Using Bibliotherapy with Children
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Bibliotherapy can assist children in overcoming problems by having them
read stories about characters who have successfully resolved a dilemma
similar to their own. Identification with a literary model can foster thought
and possible resolution to a problem such as dealing with a separation,
illness, death, poverty, disability, alienation, disaster, war, etc. The
underlying premise of bibliotherapy is that interpreting stories is an
ever-changing process to which children bring their own needs and experiences.
Since students often have difficulty identifying and communicating their
feelings, stories can serve to facilitate open discussion and self-understanding.
If children become emotionally involved with literary characters, they
are more able to verbalize, act out, or draw pictures describing their
Use of bibliotherapy is not limited to crisis situations, nor is it a cure for
severe psychological difficulties. It may not meet the needs of some children,
especially those who are not ready to face their specific issue. Other students
may be unable to transfer insights gained from reading into their own life, or
may use literature as a form of escape. Yet, these experiences with literary
characters have been shown to be beneficial to many children.
The goals of bibliotherapy are to help children:
- identify and validate their feelings;
- realize that other children have problems similar to their own;
- stimulate discussion;
- foster thought and self-awareness;
- discover possible coping skills and solutions; and
- decide on a constructive course of action.
How can counselors, librarians and teachers use bibliotherapy?
- Identify the needs of individuals or groups of students.
- Locate literature that deals with emotional and developmental difficulties
or unfortunate situations your student or students may be experiencing.
Read the material prior to using it or recommending it. If you choose
to read aloud
or to refer a child to a particular story or book, be sure it is appropriate
for the child's age, gender, maturity and background. The characters and
plot should be realistic and include honest problem-solving. If literature
available on a particular subject, consider books on tape or videos to
assist children in learning ways to cope with their problems. Seek administrator
if you plan to use bibliotherapy on topics that may be controversial in
- Chose a method to involve a child or children with the literature.
Read a story aloud to one child or to small or large groups of children.
may read assigned stories or books on their own. Those children with similar
concerns could meet in small groups.
- Design follow-up activities such as asking open-ended questions,
retelling the story, acting out roles, using puppets, writing reactions,
thoughts, and/or using various art materials to help children discover
- other children have similar feelings when confronted with comparable circumstances;
- they are not the only ones who experience dilemmas; all children encounter some difficulties in
- everyone has strengths and weaknesses and through self-appraisal
children can learn to persevere;
- facing a problem is the first step to solving it;
- there are a variety of ways to deal with a dilemma and
that they can decide on a course of action; and
- it takes time to remedy a problem; if they are unsuccessful
at first, they need to think of something
else to try.
- When deemed necessary, involve children's parents in
the process. Offer suggestions for additional reading
selections and/or activities to assist the students in
dealing with their emotions and specific difficulties.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 5/03
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