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Parenting expert, Jane Evans, has written a storybook to help children make sense of the feelings they have after witnessing domestic violence.
In the UK, at least 750,000 children a year are known to witness domestic violence, many of them are very young and see and hear things no child should.
But it can be next to impossible to help a traumatized child recover if they cannot understand or speak about what they have witnessed.
This book for children aged two to six-years-old, which is called ‘How are you feeling today Baby Bear?’, aims to help them do just that.
In the story, Baby Bear lives in a home with the Big Bears, and loves to chase butterflies and make mud pies - they make Baby Bear's tummy fill with sunshine.
Then, one night, Baby Bear hears a big storm downstairs in the house and in the morning, Baby Bear's tummy starts to feel grey and rainy. The book explores how Baby Bear copes with hearing all the arguing and fighting that goes on between the two Big Bears.
Ms Evans has worked with families and children affected by domestic violence for many years, for a range of organisations, including the NSPCC, children’s services, Survive, Barnardo’s and as a respite foster carer for Wiltshire council
She says: “For a long time, I have had a burning desire to write a book for children, which would be of real use to them. In my work with children I have used story books to give them chances to explore, in a gentle way, how they might feel about complex issues they have no words for.
“When I worked as a parenting worker with families affected by domestic abuse and violence, their parents and carers kept asking me for a suitable book to share with their youngest children who had seen and heard arguing, fighting and other abuse.”
Her work has regularly brought her into the lives of families living through the most difficult of times.
For many this has been domestic abuse and violence, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, poverty and child abuse. She says: “It has always been a privilege to sit alongside them and to learn from them.
“Sadly, I have repeatedly been struck by how much the children I have worked with have struggled to find the words to describe their feelings. For most of them it has been like learning another language and has been a slow process of trying to make up for a vital missing part of their developmental journey.
“Never was this more evident than when I was working alongside families’ post domestic violence and abuse, especially those with very young children. ‘Is there a book I can read with them?’, parents and carers would ask me; I struggled to find the right one which would give a child opportunities to learn about the words for their feelings without being scared, or without being ‘told’ how they might feel.”
She adds: “My hope is that How are you feeling today Baby Bear? will help families and young children post domestic violence and abuse to put feelings into words, rather than feeling their only option is to express these difficult emotions via their behaviour. Happier, healthier children with a closer connection to caring adults will offer them the onward journey they so deserve.”
Detective Inspector Linda Borland, at the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow, believes the book will be invaluable. She says: “Sadly, many children today live in homes where violence, anger and aggression are commonplace. […] Finding the words to express their feelings is often difficult, just as it is for adults who recognise the signs but do not know how to intervene without distressing the child further. Jane Evans' book bridges this gap, helping the child to understand their feelings and convey this to others while at the same time providing the tools for adults to manage this process in a safe, loving and kind manner.”
Laura Henry, managing director of Childcare Consultancy, recommends that early years settings and schools have the book available for children to look at and explore. She says: “Being able to identify, discuss and label their feelings is an important part of children's personal, social and emotional development, and using this book will make children feel that adults understand and acknowledge their home life circumstances, in a sensitive way.”
While Tina Royles, psychotherapist and domestic violence expert says: “Children who have experienced domestic violence and trauma often find it difficult to express their feelings and talk about what has happened, which leaves them confused and upset. This book will help such children open up and feel less vulnerable, and I have no doubt that this will be an excellent resource for working with them.”
The story book comes with notes for adults on how to use each page of the story to begin conversations with young children. It also features games and activities to help to understand and express difficult emotions and will be a useful book for social workers, counsellors, domestic violence workers and all adults caring for and working with children.
Ms Evans is speaking at the 'This is My Childhood' conference in Bristol on 4 April where the keynote speaker is Dame Tessa Jowell.
You can find out more about Jane Evans' work as a parenting expert, trainer and writer on her website www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk