Top 4 Mistakes Parents Make with Bibliotherapy

Here at The Bibliotherapy Project, we’re parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians reading select picture books to children to prepare them for life’s inevitable tough times, and to support them when a specific challenge arises.

***As with all information at The Bibliotherapy Project, we are specifically talking about developmental bibliotherapy, NOT clinical bibliotherapy. (Read to learn the distinction.)***

Bibliotherapy is an excellent tool for this, partly because it doesn’t take a lot of special training. All it really takes is a library card, attentiveness to the child, and bit of good judgement.

That said, there are ways that bibliotherapy can horribly backfire and end up hurting a child more than helping.

Avoid these top 4 mistakes when doing bibliotherapy with your kids (or your students or library patrons!)

At-home developmental bibliotherapy is an excellent tool…all it really takes is a library card, attentiveness to the child, and bit of good judgement.

Today I’ll share:

  • The top 4 mistakes parents (and teachers, grandparents, librarians, etc.) make when doing bibliotherapy with their kids
  • Why those pitfalls are possible
  • Easy methods to prevent those mistakes

Top Mistakes:

Without further ado, here are the top 4 mistakes to avoid when doing bibliotherapy with your kids:

1. Overkill

This first method is probably the most tempting. A child’s grandma dies, and your heart goes out to them. You google the top 25 books about death and grieving, you find lists of best books about bereavement, and then you BUY THEM ALL and force-read them to your child back-to-back-to-back.

The mistake of overkill generally arises out of a place of true care and empathy. The trick is to not smother the child in stories about the same tough topic in one sitting.

Resist the urge to buy too many hyper-specific books…You don’t want to overwhelm your child!

Instead, pick a few books that relate to your child’s challenge and space out the time when you read them together, maybe even spreading them a week or more apart. Read fun books in between, read stories that will make them laugh out loud, read books that have nothing to do with your child’s struggle.

Then, leave the books in an easy-to-access space: on your home bookshelf, or on the bookshelf in your classroom. Your child or your students can leaf through the books on their own and remember the stories you read together if they’re so inclined. 

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2. Association

The second pitfall is association. Bibliotherapy is an excellent tool, but if all your child ever reads about are tender topics, they may never make the connection that books can be funny and light-hearted too. There is a time for depth, and there also is a time to retreat in books for some much-deserved silliness.

There is a time for depth, and there also is a time to retreat in books for some much-deserved silliness.

Association can play out even worse. Don’t read your child a story about divorce or death and then immediately announce that there is a divorce or death in their life. Doing this, especially more than once, can risk your child associating “bad things” in books with real life. They could worry more than necessary that what happens in stories will happen to them.

The antidote to this is simple: don’t make that association.

Hopefully you have been using bibliotherapy proactively and therefore your child is familiar with tough situations even if they haven’t experienced them directly. In that scenario, when difficulty strikes, they have a story in mind as a reference point to help them ask questions and begin to understand.

If you’re just getting on the bibliotherapy bandwagon now, books can help your child process rough stuff after it strikes. That’s what the Bibliotherapy Project is here to help you provide.

3. Ditching Therapy

The third mistake is NOT taking your kid to therapy. Please, DO NOT try to DIY professional therapy with bibliotherapy.

Not all children need professional counseling. But some do.

The books and resources here are a proactive tool for children who don’t need professional counseling, and are a supplement for those who do.

Bibliotherapy is NO SUBSTITUTE for professional counseling. Do not deprive of child of the professional help he or she needs.

If you love bibliotherapy and want to use its resources to your child’s advantage, which is exactly what it’s here for, then do—Please do! But don’t NOT take a child to therapy if they need it because you think these books will suffice on their own.

When you get home from therapy, sit with your child, read and talk, and listen.

4. Magic Cure

This final mistake is about you.

The “magic cure” pitfall is the belief that using bibliotherapy with “cure” a child or take away their difficulty. That just isn’t true.

Books won’t “solve” their problems and won’t make them stop being sad.

Instead, stories can show your child that they aren’t alone. Even though they’re facing a tough circumstance, your child can learn that their circumstances don’t define them and don’t have the final word.

They can learn that sometimes difficulty can be overcome, and even when it can’t, joy and meaning do exist and can be found, even in the darkest of times.

Joy and meaning do exist and can be found, even in the darkest of times.

And that is what matters most.

If you’d like to find out more about bibliotherapy, keep reading. There’s more to come!

What pitfalls have I missed? Have you encountered any bibliotherapy mistakes? Please leave a comment below!

I look forward to chatting with you in the comments.

Sincerely, Theresa Kiser

About Theresa Kiser

I’m Theresa Kiser, a mother and award-winning children’s book author passionate about connecting children with the books that will help them through life’s inevitable tough times. On a rare moment when I’m not writing or changing diapers, I might indulge in fruity teas, dark chocolate, and a good book.

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2 thoughts on “Top 4 Mistakes Parents Make with Bibliotherapy

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