by Janis Brett Elspas
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The acronym BRAVE, whose meaning is spelled out above, is also the title of a useful book about recognizing and dealing with social anxiety as experienced by some children at one time or another during childhood. The story is well-balanced, co-authored by Marjie Braun Knudsen, a writer and mom from Portland and Jenne R. Henderson, Ph.D., a Portland psychologist with a specialized background in childhood anxiety and depression.
In Brave, Knudsen, a real-life mom of four, does a wonderful job of story telling to establish Danny's irrational fears about school and how he feels about himself related to the world around him. At the start of the tale, the protagonist will do just about anything to avoid having to interact with other kids both inside and outside of school. Answering questions aloud, collaborating with a fellow student on a class project, and standing up in front of the class to give a report -- you name it -- Danny is too paralyzed with fear to attempt it. Then, through facing an assortment of social challenges and learning from those experiences, he surprises himself by slowly evolving into a self-made, assured young man who lives by a new mantra: "Be Ready and Victory's Easy."
Part novel, part self-help manual, Brave is a book that has something different for each of its three distinct target audiences: parents, their kids, and collectively for teachers, school counselors, and therapists who come into contact with children who have irrational fear even in the most mundane of social situations. Examples of social anxiety might include a child overcome by overt shyness at a kid's birthday party, a child who habitually avoids interacting with classmates on the playground, and other settings where a young person has excessive fears, worries, and/or phobias that prevent him/her from enjoying and participating in a normal childhood experience among his peers.
Written in the narrative, the story is told in first-person through the eyes of Danny, a fifth grade elementary school student. But it's important to point out that though the main character is male and 10 or 11 years old, the book's teachings need not be limited to just boys or even to fifth graders. Both boys and girls as young as kindergartners or as old as high schoolers struggle with social issues not unlike those that are dealt with in this book and all age groups of young people can benefit from reading and discussing the book's contents with their families and professionals. At less than 100 pages in paperback form, structurally the book is user-friendly for the full range of lay people and professionals for which it is intended. The story itself is framed by a prologue, epilogue, a note to parents, and a recommended reading section on the subject.
For parents -- which really means not only moms, dads, and legal guardians, but also nannies, family members, and others helping out at home with an under confident, overly anxious kid -- this primer provides a chance for adults to step into the shoes of the child's experience to get a good grasp of what the youngster might be feeling. The story's language is simple enough for a parent to read to a younger son or daughter who has not yet learned to read, but is also easy enough for a child with beginning reading skills to enjoy together with their parent or caregiver, with each taking turns reading to the other aloud and talking about the various scenarios that are illustrated. Parent and caregivers and a child with verbal skills at the fourth or fifth grade level and up might each consider reading the book independently, too. Then follow it up with an adult-child discussion about Brave, chapter by chapter, inserting some of the student's real-life experiences into the storyline and practicing role-playing that helps him or her to discover and implement coping skills to deal with actual situations they are likely to be involved in.
Written from Danny's point of view, both boys and girls can easily relate their own experiences to those in the book. The desired effect the book intends to accomplish is to invoke in kids a feeling that they are not alone. Just to know that there are plenty of others like them who also might feel shaky on social ground is a very empowering emotion for kids to be able to access who might otherwise feel isolated and hopelessly locked out while the world passes them by.
Teachers, counselors, therapists and others that work with children also have something to gain with Brave because it provides professionals with a concrete resource that they can not only refer to, but also one that they are able to share with young people and the caregivers of those kids. School counselors and mental health workers can benefit from this book, of course, by using it as a tool when they work with troubled youngsters. However, it may be a particularly good eye opener for teachers who though not specially trained to deal with student's emotional feelings, work with kids in an educational environment on a day-to-day basis to enable instructors to identify children who might be suffering from social anxiety issues. That way, they are in the number one position to be able to bring socialization problems to the parents' attention who may not even been aware of their child's struggle otherwise.
One of the greatest pluses of this book is that it covers a tremendous amount of ground in a very readable amount of pages without a lot of heavy psycho babble. It talks about real situations that might easily happen in life and best of all, it is not threatening to kids. At the same time, Brave provides solid guidance for adults so they can help point the children in their lives in the right direction toward a sense of self-worth.
Brave, $11.95, is available direct from the publisher, Summertime Press, as well as from Powell's Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Independent Booksellers.
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