Tania Louise Smith has kindly shared this insightful piece with Just Write For Kids readers, discussing the challenging and seemingly escalating topic of mental health in children. As an author and social worker in child protection, Tania has written an empowering story incorporating coping strategies to deal with trauma and adversity; ‘Not Too Far From My Back Door‘. Thank you, Tania, for your invaluable work for children’s health.
Resilience is a common buzz word around town and with anxiety, depression and emotional regulation becoming a rising health concern for our children, primary prevention is now more important than ever. Resilience by definition, is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges and trauma. We must walk our children gently through building a toolkit of coping skills, a toolkit of resilience. ‘Not Too Far From My Back Door’ is a jumping off point in this direction.
At the start of the story, you are introduced to a little character who is feeling quite sad and experiencing some big feelings. She follows a path “Not Too Far From My Back Door” and finds herself immersed in nature. “It was beautiful. It was calm. It was just as it should be”. Comforted by her surroundings, the little girl releases her big feelings. The book promotes an accepting attitude of negative feelings and validation of emotions. Children often don’t have the right language to describe what they are feeling, but seeing a character having these same kind of big feelings, and releasing them, normalises and promotes emotional self-regulation which is an important skill for future development and wellbeing. “Those big feelings, now flowing as fast as a flood can flow”.
The little girl then encounters characters of mother nature that surround her in this new-found, comforting place. They each offer her different qualities, personal power and intelligence. One of these being the character of the wind, who whispers to the little girl “let it go my love, let it whirl right out of here. These feelings are not of you, but fiercely felt through you. Let’s blow this blizzard far beyond”. The message of the wind, encourages children to visualise the ‘passing through’ of feelings and emotions. That these emotions come and are strong, but they are not who they are. The desired revelation, is that these big feelings children experience can be blown on through just like a blizzard, that they all have the personal power to “blow the blizzard far beyond”. Each character of Mother Nature she encounters offers comfort to the child and adds coping tools for resilience.
The promotion of self care and its importance in nourishing positive mental health and well-being, was also a theme I wanted emphasised in the story. The different characters of mother nature encourage self care, advocating messages of “rest and recovery”, “excite and enjoy”. Therein, children receive messages of the importance of being able to have fun and feel joy, and also retreating and recovering from times of high anxiety and stress. I wanted children to take away that taking the time to look after oneself is equally important and encouraged in being resilient.
At the end of the story the little girl has to go back home and she feels slightly nervous, but then “I remembered all that I had around me and within me”. She felt comforted once again as she realises the strengths and strategies she has within her now, as delivered by the characters of Mother Nature throughout the story.
I am a senior social worker with experience in both child protection and mental health sectors. I felt inspired to write a book for children that is self-nurturing and self-discovering. The book is essentially a jumping off point for discussions about big feelings, emotions and the building blocks for resilience and empowerment. These are important discussions to be had with any child in promoting positive mental health. These discussions should be frequent and they should be normalised. This book should be a regular read on the shelf book of every child’s home. It was my intent that every time a child reads this book, they uncover and understand more of what is within them. Every child will relate to the messages of mother nature as it pertains to them and their current situation and emotional maturity. Then, the next time they hear the story, other messages may become clearer to them or more relevant. My ambition was that this is an ever evolving read by which their level of inner understanding evolves just as they do.
Tania Louise Smith is a mother of three children who lives in Perth, Western Australia. She is qualified, senior social worker who studied at Curtin University of Western Australia obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work. She has worked in child protection in Australia and in the United Kingdom. Tania home educates her three children and is an active coordinator within the homeschool community. Tania hopes to write more empowering and insightful children’s books. Tania writes from a perspective of being open about feelings, be responsive to our children’s needs and building relationships with children that encourage attachment and trust.
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