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Dr. Donna Housman recently talked about her new book series, ECSELent Adventures with Hemmy and Shemmy, with Jed Doherty at Reading with Your Kids Podcast.
In this conversation, Dr. Housman introduced the first and second books of the series - Gilly and the Garden, a book about loss and death, and Theo's Deliciously Different Dumplings, a book about diversity, bullying, and acceptance.
🔉Listen to the full podcast below to learn more about how to tackle complex topics with young children, why children's and adults' emotions and well-being are important, and tips about how to be more culturally sensitive and inclusive.
Hi, my name is Jett Lee and this is the Reading With Your Kids Podcast. We are coming to you from the beautiful neighborhood of Reedville in the southwest corner of Boston, Massachusetts. We are so delighted and so very honored that you're joining us in our mission to help all families grow closer through reading. Please be sure to tell all of your family and friends about the show and please be sure to subscribe to the show on the iHeartRadio App, on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, Audible, Stitcher Radio, Gone and Good Pods, Podcast Addict, wherever you find your podcast I guess. It is Dr. Donna Housman. She is here to celebrate her ESCELent Adventure series. Before we invite Dr. Donna into the studio, we want to invite you to visit our website readingwithyourkids.com. So much going on there if you are a parent you absolutely want to click the parents click here button at the top of the page. Check out our blog. It features some amazing author profiles it also features some great reviews. In fact, all the full reviews of all our certified great reads. If you are an author, you absolutely want to click on the authors click here button to find out how you can be a guest here in the podcast to find out how you can submit your book to our certified great read panel and also find out how you can take part in our monthly promotion program and of course we want you to click the Drawing With Your Kids Button to discover all the amazing video drawing lessons that some of the best illustrators and kids lit have posted for you. We have Nick Youlow we have Lauren Castillo with Brian Andlees. We have David Ezra Stein so many more guests are coming on you and your kids gonna love it you can find it all at readingwithyourkids.com.
Join us right now from not too far from our studios in Reedville Our Guest is here today to celebrate her ESCELent Adventure series. Uh two books in the series Gilly and the Garden and Theo's Deliciously Different Dumplings. Please welcome to the show, Dr. Donna Housman. Dr. Donna. how are you? I'm great, thank you, and thank you for having me! I'm excited to have you on. Let's jump right into it look tell us all about Gilly and the Garden, please. Okay, well these books are part of a series that really help children feel with some very challenging events as well as their big emotions and um which is really important since you know all children are born with emotion as their first language but not born with the skills to really know how to deal with and manage their emotions so in developing the ESCELent Adventure series the goal was to really help children through relatable characters really begin to understand the big world of emotions both of their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. So in Gilly and the Garden, that was the first book that I've recently written, that really looks at issues around loss and death through relatable characters and the ambassadors of ECSELent Adventures are Hemmy and Shemmy, who are otters, and they're siblings, and they take children on adventures to really help them begin to understand more and discover more about their own emotions how to understand them and the emotions, as I said a moment ago, of those of others and through this process in Gilly and the Garden you know Hemmy and Shemmy start out as really loving, to take care of their garden and they're really good at it and they feel at the time they really want to take really good care of something more and so they end up getting a beloved pet, and the beloved pet is Gilly, and through the course of taking care of Gilly and all the excitement and the ways that they're taking care of Gilly the unexpected happens, and Gilly ends up dying, and the book really helps children begin to understand the big emotions when dealing with loss of something that they really love, and how to begin to deal with those big emotions and also be able to understand the emotions of you know others that are experiencing similar kinds of things and the book also not only looks at the children in terms of what they're dealing with but it really helps parents and Educators help children in supporting and guiding them through these challenging events and really how to begin to deal with these big emotions and I, you know, I'm really delighted that you're– that you have this book growing up not too far from where you are right now we never dealt with loss. There was, you know, I, the very first wake and funeral that I attended was when I was 16 years old my grandfather passed. We had pets who passed weight none of our pets pass away they went to live on a farm somewhere. Um you know, so it just wasn't talked about and I don't think that that's very healthy. Right, and I agree with you and you know talking about emotions with young children typically have been more challenging for most adults um and yet at the same time when you do start to give children permission to share their emotions and to