Bibliotherapy: A Gentler Approach to Understanding


Guest Blogger: Mary Pat Benning form Heartfelt Books

It’s difficult to talk to children about things that bring them stress ~ things like illness or injury, hospitalization, death of a loved one, or significant changes in family structure. Through collective life experiences as a parent, a teacher, and a child life specialist, I have come to believe that relevant books can provide the greatest teaching tools — ones that often lead to better understanding and better processing of the emotions that naturally accompany some of these great life challenges.

Many parents and teachers (and child life specialists too!) love to use books to “bring the message home” to the children they serve. The words and characters and story scenarios naturally bring about new ideas and new perspectives – and in a manner that is often less threatening than a direct conversation might be. This, in a nutshell, explains the power and beauty of bibliotherapy!


Heartfelt Books: Integrative Bibliotherapy for Children and Expressions: Journaling from the Heart are tandem tools/resources that I created to make this bibliotherapy process easy. In developing Heartfelt Books, I researched and put together a collection of wonderful titles, paired these books with thought-provoking journal prompts, and arranged the titles in such a way that finding the right story for a particular scenario is simple to do.

As someone entrusted with the role of a caregiver, you might ask yourself– Is my child/student/patient feeling afraid and separated from loved ones? Is he trying to cope with the anxiety that stems from an upcoming surgery or procedure? Is she feeling isolated from school mates because of an injury or new diagnosis? Is he feeling sad having recently lost a parent or grandparent or sibling? These scenarios (and certainly more) lend themselves to the teaching and healing power of books.

Stories naturally bring people together. They bring joy and comfort. With intention and a little extra effort, they can also prompt understanding, relay new perspectives, and aid in the coping and healing process!

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For additional ideas on bibliotherapy and narrative medicine methods and resources and customized book collections tailored to individual families, schools, or healthcare settings, please visit www.HeartfeltBooks.Us or contact Mary Pat Benning at MaryPat.Benning@HeartfeltBooks.US

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Mary Pat S. Benning, Founder-Heartfelt Books

Mary Pat Benning is a licensed educator and certified child life specialist. She is dedicated to serving the needs of parents, educators, and child life specialists by providing creative and comprehensive bibliotherapy and narrative medicine resources and by encouraging the specific use of children’s literature and journaling in settings where children face trauma and serious health challenges. Heartfelt Books and its bibliotherapy and journaling curriculums were created especially for those looking for a relationship-centered approach to helping children and families as they navigate stress and the healing journey.

One set, Integrative Bibliotherapy for Children AND Expressions-Journaling from the Heart to be given away!

To register for the giveaway:

  1. Visit www.HeartfeltBooks.US (Program Content page) to learn more
  2. Email Mary Pat Benning at MaryPat.Benning@HeartfeltBooks.US to provide contact information and a brief statement as to where and what population you serve.

(Deadline for registration is June 30, 2018. Winner will be contacted directly!)

Drowning in Grief

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It has been an awful week. Both my beloved grandparents died on Saturday just hours apart from each other. The loss has devastated our family and their community.

We were preparing for my grandpa’s passing the last few weeks and I even took a trip to say my final goodbyes in person. I spent a few days with my family helping them get through the anticipatory grief and creating legacy building activities. We made several canvases with his handprints, so that everyone could have a little piece of him in their home. We also made a beautiful clay mold of both my grandparent’s hands side by side. I thought this would be something my grandma could always treasure, now the family is.

Drowning in Grief

As my grandpa’s condition worsened and my grandma suddenly became very ill, I had to say my final goodbyes through FaceTime. It was incredibly difficult to compose my thoughts and actually speak on them, as I knew that by saying it, I was accepting the fact that they would no longer be with us.

It was one the hardest things that I have ever faced, but I did it.

The grief struck instantly and I was drowning in the sea of emotions.

I was alone in my home and wailing uncontrollably. I frantically called my husband and close friends to help me get through this critical time.

They were my life boats.

As the next several days have passed, I found myself still stuck in the ocean waters. The waves roll in unexpectedly and I am flooded with memories and emotions. Sometimes the tide is low and I feel incredibly isolated and numb or I am caught in a rip current bringing me back to the depths of the ocean with feelings of pain, anger and guilt.

