Let's call this a
Children's Behavior Book

Write a book - improve a behavior

Use this page to write a children's behavior book, a homemade form of something the experts call bibliotherapy.

Write your own bibliotherapy book to treat YOUR child's problem behavior!

The goal is to produce a pictureless picture book (or a story you can share orally) that will tell the tale of another child experiencing a problem behavior nearly identical to your child's own.

This fictional child will experience some negative consequences resulting from the problem behavior.

The fictional child will, as a result, find the strength within to correct the behavior on his or her own.

Our hope is that your child will identify with the character and find some of that same strength within.

Classic bibliotherapy. Will your children's behavior book work?

I make no guarantees. I can say I've had excellent results writing children's behavior books for my own child. (Read some of them.) I'm no psychologist. Admittedly, I am a professional writer.

So I may have an advantage over you in the writing department. But if you're a bright, literate parent, I don't think this project should be at all beyond you.

The reason I believe you can do this

You may not be as experienced a writer as I am, nor as experienced as the writer of some children's book you have at home, but you have a HUGE advantage over both of us.

That HUGE advantage is the reason I believe I can teach you to write a children's behavior book that could address your child's problem behavior better than I, that other writer, or some highly paid child therapist could.

Do you know what that huge advantage is?

You know your kid WAY better than anyone else does!

That's right! You know your child's loves, hates, interests and fears. You know what your child excels at AND what your child struggles with. That's why you have the potential to create targeted bibliotherapy better than anyone else could.

(Of course, if this is a serious behavioral issue, not just a "problem" behavior, you should be consulting an expert. Let's save the children's behavior book project for something a little less consequential.)

This is the simplified version of the project

It's still going to take a while! But if you want to truly go in depth - and you have the time - visit this page.

If you're not ready to do the work right now, bookmark this page and visit us another time.

Before we get too far into this...

As I mentioned, the children's behavior book you're about to write will be a picture book - actually, a pictureless picture book.

The intent is for your child to illustrate each page.

Bibliotherapy works better when reinforced by repetition. Every time the children's behavior book is re-read or illustrated is one more instance of exposure to the message.

If your child doesn't take pleasure in drawing, this exercise is unlikely to work for you.

The first thing I want you to do...

...has nothing to do with writing. It has to do with your child's problem behavior, the one that's frustrating you enough to want to try bibliotherapy.

I want you to do your best to ignore the problem behavior, starting now. Stop harping on it with your child, to the best of your ability.

Lay off. Shrug it off.

Bibliotherapy is only likely to have the desired effect if your child doesn't see straight through you to your real motivation. If you're harping on the problem behavior right up until the moment you put the children's behavior book to use...

Good luck. Children are small, not stupid.

Similarly, your goal should be to make this children's behavior book read like any other book your child reads or that you read to your child. It should read like good children's fiction that just happens to have a message.

It shouldn't lecture or dictate.

Okay, let's begin. We'll start by creating a structure for our story.


Step 1 - Naming Your Character

We need a main character, and that main character needs a name. This character should be the same age as your child, same gender...in fact, the main character is your child. But you don't want to let your child know that. So you're going to give your main character a different name.

(When the character is someone else, it's easier for your child to focus on behaviors and consequences objectively.)

So try an unusual, made-up name. That way your child won't be distracted thinking about another person with the same name.

Now write down the made-up name. (And now I'm going to stop reminding you to write things down. You're just going to do it!)

Step 2 - Focus on the Problem Behavior

Let's start by thinking about your child's problem behavior. Think about how it manifests.

What about it bothers you? More importantly, what about it causes you concern?

Presumably, it's a stubborn behavior that you fear - if it persists - will cause your child hurt later on.

Now, figure out how you'd describe this problem behavior...to a child. Got it? Good. Because this level of language is what you're going to want to use when you write the story.

Let's move on...

Step 3 - Projecting the Problem Behavior Forward

Let's think more deeply about that problem behavior that's concerning you. Start imagining consequences.

Now, you might be worried that your child's behavior will result in not being able to go to college. And if you were writing the children's behavior book for you, that would be a relevant consequence. But you need to think about consequences that would bother your child.