respond to them um and you know allowing children to begin to talk about what it's like to feel sad or angry and what to do with these emotions because what's really important for children is to understand all emotions are fine, the prickly fillings as well as the cozy feelings, but what really is most important is what we do with these emotions and that is the goal in helping children. For example, Jett as you're talking about as a child you know you never really um talked about loss or death or adults in your new world never really you know talked about it with you and it is not an uncommon situation for children and yet so important in helping them in terms of their sense of self in terms of their own emotional well-being um and and feeling really confident and competent and knowing how to deal with these emotions which is just a part of all of our Lives. Yeah, I think, I know looking back my parents and their friends the parents of my peers the thought was well we're going to shield our kids from these emotions because they can't handle it. They can't handle these conversations. As I'm looking back I have a feeling that it was the parents shooting themselves, because it's like I really don't want to talk to my kids about this because I don't know how to handle it myself. Exactly and that is why you know part of the books that I've been writing really helps and supports the parent and understanding about the various topics that may be getting addressed in each of the books and tips in terms of how to help the child begin to deal with these you know challenging events and also how to help themselves. The parent, you know, become aware of their own emotions and and how to deal with them so that they can guide and support children in giving permission to children and having these emotions because whether they talk about them or not children have them and so it's up to the adult to be able to help support the child in being able to learn how to understand them as well as deal and manage with them. Yeah,Important. I want to talk a little bit about your background. You're not a doctor of music or anything like that. You're a psychologist. You're there in the front lines helping kids and parents deal with these kind of emotions every day. Yes, exactly. Um and it is something that again is so important because that's how people connect and communicate emotions. Is part of our life and everything that we do. Um it and how we relate um in how we think behave and also there's a real direct connection between our emotions and learning so the more we help children begin to understand and manage their emotions then all of that energy becomes freed up for them to focus attend learn and today more than ever the areas and issues that children are struggling with have to do with their emotions their mental health and learning and we really need to be able to provide children with the tools so that they can deal with these big emotions with the emotions of others so they're developing empathy and compassion and kindness which is something we need more than ever today as well as being available so that they can really absorb information coming in, grasping new concepts and really getting excited about learning. One of the things that I heard that happened during the pandemic and when kids started to go back to school is that they had a hard time relating to each other and to the teachers because they were masked and the masking while it might have been preventing the spread of Covid. It was interfering with the kids being able to read the emotions of their peers and their teachers is that something that that you heard about or felt uh kids experienced. Yes, you know when we are queuing into emotions obviously the face is very important for us to kind of develop understanding of what is being felt in terms of the mouth the eyes the eyes are really important so that when we talk about masks the yes the mouth is covered but the eyes still remain very expressive. Um so that you know what has been happening because it is true that
children have returned with you know being, um having challenging times in dealing with one another in terms of managing their behavior there are a lot of big emotions they're carrying around in their backpacks as they re-enter and just have re-entered into school and so what is really important is being able to recognize that so that we can help them begin to express it because part of these emotions have developed because of disruption in their lives over the last
several years the isolation the lack of social networking and support that is so important in helping children connect and relate and know appropriate ways of engaging so it's not just about the masks and there was an interesting study a brief study that was done during Covid around Mass with babies because we know that children respond to the responsiveness of the adult and if the adult isn't really being responsive in a caring empathic way the children and the child feels that so what this brief study did was it had the parent put the mask on to see what would happen when the parent was still engaging although with the mask versus shutting down and what it showed is that as long as the body language of the adult was still engaged and responsive the child was engaging back but when the person with the mask on or without stopped that engagement then the child became very frustrated and anxious so the mask in and of itself was not the challenge or the problem for the child. It was the engagement the responsiveness of the adult in queuing into the child and being able to respond to those should have child's needs. You