Book Review: “What to Do” Guides for Kids: What to Do When…



…your temper flares…your brain gets stuck…you dread your bed…you grumble too much…you worry too much…bad habits take hold.

“The What to Do” Guides are a series of books by psychologist Dr. Dawn Huebner for helping children deal with a variety of problems ranging from every day difficulties, like how to respond to anger, to diagnosable problems, like OCD.

Did you know that your body is like a car that you need to learn how to steer, worries are like tomatoes that grow when they’re fed, and disappointments are like hurdles to be jumped? By the time you’re done with these books, you will! Using these and other similarly accessible analogies, Dr. Huebner brings the concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy to life, making them easy to understand and fun to practice.

The first few chapters of each book explain the problem to be addressed and set the stage for starting to make changes. You’ll notice that they do not force your child to take ownership of having a problem (which can be really threatening to kids–and many adults), but explain the problem in general terms and then ask the child to consider whether they (or other people they know) ever experience these problems. The explanations make it easy for most children to accept their difficulties and give them hope that they can improve. The following chapters teach new skills, usually one per chapter, and provide exercises to practice each skill.

If you do the exercises and practice them regularly, you’ll notice a difference. Resist the temptation to read through the whole book at once with your child. Remember, lasting changes take time and practice. When I use these books in my practice, I start by either reading the first few chapters in session or having parents read them with their kids at home. After that, we work on about one new skill per week. If a family is struggling with a skill, we may stay on it for a few weeks until the new skill takes hold. In between learning new skills, children and parents are instructed to spend the week practicing each skill at home. (Be prepared, parents play a major role here.) If problems come up with practice, we discuss those in session.

These books are written for children between the ages of six and twelve to be read with their parents or another adult. The concepts may seem simple, but they’re supported by tons of research demonstrating that they work. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most researched types of therapy, and one of the most effective for many areas of difficulty. I highly recommend these books to both parents and other professionals who work with children.

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7 Comments

  1. Do you still recommend these books if the child is 15 years old? One of my relatives thinks CBT can really help her child but sadly can’t find a psychologist in her area. So perhaps I could recommend these books to her?

    • Good question! I’m sorry to hear your relative is having difficulty finding a provider. While the concepts in these books can apply to a 15 year old, some teenagers may think the language seems too young. It definitely wouldn’t hurt them to take a look, though. If you feel comfortable mentioning the general area of difficulty (e.g., anxiety, depression, etc), I might be able to recommend a more age-appropriate book.

      • Thanks for the reply Ehrin! I’m quite certain it’s neither anxiety nor depression. I don’t know the child too well but one thing that has struck me is that he believes educators and most adults are too shallow in that they only judge children by academic achievements, and this has caused quite a lot of behavioural problems (but he gets along really well with his friends) . He refuses to study, listen to his teachers at all, and often sleeps through exams. However, he really enjoys going to school and is quite intelligent.

        It seems plausible that this child has some sort of negative view of the world, or in particular, teachers and specific authority figures. Do you think CBT can help this child?

        Thanks once again!

      • Of course I can’t diagnose or create a treatment plan for someone I’ve never met, but based you your brief description, I doubt these books would be helpful. As a general rule, when behavior is the primary problem, parent management training is the approach with the most research support. If there are other undiagnosed problems, this approach may or not be the best. If it’s primarily a behavior problem, your relatives may want to consider one of the following books: The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child by Alan Kazdin, Ph.D.; Your Defiant Teen: 10 Steps to Resolve Conflict and Rebuild Your Relationship by Russell Barkley, Ph.D. and Arthur Robin, Ph.D.; or The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder by Douglas Riley, Ph.D. Kazdin and Barkley are widely recognized experts in this area. I know less about Riley, but have seen him quoted as well. I hope this helps!

      • Thanks very much! That’s really informative. I’ll recommend the books to her and suggest she look into parent management training as well. Thanks again.

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