave children who marched along Martin Luther King and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Kids on Strike!
Stories are very powerful. You can pick a book that speaks to a given situation and present it to a child so they can understand their world, and feel soothed and calmed.