bring up an interesting point. Um one of the things I hear especially around older kids in middle school kids in high school kids who are communicating maybe the vast majority of their communication is happening via text where there's no physical response and no do you think that might be contributing to the increase in anxiety and mental health issues that those kids are experiencing? Yes, technology has it's really good points and it's not so very good points and anything taken to an extreme is not really helpful so that when children are primarily engaging through text is as you bring up it doesn't allow for them to engage and see the person and pick up the energy and respond to the cues in terms of the face the body language um the intonation in one's voice and so it's really just about words and not really being able to engage and interact which is so important in one's development yeah. Boy it's you know my kids are now adults. They're 27 and 29 and I think it would have been so much different trying to raise them now if they were teenagers now. I mean it was very challenging raising teenagers and going through middle school as it was but I think even now would be even more challenging. Yes, um yeah, times are different for when we were younger in terms of growing up and these are challenges that really need to be addressed and be sensitive to the kids too that are are struggling in dealing with this because they need the support and skills of being able to engage more authentically and genuinely with one another and know how to respond when there is a disruption and respond in a helpful and healthy way and that's part of what these books do is that when someone is failing as I had mentioned earlier a prickly feeling which is a negative feeling you know if they're really frustrated or angry therev are ways to be able to express it in appropriate constructive means and be able to then come to resolution so that you can solve the issue or the problem and continue to move on and not let that emotion prevent you or stop you in your tracks from being able to resolve the issue or problem at hand so that you can continue to move forward. Well let's move forward and talk a little bit about Theo's Deliciously Different Dumplings because dumplings are one of my favorite things in the world.
About diversity and acceptance and in the book Theo comes to school on the first day with dumplings as his lunch and he's made fun of because nobody at school recognizes that or is familiar with it and so he's made fun of and he's is also being bullied and as the story unfolds the children begin to learn to talk about differences between and among one another and also the uniqueness of who they are in terms of their differences because differences are not just you know about oneself and someone that you're not familiar with their differences within and among people within a family and so children beginning to learn about their own uniqueness and how they're different is very important so that they can begin to empathize with others and also be able to understand that differences are a part of life and the one thing that is similar that really is a thread that brings people together is that we all have emotions so understanding that is being able to also understand that that is something that unites us and things that may be unique about us should also be understood so it can be celebrated and embraced and this is really an important goal for children at an early age to begin to understand and when they begin to understand that from the beginning. For example if they had a box of crayons and they were all the same color what kind of interesting drawings could they make if every single crayon was the same color versus a diversity of color um and so I think it's really important at an early age to be able to expose children to understand about some of these issues and in Theo that is the issue that is being addressed is the one of diversity and inclusivity and acceptance and being able to help children also understand about bullying at a young age and that bullying and um you know lack of empathy takes a real toll on children's well-being and mental health and we need to be sensitive and understand that so we can help children um begin to embrace that understand it and embrace it and be able to continue to move forward yeah. My kids were part of a bicultural family and so they had that diversity but we wanted my beautiful wife and I wanted our kids to understand that there were even more cultures just outside of our our family so we did wonderful things. For example uh we joined the part of the the Friendship Circle at show University which is not too far away from where you are and uh you know spending time with with students from Japan and then in hosting International kids in our home what other kind of things other than reading a book like Theo's Deliciously Different Dumplings can we do with as a family to kind of celebrate diversity and help our kids understand that uh we are different and our differences are wonderful and make us special but we do all share that common bond of emotions and love and that we are all part of one human family there are so many things that can be um children can be exposed to different cultures different customs um through movies through books um uh being able through games um you know really being able to take them you know to museums um you know places that expose and express a variety of different types of cultures um and different ways of living different ways of celebrating you know certain Customs you know all ways of being able to expose children and