By: Natalie Donald, Social Worker
It’s Read Across America Week! This week, led by the National Education Association (NEA) and guided by a committee of educators, is the nation’s largest celebration of reading. This year-round program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources that are about everyone, for everyone.
Readers who feel included, recognized, and a part of the world are engaged readers. As we celebrate Read Across America, we invite you to read one of my favorite books, The Rabbit Listened, or our other recommended books to start conversations about disability and inclusion.
When I first discovered The Rabbit Listened, it moved me to the point of promptly buying 10 copies for friends and family in my life (child and adult alike). At its core, it is a picture book about empathy and kindness, a skill everyone needs, especially when others in your life need support.
Taylor, the main character, is a child who has something unexpected and challenging happen. With that challenge comes confusing feelings that Taylor doesn’t know what to do with. Many animals like the bear, the elephant, and the ostrich come along and try to help Taylor feel better, but nothing seems to help. Eventually, the rabbit comes along and gives Taylor exactly what he needs. It’s a simple yet profound message about choosing to be “with” someone in their pain. It’s a story that resonates with grief and loss, moments of dysregulation, and those days when you feel like nothing is going your way.
The story provides a beautiful lesson on one of the best things we can do for others. Some call it co-regulation, attunement, affect matching, or mirroring. Others call it listening with warmth, care, and calm. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to fix a problem and instead choose to sit with someone and listen.
This connection is the chief thing that calms down the nervous system. It’s what makes someone feel seen, heard, and understood (and isn’t that what we all want after all?). It makes our bodies and brains feel like we can take a deep breath, that we’re not alone, and that we don’t have to feel bad for the way we feel. Sometimes we just have to stop what we are doing, get to the child’s level, and give them our full, undivided “I’m not going anywhere” attention and choose to ride the wave with them until they feel back to themselves again.
In the book, we see that Taylor’s brain and nervous system weren’t ready yet for laughter, or to try again, or feel better. It’s a reminder to all of us (*hand raise- myself included) that we must try to meet others in their pain before we can help them move on to feeling something new. This is true empathy. And again, this connection is the fastest way to get kids (and adults) back into their “thinking brains.” Once the thinking brain is back online, we can then access coping strategies like the animals in the story offer to Taylor.
But remember, coping strategies are not one-size-fits-all. Today one strategy might work great, and by next week… it might not work at all. Some days, I need a good laugh with my husband to shake off the day. Some days, I need to scream into a pillow or need movement to discharge those stressful feelings in my body. Other days, I need a bubble bath or some alone time to myself to reset. And for all of us, there are just those days when NOTHING seems to work at all and on those days, we have to be gentle with ourselves and others. Maybe those are the days we need our own rabbit.
The Lesson in Practice
So with all of that, my challenge for you is to find someone in your life and BE THEIR RABBIT. Being a human is hard sometimes and one of the best gifts you can give to someone is your presence. RESIST THE URGE TO FIX.
Here are some ways to to increase connection when someone is in a challenging moment: (This works for both adults and children. Sometimes you have to repeat multiple times or in different ways.)
- Sitting with someone
- Mirroring their body language
- Offering a hug
Saying something like the statements below (with genuineness or as much care as you can offer in the moment):
- “I am right here with you”
- “I hear you”
- “I’m not going anywhere”
- “I’m listening”
- “You are not alone”
- “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here”
- “I’m here for you now and I will be here whenever you’re ready to share”
- “Take as much time as you need
- “I have felt that way before too (share example)”
- “I think everyone feels that way sometimes”
- “I haven’t been through what you are going through but I imagine that it’s so hard”
*REMEMBER: Give yourself LOTS of grace with this practice. This is hard, and we are all still learning. And remember, even when you mess up, making a relational repair is just as important and powerful!
Social Services at Easterseals
The Easterseals’ Social Services team strives to provide children and families with the mental health support they need to help in these unexpected and challenging moments. We strive to help caregivers and children experience more joyful interactions through attunement and connection. For more information on our services you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.