Recently Ashman and Budlong had the honor of walking in our town parade to represent their martial arts school. My little ninjas had to show up an hour before the parade started to line up in teams and practice their moves. It was hot. Too hot to be in a belted uniform. Ashman’s student leader was an over-zealous drill sergeant in a twelve-year-old body, bless his heart. During practice Ashman’s tongue wagged with such concentration I thought he was going to bite it off. After the twentieth rehearsal of “front kick combo, bow and wave to the crowd,” Ashman got cold feet. I should not have been surprised. Asking a five-year-old to perform in front of his whole town is kind of a big, over-stimulating deal. I realized that I didn’t do a good job of mentally preparing him for this moment. If I could rewind, I would’ve read Donald Crews’s Parade with him. Or anything about parades. Because that’s what I do. When I don’t know how to talk to my kids about a scary, first-time situation, I let books do the talking for me. I think it works for three reasons:
Books make an abstract topic concrete.
Kids live in the here and now. Asking a child to imagine being in a parade when he’s only seen a parade a few times is expecting a lot. But read him a book on parades, and suddenly you’ve got actual scenarios to compare to your upcoming event.
It’s easier to talk about someone else’s problems.
Doesn’t it feel so much safer to talk about a made-up character who feels scared and anxious on the first day of kindergarten than it does to talk about how sad you are that your best friend is in another class? Seeing a problem from another perspective can also help us think more creatively about solutions.
Boys talk more freely when they’re doing something.
Boys aren’t known for opening up about their feelings…or even their school days. However, I’ve noticed that Budlong’s responses tend to go from mono-syllabic to actual sentences when he’s engaged in a task and the focus is not completely on him. William S. Pollack, author of Real Boys’ Voices, calls this “action talk”—talking and relating to a boy while you are participating in an activity with him. Reading a book is a great shared activity to promote conversation because the focus is on the book, and it has a definite beginning and end.
Here are some of the tricky topics I’ve been able to better navigate by reading books. If you’re looking for titles that deal with these topics, the links will take you to book lists compiled by other wonderful bloggers I read:
Are there other situations you’ve read your way through as a parent? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!
And in case you’re wondering, Ashman did indeed participate in the parade. I convinced him to try it just until he saw his dad (who was waiting a few blocks away), and then he could duck out if he wanted to. But he had so much fun he made it all the way to the end!