it's not just through through literature but literature is really important but also having parents within the home talk about these things when something may come up you know to be able to be really open and expose their children to different ways of thinking about things to be able to be talking about that you know within the family from an early age about how you know one person may have red hair one person may have brown hair different color eyes different interests all of these things what makes them unique and special and to be able to embrace that and when it is not spoken about and it is not understood oftentimes people become afraid of something that is unfamiliar or not understood and we want to prevent that from happening by really being very open it you know sharing information being responsive to children's questions um and then when we notice something being said or shared that um is maybe inappropriate to be able to share that with a child and explain why that may be um and so not leaving a child alone with that yeah I think that reading books like this are are a fantastic way for families to start talking about our with our kids emotions and giving them the skills and the tools to help them handle their emotions but there there are kids out there who need a little extra help they need somebody like you to kind of come in and work with them. What kind of signs of things should parents be aware of that might be an indication that maybe my kid needs to sit down and maybe we need to to to spend some time with the professional to help them deal with their emotions better? Oh well when you're when you're talking about young children you know usually children express their emotions in action in behavior so we really want to be observant about our children's behavior and if we're seeing a child you know become really dysregulated often um and they're not able to be comforted um or they're really removing themselves they're isolating themselves they're not showing any kind of interest or enthusiasm over extended periods of time because we all have that periodically but when it's over an extended period of time let's say many many weeks or or a month then we need to start to kind of wonder what is really going on for our child and really begin to talk also with our child and engage with them and say you know we're noticing that you
seem sad or we're noticing that you're seeming really angry can you help us understand what is making you angry or what is making you feel sad versus why because oftentimes people don't know why even adults don't know why often times but when you become more detailed and more concrete and you say what is making you feel this way a child may be more apt to respond than saying why are you feeling this way and oftentimes a child may experience that why is is being more kind of negative or frustrated with them versus really wanting to understand and help them with their emotions the other thing is that given what you were talking about you know adults may not know how to respond to children one of the things that we do is that we're helping educators and parents begin to understand about children's emotions but also their own because children develop in the context of relationships. So it's really important that the adult become really aware of their own emotions their own emotionality and be able to deal with it in appropriate ways so that they can guide and support and respond to the child in more appropriate ways and helping them develop these skills as well yeah so important. I love that suggestion ask your kid what is making them feel a certain way instead of why are you feeling that way. Um just as you said that it's like duh that's genius but that's why you're a doctor and I'm not. We want to we need to know where we can go to find out more about the ECSELent
Adventure series. Oh uh please you can visit our website at Housmaninstitute.org and there will be information about the books on the website um as well as other information in terms of being able to help one deal with their emotions um educators parents in helping themselves as well as the children that they're working with yeah I guess I guess that's important we can't be flying off the handle and expecting our kids to be chill. Well that's right because children learn through observation imitation and how we guide model and respond to them yeah we've had a really fascinating time speaking to the author of Gilly and the Garden and also Theo's Deliciously
Different Dumplings two books that have heart of our guests ECSELent Adventures series and our guest has been Dr. Donna Housman. Dr. Donna thanks so much for being with us thank you so much for having me it's been such a pleasure please be sure to join us for next episode of the reading with your kids podcast Our Guest will be Brett Huffstadt. He'll be here to celebrate
Good Night Moon base and some other great STEM-based books for kids. I want to thank the folks who made today's show so wonderful Christmas start by thanking our guests Dr. Donna Housman. Please be sure to check out her ESCELent Adventure series. Also want to thank my
team Fatima Khan, Rory Grady, Jordan Saley, Stephanie Davila, Will Cheever, Cassandra Mason, a Sabrina Woo. I want to thank my beautiful wife for all the support she gives me most of all we all want to thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and as always thank you so very much for taking the time to make the world a better place by reading with your kids I'll be looking for you in the next edition of the Reading With Your Kids podcast.
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