Inside: The right book can turn a child’s behavior around. Having a library of positive behavior books at the ready is a powerful and positive tool for parents.
Books are one of my all-time favorite parenting hacks. I have been accused of giving too much power to books, but I disagree — they really can make such a difference if used in the right way.
In short, books allow you to come back to a situation later when everyone is calm, they help make things that are abstract to kids more concrete, and it gives kids a chance to empathize with the characters.
That’s just a few of the benefits.
Teach Your Child Positive Behavior and Prosocial Skills With Books
The best way to teach children prosocial behavior, positive social skills (yelling ‘don’t hit your sister’ from the kitchen only goes so far) is to make behavior and social situations concrete — show them a real-world example at a time when they are calm and talk through or playact through solutions.
A great book can make an emotion or situation that is abstract to your child, concrete, real, and solvable. There are so many great book series out there that present common behaviors we see in kids in ways that are relatable and solvable.
Books also show kids that this isn’t just an arbitrary rule of yours, but it is how society expects you to behave. And that there are other kids out there who feel like they do and who also struggle to control their emotions.
Having a library of positive behavior books at the ready is a powerful and positive tool.
How to Use Picture Books to Change Your Child’s Behavior in Three Steps
Find a book that speaks directly to your child’s situation if they are young. For older kids, sometimes less obvious books or funny books work better. It depends on your child’s personality. I’ve listed links below to my favorite series and what ages they are appropriate for.
Read the book at a time your child is calm and receptive. Ask some open-ended questions, like (and adjust the complexity of the questions for older kids):
Have you ever felt like that?
Have you ever done that before?
What did this child do instead?
Could you do that instead too?
Read the book several times and answer your child’s questions. They may start to open up and tell you more. Maybe they had their feelings hurt somehow and that led to the situation. Reassure them while reinforcing the alternative ways to deal with their hurt feelings.
A good second step for younger kids is to act out the scene or situation. Get two dolls or stuffed animals and play pretend:
Let’s pretend Turtle grabs a toy away from Tiger.
How do you think Tiger feels?
Is he so mad he wants to hit Turtle? What can he do instead? (Here you can add in prompts as needed, referring back to the book as well.)
Tiger told Turtle he didn’t like that. Turtle will give the toy back to Tiger and ask to have a turn with the toy when Turtle is done.
It’s okay if the play-acting gets silly and doesn’t always resolve the “right way.” It may be your child’s way of releasing stress related to the situation. Try to bring it back to the “correct” solution and reinforce it:
“I can see you are being silly now, but I also see that you have learned! You know what to do if someone takes the toy you are playing with. You can remember the book we read.”
For older children, role-playing can still be helpful. The books I recommend for 8 to 13-year-olds have resources in the back for games and exercises you can do together to practice these skills.
Reinforce the positive behaviors your child has learned from the books.
Hey, you used your words! You remembered that is what they did in the book. That works well doens’t it? I bet you can remember to use your words next time you are mad too!
Or for an older child:
I see you did some breathing to help control your temper. Did that help? Feelings come and go, but we are in control of how we act. That is what we read and that is what you did!
Here are the links to my favorite positive behavior book series for kids listed by age groups.