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.)
Warning: this is a LONG page
You should probably plan on devoting a few hours to this project, so now may not be the time.
If you're ready though, let's move on. (If not, bookmark the page and come back later. Or fill out the form at the bottom of this page and I'll send an email reminder to you to come back.) I promise to walk you through every step of the way.
Before we get too far into this...
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.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 1
The first thing I want you to do is open a word processing program. This project works better on the computer than longhand.
Let's start by thinking (and typing notes) 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.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - the essence of fiction
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - step 1, continued
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 2
You need a main character, someone your child can identify with. Of course, the person children are best equipped to identify with is THEMSELVES!
Okay, so you're going to write a fictional story starring your child... only you aren't going to let on that it's your child. You're going to give the child a different name.
(Same gender as your child though.)
I like to pick fun names. My daughter always gives wacky names to her dolls, so I just pick a name that sounds like the names she makes up. (Remember, you want your child to identify with the main character.)
The name I gave the character in the first children's behavior book I wrote for my child was Balooga. Do you have your name yet? Good. Let's move on...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 3
Okay, you're still brainstorming. You should be typing in your notions so you don't forget.
Now it's time to think about how your main character's problem behavior is going to play out.
You see, in your personalized bibliotherapy book, the child's behavior problem is going to cause him/her some unpleasantness.
I'll use my first children's behavior book as an example. Balooga's behavior - insisting on getting her own way with peers - results in peers not wanting to play with her.
Now it's time for you to figure out how your character's behavior problem will play out negatively. Try to sum it up in a sentence.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Caution
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 3, continued
Okay. Have you figured out how your main character's problem behavior will play out negatively? (But not TOO negatively. You don't want to traumatize your child!) Good. Before we move to Step 4, let me give you some writing secrets to remember...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - What To Keep In Mind
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 4
How will your main character choose to solve his or her own problem? And how will another character help to make that choice possible?
Remember, the problem is the hero's own behavior. That means the solution is most likely going to be about finding inner strength. About making the somewhat difficult choice to behave differently, to:
Whatever the problem is, your hero needs to contribute to fixing it!
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Going A Little More In Depth
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 4, continued
Okay, you were trying to figure out how your main character is going to find the strength within to correct the behavior.
Luckily, since the character is only a child, he/she has parents to help! They can identify the problem and present choices.
(You may choose later to have someone other than a parent provide direction. But let's assume for now that it's a parent.)
In the first story I wrote for my daughter, the mommy suggests that the reason Balooga's friends no longer want to play with her is because Balooga has turned bossy.
To illustrate, Mommy takes Balooga to a playground. She shows Balooga two toddlers unable to cooperate - one of them ends up in tears.
Then Mommy shows Balooga some older kids cooperating in order to accomplish something.
Observe: Mommy shows Balooga that the behavior Balooga is exhibiting doesn't work.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Showing Versus Telling
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 4, continued
So can you answer the question now - two questions, actually?
Note your answers when you have them figured out, and don't feel in a rush to move on.
It just so happens that the "heavy lifting" in story writing is this work you're doing now.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 4, continued
When you're confident you have both your answers, you're ready to move on to...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Some Actual Writing!
Step 5 - Introducing The Character
You've done much of the hard work already. Let's reward you by putting some words on the page.
(Open a 2nd word processing document for this. You're going to be bouncing back and forth between your notes and the actual text of the behavior book.)
The first thing you're going to do is start your story by introducing your main character, your hero. (Your hero, remember, bears a striking resemblance to your own child.)
Now I want you to introduce your hero in his/her pre-problem state. In other words, if the problem behavior is needing to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed, introduce a hero who doesn't yet have that problem!
Here's a sample intro for such a hero:
Once there was a big girl named Sonora. She slept in her very own bed in her very own room.
Note that not only does Sonora not yet have her problem, but she's described in positive terms. She's a "big" girl and she "owns" things: her bed and her room.
Kids love to be "big" and they love having their own stuff! Make your hero a kid that your own child wouldn't mind being.
(Now that was a very short intro. You may choose to be more expansive about your hero. But remember to keep it from becoming apparent to your real child that he or she is the hero.)
Got it? Okay, write the opening paragraph(s). And if you have trouble getting started, these four words might help.
When you're done, read this:
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Start By Cutting Yourself Some Slack!
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 6
Okay, you've written your introductory paragraph (or paragraphs). Time to set up the circumstances that lead to the problem. We do this with something many writers call "the inciting incident."
I just like to call it, "something happens." For instance:
Then Sonora's parents had a baby, and the baby got to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's room!"
