When my twins were little they liked to be read “Goodnight Moon,” the lovely children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. Night after night, after night..after night. One or the other child would toddle across the living room, shove aside a multitude of other children’s books, and emerge with a big smile, holding a book I ultimately could recite in my sleep and felt a strong urge to burn. Trying to feign neutrality, I would encouragingly offer,
“How about a new book tonight?”
“nuh-uh.” Benji would say and shake his head with finality.
“Ohhh! Look at this book! It’s about fire trucks/outer space/dinosaurs/chaos theory/etc. What do you say?” I would hold up an alternate choice, waggling the book slightly to make it look so darned exciting it was ready to jump out of my hands.
“Good night moon.” Jonah would insist. Stubbornly my boys would hold the book and crowd my lap and night after night and with a sigh I would begin,
“In the great green room was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of…”
As I type this I know that millions of parents across the planet are doing just this, and I encourage you faithful moms and dads to continue reading the same blasted children’s book, over and over. Why? Because young children are already learning so many new things: how to use the toilet, how to button a shirt, how to hurl cheerios at the cat… their mind is filled to the brim with new information. So they need some predictable baselines to return to every day. A stable, loving home with regular routines provides exactly that, and the repetition of a favorite book read on a daily basis reinforces it. This is one small step you can take to lower the trauma load for your child.
How does this relate to you if you are not plagued with children’s book burn out? In the face of large changes such as unemployment, divorce, death of a loved one, or other traumas, you can also give yourself some of this instinctual comfort by reinstating old (healthy) patterns from your childhood, or creating new ones. Creating a ritual can be as simple as taking a bath every evening before bed or going for a walk after dinner and noticing all the flowers coming up.
Rituals and routines have a special place in trauma treatment because they comfort us by their very repetition, and when we are comforted we feel safer and more relaxed.