By Sarah Anderson, Child Psychotherapist and Founder of Fosterwiki.
You can read the story of AB Bear by itself or read it and use the subtext. This text is designed to be gentle, curious and enquiring and help children explore their emotions.
It is a non-direct way for a child to express emotions, they can speak about how AB might feel in those situations, however by definition these will be their own emotions as they will come from their own ‘frame of reference’ which simply means the set of assumptions and experiences that make them who they are and from which they judge ideas, actions and experiences.
AB bear will help them explore their own frame of reference, although, of course, they won’t know that’s what they are doing!
Read the extra text and wait for the child to respond, do not hurry or repeat the text, silence is often good as the child may be internally processing what they are feeling.
Let the child tell you what they think, don’t prompt or use words they are not using and reflect back to them what they have said so they can hear it back, they may add things or change it or think for a while if they don’t respond that’s ok too.
Let’s look at an example;
“AB waved goodbye to the other toys, as he passed the planes he gave them a ‘thumbs up’ to let them know he was okay. He would miss them a lot. “Perhaps I am going on an adventure,” he said to himself“
The additional text reads;
“AB sounds excited, but at the same time, he sounds sad about having to leave his friends behind. It seems like sometimes we can have more than one feeling at the same time. What do you think?”
Your child may say something like;
“It must make him feel upset leaving his friends, he might be cross, but he might be excited that he’s going on an adventure. I think he will miss them though.”
So the child has identified sadness, anger, excitement and loss.
Your responses can validate the child’s feelings “I think you may be right” or “It sounds like he might be upset, cross and excited all at the same time”
Or this example;
“AB sat very still “A captain? Am I on a ship?” AB wondered, there was a tearing sound as the box was opened and AB found himself staring into the eyes of a lady and two little children “Welcome to your new home. We’ve been waiting for you” said the lady. My name is Squadron Leader Miss Smith. Now let’s see how these fit” pointing to the little green uniform and hat that has been in the box with AB.”
It sounds like AB is just like us; sometimes things change and we move home or school and it can feel a bit scary. Sometimes though change can be exciting as we get to meet new people.
How do you think AB was feeling now?
Here it will give your child an opportunity to explore change, moving on, leaving things behind, loss, fear and meeting new people.
The way your children respond will also give you an insight into their own worries, fears and concerns, and also into how their emotions are shaped by their own frame of reference.
Resist the need to ‘fix’ such as “Oh no I don’t think he thinks that, just imagine what fun and how nice it’s going to be at his new place and all the new friends he’ll make”. As parents or carers, we are all tempted to ‘make it better’ and ‘fix’, it’s because we care, but it’s important we validate our children’s feelings if we continually try to override them the child will keep their feelings inside as they recognise our discomfort in them expressing more difficult emotions and our need to minimise them.
Remember, helping our children to express emotions and talk about the way they feel from an early age we will support their mental health both now and in their futures.