Give this some thought. If your actual child's problem behavior had its own inciting incident, pick a different inciting incident. (This is bibliotherapeutic fiction, remember, not your child's biography.) But make sure the inciting incident is something your child can identify with.
An inciting incident is an event that CHANGES the hero's life situation. Your description of it is as long as it needs to be...but no longer.
It could be only a sentence long - like the one I wrote above - or it might be five paragraphs. It depends on the circumstances.
Okay, write. Then...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 7
Now you need to describe your hero's reaction to the inciting incident. The reaction should
Keeping with Sonora:
Sonora didn't think it was fair that the baby got to sleep with Mommy and Daddy, so Sonora insisted upon sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's room too!
Got it? Write it!
Wrote it? Good.
We're moving along, aren't we? Okay, now take a breather and just read this next section...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - The 2nd Act
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 8
Time to establish tension. And by tension I don't mean, "Is the guy with the knife hiding downstairs?" What I mean by tension is a lack of harmony.
I'm going to be very specific. Mom and/or Dad aren't very happy with the new behavior. This creates disharmony between hero and parents.
Still, since we're at the beginning of the second act, this is no big deal for the hero.
(S)he hasn't yet experienced anything but positive results from the behavior, so the parents' distress - and the parents' efforts to correct the behavior - are ignored.
After awhile, the baby was sleeping through the night and began sleeping in his own room. Mommy and Daddy told Sonora it was time for her to get back to being a big girl and sleeping in her own room too. But now that Sonora was used to sleeping in her parents' room, she didn't want to leave!
Sonora goes on to explain that she's afraid of the dark, afraid of monsters, etc. Any excuse to stay in Mom and Dad's room!
Mom and Dad string up enough night lights in Sonora's room to make it look like Christmas! It doesn't work. Why? Because no amount of light is going to make Sonora's room more appealing than a room with Mom and Dad in it.
Okay, time to write this part of your children's behavior book. Try to think like your own child while you write. Why?
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Identification With Main Character
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 8, continued
So now you need to really engage your reader. Take some time to write this part and get the identification with main character right on target. Okay?
Then move on to...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 9
Now you're going to expand on the work you did in Step 3. In this step you get to indulge your natural tendency to worry about your child!
(And we're back to note-taking. Put aside the text of your children's book for awhile and return to the note-taking document.)
Think about the real-life problem behavior. Think about why it causes you concern for your child's future. Could the behavior cause:
Make your own list, the longer the better.
(Your Step 3 notion might just be one item on the list. Or you might get more specific about it and expand it to a number of notions.)
This is the time to let your parental imagination run wild. What all could result from your child's problem behavior?
Don't continue reading until you have your list!
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 10
Okay, you have your list. Let's start by removing
In my homemade bibliotherapy, I'm always tempted to have my main character step through a time warp to find out, for instance, that her childhood choices have resulted in her only adult job option being that of dogcatcher.
So always remind yourself that you're writing this book for your child, not yourself!
Do you have your new, narrower list of outcomes? Good. Now...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 11
Time to write backwards! Backwards? Yes, backwards.
Consider each negative outcome one at a time. Starting with the first, how do you imagine your hero came to that outcome?
For example, if your outcome was that Sonora's friends stop visiting, work backwards from there by asking yourself, "Why?" Like this:
Got it? Now write a backwards "why?" list in your note-taking document for each of your outcomes. Take your time. Then...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - How Well You're Progressing
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 12
Time to choose among your separate backwards "why?" lists.
Which do you think you could turn into the most satisfying children's book? Because that's the one that will make for the best bibliotherapy.
Keep in mind what I said about things getting progressively worse for your hero. Make sure the "why?" list you pick describes a nice progression from the least consequential (at the bottom) to the most (at the top).
Have you made your choice? Time to resume writing...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 13
I'm about to leave you alone for awhile.
When you last wrote, you were establishing tension between hero and parent(s). Now it's time to do some serious writing using your backwards "why?" list as a guideline.
This is the biggest chunk of writing you're going to do. First, though, I'm going to give you a lot to think about.
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Character Viewpoint
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 13, continued
Okay, it's time to write. When you finish this part, you'll be very close to the end of your behavior book.
Remember to connect events clearly. (One thing leads to another.) Remember to "escalate" events, to make things progressively more unpleasant for your hero.
Remember to keep your backwards "why?" list close at hand. It's your outline for this biggest section of your children's behavior book!
When you finish, return here...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Look Where You Are!