I am incredibly grateful for my friends, family and colleagues. They have been throwing me life preservers to help me feel safe in such a critical time.

Thank you all for the phone calls, text messages, cards and emails.

As a person who usually takes the lead to help others through grief, this is the first time I am on both the giving and receiving end. It is a bizarre experience.

I have found strength knowing that my skills are helping my family to cope and also understand one another’s grief experience. We are becoming more united and will face this devastation together as a strong force.

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Worry Eaters: Spotlight and Giveaway

Children and adults have everyday worries, but sometimes the worry can be so large that it takes control of your life. As a child life specialist, my role is to help families cope with life’s challenges through therapeutic interventions. By providing an activity to express emotions and feel validation, families will be able to cope in a healthier way.

I’m thrilled to feature the Worry Eaters today and share how they can help kids at home, school or in the hospital.

Worry Eaters

How Does It Work:

It’s as simple as write or draw your worries, feed them to your Worry Eater, zip up the mouth and let your Worry Eater carry your burdens for a bit.  Because we all have worries and they are a normal part of life, the Worry Eaters are valuable to all ages.  For adults it allows them to get their trouble “off their shoulders” for a time, and for kids, it is a safe way to express what is worrying them and provides their parents a tool to open conversation about their worries and how to deal with them.

Worry Eater in Action:

Gavin, my 6-year-old had the opportunity to share his worries with Flamm, the Worry Eater. He starts first grade this week and has been quite vocal about the new transition, “I hate school” or “I’m not going” are just a few things he has said. The typical response is to rescue his fears with statements of, “You are going to have so much fun” or “Don’t worry, you will meet new friends in this class”. But that isn’t helping him feel validated or offering a way for him to take control of these feelings.

So, I introduced Flamm to him and explained that he could draw or write any worry or fear that he may have and let Flamm deal with it. He openly said that he was worried about “having too much homework”. Flamm helped him draw the picture of two kids sitting at a table doing their homework. Then on his own he crumbled it up and shoved it in Flamm’s mouth.

The activity was a great way for him to feel safe expressing his feelings and offering insight for me to strategize a better homework routine when school begins.

Worry Eaters

About the Creator:

Producer, inventor, animator, and director, Gerhard Hahn has spent the last 35 years creating and producing feature films and television series in Germany with his company, Hahn Film. In 2008 Gerd Hahn had a terrible night. A client hadn’t paid a major contract, putting his family, film company and all its employees’ futures in jeopardy. At 4 a.m. Gerhard had an ah-hah! moment. Whether big or small, we all have problems and worries from time to time, young and old alike.

The next morning Gerhard called his designers and laid out his plans for a cuddly plush character where worries could be safely articulated and tucked away. The plush had to have a tough-looking exterior so that children would be assured that their worries couldn’t escape, yet it had to be charming enough to snuggle with at bedtime. The new creation also needed a mechanism for “consuming” the worries of its owner. The now infamous sideways zipper “mouth” accomplished all of these goals and gave this new product line a unique angle. The Sorgenfresser (German for Worry Eater) was born!

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Where to Purchase Worry Eaters:

The Haywire Group became the exclusive North American distributor for Worry Eaters this year and they became available to U.S. and Canadian consumers in June 2015. The Worry Eaters can be purchased in neighborhood toy stores or online. The Worry Eaters come in two sizes, large for $22.99 and small for $15.99.

Therapists, counselors and child life specialists get a 20% discount on an online order.  Just email with your name, professional practice, address and email and we will send back the code.

Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Google+

Worry Eaters Giveaway

Get a chance to win your own Worry Eater!

Choose one or more ways to enter:

1. Sign up for email notifications at and leave a comment below.

2. Facebook: Follow Child Life Mommy, leave a comment and tag a friend on the post.

3. Facebook: Follow Haywire Group and leave a comment about the #ChildLifeGiveaway

4. Twitter: Follow, Like and RT the post to @ChildLifeMommy and @HaywireGroup

5. Instagram: Follow @ChildLifeMommy, Like and Tag a friend in the post.

Good Luck! Winner will be chosen 9/2/15

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