Sunday, January 23, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Writer, Dr. Laurie Zelinger

Welcome to Day 4 of the 6-day virtual tour for my new book Please Explain "Anxiety" to Me! I believe you to have to know kids to be able to write for and about them. When a child is referred to me and I meet him or her for the first time, I tell the child that I know all about children. I know what kids think about and dream about and worry about. I am a mommy and I am also a psychologist. I help kids, teachers and parents figure out how to help a child feel happier. I also tell the child, very frankly, that I know he/she has a problem with ______ and that I know how to talk about it since I’ve heard things like that before. You need to forge trust with a child in your care in order for that child to share his inner most thoughts with you. Then, when you have a true grasp of the issues and can talk about it with clarity and ease, you can begin to write about it from a position of authority but in language that is familiar to the child.

I saw my task in Please Explain Anxiety to Me as the attempt to de-mystify a complex concept (anxiety) so it could be understood better by a child experiencing symptoms of anxiety. That is how I came upon the notion that the sympathetic nervous system is like a switch that flips on and off depending upon our perception of danger, and it is that “switch” image that I use throughout the book to explain when anxiety is adaptive and when it is unwelcome.

When I was a student studying personality testing, we were taught that children typically infuse animal characters in their stories and play, and as they grow they incorporate more human figures. Remembering this, I wrote my second book with dinosaurs as the theme characters. I feel it is important to scaffold information you present to a child, so that you start with something the child already knows or can identify with, and build from there, introducing new concepts as the child actively modifies his existing fund of information to incorporate the new material.

It is also important to be conversant with typical vernacular for your target age group and to use shorter sentences with younger children, as their attention and receptive vocabulary are limited in the early years. Books that teach should utilize everyday language so that children are not put off by both words and concepts that are unfamiliar. You don’t want a child to have to work hard at untangling vocabulary in order to understand the message. Some children will lose interest if the effort required is too great. However, there is definitely a place for books with lovely and descriptive language, but those are best enjoyed during relaxing moments when the pressure to learn is reduced and the modality of language can be appreciated.

Illustrations are also a powerful form of communication and often re-appear as “day residue” in a child’s dreams. In my experience, when children are referred because of particular fears, they often cite books or movies with scenes that contain haunting visual details. I sometimes wonder if illustrators recognize the enduring effect of their creative imaginations upon the sleep habits of their young readers. The written word, the reader’s voice and the color and detail of an illustration are the synergistic triplets that form an indelible imprint in the mind of the child.

Find out more about me and my book at the National Writing for Children Center, where the book is showcased all this month.

Follow Day 5 of my tour tomorrow at Leave a comment every day of my tour and your name will automatically be entered to win a Gift Box Bundle - filled with books and other goodies - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.


Turning the Clock Back said...

Thanks for sharing this. It is so hard, as a mom, to get into your kids head sometimes!

Texas Type A Mom said...

Following you from Bloggy Moms - would love a follow back!

Anonymous said...

I cannot possibly imagine how trying a profession child psychology must be. What a terrific step toward helping both parents and the children understand what's gnawing at them inside.

Cheryl said...

I love this. What a great idea for a book.

terri.forehand said...

Anxiety in children is under appreciated, and it is hard to get into the heads of our children. Thanks for sharing.