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 14
This is a thinking step, not a writing step. Think about your hero's current predicament. How can (s)he find his or her way out? Who can help?
Guidance can come from a parent or someone else. It can be delivered intentionally or unintentionally.
But remember: no magic wands appearing out of the blue.
Balooga's mom, as I mentioned earlier, shows Balooga the difference between cooperative play in older children and selfish play in younger children.
Balooga, given her recent negative experiences resulting from selfish play (she's lost her friends), finds the strength within to make the right behavioral choice.
In Sonora's case, what prods her to better behavior is the comment of a peer. Her disapproving friend Kalimba says,
"You know, big kids have their own rooms and sleep in their own beds."
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. It gets a bad rap when it drives kids in the wrong direction, but in this case Kalimba's comment leads Sonora to go to her parents and demand her room back.
Which, of course, is what the parents wanted! But it's so much more empowering for the character - and the reader - if the character comes to that place as the result of a personal journey.
That's what a story is: one character's personal journey. That's what allows a reader to identify and what can make bibliotherapy so potent.
So consider where guidance is going to come from. Parent? Peer? Teacher? Who is best situated to give your hero the nudge (s)he needs?
It should be a character who has already appeared at an earlier stage in the story.
(If you decide that it needs to be a character you haven't yet introduced - and that's very possible - you're going to need to go back at some time and introduce that character. I suggest doing it now!)
When you know who your guide is (and they've been written into the earlier part of the story)...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 15
Okay, now that you know who's going to provide guidance, it's time to figure out the nature of that guidance and how it's going to be presented.
Remember, showing beats telling. No one likes to be told what to do.
Relatedly, the guidance should be suggestive, rather than completely obvious.
In other words, make sure your guide leaves your hero to make the last step of the psychological journey on his or her own.
For instance, Balooga's mom doesn't tell her, "Hey, if you behave more generously you'll get your friends back."
Instead, Mom shows Balooga the consequences of ungenerous behavior in others, leaving Balooga to draw the final conclusion and resolve, "Hey, I can behave better than that!"
Okay. So when you've figured out how your guide is going to help lead your hero to the place where (s)he can make that final leap of logic...
Write it! Then...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 16
Now it's time for your hero to take the ball and run with it. To seize the initiative and resolve his or her own problems. To take control of life in such a way that the hero - and your child - feels empowered. Feels like the master of his or her own destiny.
So remember during this step to stay firmly in the hero-child's point of view. Think about what makes your own child feel triumphant, then describe events in such a fashion that the hero feels that same feeling.
This is the "I can do what I thought I couldn't do" moment in the hero's story. Or maybe the "I will do what I didn't think I needed to do" moment.
Write it! Then...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Step 17
You've made it! It's "happily ever after" time. All you have to do now is let us know how your hero's life gets back to being great.
Think of the three act structure this way:
Let your reader know how life becomes great again. Let your reader know that the hero has endured and has reason to be proud.
Write it! When you do...
Writing a Children's Behavior Book - Congratulations
I knew you could do it. I don't know if you knew you could, but you did it. You wrote a children's behavior book. You created a targeted piece of bibliotherapy. There's an excellent chance you just wrote a decent piece of children's literature as well.
You should be very proud of yourself! But please don't start acting proud. Let's remember who this was about: your child.
Here's what to do now: pat yourself on the back and go do something else.
I'm not kidding. Here's what I don't want you to do now:
Here's why. If you take a fresh look at the book you've just written tomorrow - or in a week - you're going to see ways to improve it. You're smart, right? Given a little distance, you're going to see things that can be smoothed out. Improved.
(It'll also provide you more time to stop responding to your child's problem behavior, in order to better set up addressing it with bibliotherapy.)
Your child deserves you taking your best shot at this. Don't go to your child with a first draft. Like any writer who makes the mistake of starting to show their work to people before it's ready - friends, family, spouses, their child - you would be bypassing an important part of this process: the self-critical part.
You see, you know more about your book than anyone else, and you know more about what you're trying to achieve in the way of bibliotherapy. Don't let the inborn talent you have for improving your own work be overwhelmed by eagerness or the praise of people who love you.
Keeping this thing to yourself right now is the secret to making it the best it can be.
So take a break...then take a look later. See what can be smoothed out, what can be improved. Maybe reread this whole Writing a Children's Behavior Book page too. It might help in a different way the second time.
But not now.
Seriously! I'm sending you away. Banishing you from this page. So remember to bookmark it, then come back at a later date and page down to this point. Then follow this link to the page where we
Read excerpts of my children's behavior books:
Read about bibliotherapy.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.