You also need to remember that children aren't long-term thinkers! So think about consequences of the problem behavior that could conceivably happen, say, tomorrow.

sucking one's thumb -> getting made fun of
fibbing -> being distrusted
exerting poor effort -> not making the team

Don't make the consequence one that you're always harping about. Your child will recognize your agenda!

And don't make the consequence too brutal. You're writing a children's book!

Step 4 - Understanding the Behavior

Okay, the main character has a problem behavior that is causing an unpleasant consequence. Just like in real life, that main character is going to have to fix the behavior on his/her own!

That's going to require some fortitude. After all, problem behaviors are habits. They come naturally. Effort is required to behave differently, to

  • Stop picking yucky stuff off the ground
  • Cover her mouth when sneezing
  • Focus on studies
  • Practice piano without being told

Even if an adult provides guidance, the real effort is going to have to be made by your story's main character. Your child needs to be inspired by the inner strength of the character you create!

Now, accomplishing Step 4 is going to involve taking a more in-depth look at Step 1.

You need to put yourself in your child's shoes. What does your child get from the behavior? Why is it still necessary to engage in the behavior, despite disapproval, shame, and/or punishment? What does your child get out of

  • Spending all his time in front of the TV?
  • Sleeping in your bed?

Get in your child's head! What's the cause of the problem behavior? Is all that TV time because he's too shy to approach the neighbor child or because he's frustrated by homework he doesn't understand? Is she sleeping in your bed because she's jealous of a younger sibling or because she's worried you're going to leave the house?

What is the cause of the behavior? And what is its benefit?

Step 5 - Stitching Things Together

Meet Shampoola (step 1). Imagine (step 2) that Shampoola is a child who doesn't say, "Thank you." Shampoola behaves this way (step 4) because of her sense of entitlement.

Now imagine (step 3) a circumstance developing where adult characters, feeling unappreciated, stop being generous with Shampoola. (Unlike in real life, you as the author have the absolute power to make this happen!) The reduced generosity is quite apparent, because these adults are still being generous with other children.

Use a few sentences to describe your steps 1-4 in a similar fashion.

Step 6 - Connect Unpleasantness to the Behavior

Now that you understand the roots of the behavior, you need to help the character in your children's behavior book to understand it.

In my example above, the character has begun experiencing adults as less generous than they used to be. That's an unpleasant (and natural) consequence, and it results in an emotion your character needs to experience: sadness.

Children, though, can have trouble linking things logically. They tend to need adult help.

So while we'll need the main character to do the hard work of correcting the behavior, you're welcome to create an older, more experienced character who can help the main character understand and contextualize what's going on.

That character could be a parent, or a teacher, or an older sibling....

So when the main character experiences sadness but is unable to connect it to his/her own behavior, this older character can explain explain the connection logically. For instance,

"I think maybe Grandma and Grandpa stopped bringing you candy because they don't feel you appreciate it." Or "...because you don't say, 'Thank you,' they don't think you like it."

Figure out how you're going to make the connection between behavior and consequence for your character.

Step 7 - The Character Corrects the Behavior

When your character has his/her "aha!" moment, the stage is set. Whereas before the problem behavior was associated with positive outcomes, not it's more associated with negative ones, and the character is properly motivated to change.

Still, it's your job to make sure that change doesn't come easily. If it does, there's nothing for your child to admire, and your story will fail to acknowledge how difficult it truly is to change.

(For all of us! Have you ever tried to change a habit, like poor eating or not getting enough exercise? It's not easy. Your story should acknowledge that.)

You want to make change heroic.

So get back in your child's shoes as you contemplate the breaking of your character's habit. For Shampoola, the challenge might be not just saying Thank you when someone gives her something she likes, but saying it when given something that disappoints her.

Shampoola will learn to recognize that someone meant well, even if what they offer is not what you want. She'll learn that being gracious and grateful is not about things, but about feelings.

That's it!

You've actually finished giving your story all the ingredients of a basic structure. Now you're ready to move on to the next part: actually writing your children's behavior book!

(But first, tell us how you're liking the experience so far!)

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Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.

Do you know enough Seuss to excel?

Great info!