Chatting to our kids about tricky topics like anxiety and sadness can be … tricky. Difficult emotions are not easy to chat about and it can even be hard to detect which principle emotion is at the core of some resulting behaviour.
Books can be a great way to get the conversation going and help to support with advice, empathy and understanding. The book My Elephant is Blue deals with sadness.
Why is my elephant blue?
My Elephant Is Blue by Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unkais is a sweet hopeful story of a child who’s living life with an elephant perched on their lap, back, chest – what a weight! Elephant is blue and the child wonders if they will ever feel light and free again.
One day an elephant came and sat on my chest.
I found it hard to get up or move around, to breathe or talk.
“I’m Blue,” the elephant said.
“Can you please move, Blue?” I asked.
“I don’t want to move. This is a good spot for me to sit.”
“You’re crushing me,” I said.
“Yet I find you very comfortable,” said Blue.
My Elephant Is Blue deals with being stuck with sadness and without being too deep and heavy itself the book is a light read with colourful illustrations offering understanding and ideas to help live with a blue elephant and perhaps one day, some days and hopefully most days, Blue might just turn Pink … or better yet … Yellow!
Relating to little readers
I read to my just turned 4 year old and just turned 7 year old. Both boys said they loved the book and I knew instantly that neither of them knew just what the blue elephant represented. So I opened a brief, light conversation afterwards. “What do you think the book was about?” I asked. “A Blue Elephant,” said the 4 year old. I didn’t press him any further. The 4 year old wasn’t going any deeper with this so I figured he could continue listening in on the conversation I continued with the 7 year old and he could figure out whatever he figures out from there.
My 7 year old has a weekly therapist to help support him with the effects of numerous mental and behavioural diagnoses he lives with, so I knew this book was going to be beneficial to us – a starting point for talking about emotions (something he doesn’t particularly like to show or discuss). So I continued with the conversation suggesting that books are a great way of talking about tricky topics like sadness and I wondered if perhaps Blue might in fact be sadness.
“So,” the 7 year old said, “Blue isn’t actually a real elephant, it’s a feeling that the kid is carrying around”.
“Yes!” I said.
“And maybe we don’t push it, shove it, or pretend it’s not there, but take it with us to do the things we like to do, take it for walks, do fun stuff, eat our favourite food, and it comes along and maybe will turn pink” he continued.
“Yeah,” I replied, realising just how clever he is. “And sometimes he’ll turn blue, then back to pink, and hopefully yellow most of the time,” I replied and he nodded in agreement. “So what did you think of this book?” I asked.
“Yep, cool!” he said.
And that was that. We had a light conversation about emotion – sadness in this instance. And we saw how we could live with our elephant, and I saw just how clever my boy is. I’m uncertain of what my 4 year old discovered but he declared that he “likes story time” so that’s got to be a good thing too!
Tackling tricky topics with books
If you’d like to get the convo rolling on tricky topics in an effective yet light-hearted way, books are a great way to start that communication. It’s often easier for any of us to talk about a character and their emotions than it is to discuss our own. Kids can also recognise themselves in a character, one which represents their own feelings or place in this world. Or they can discover characters not so relatable but it becomes a great opportunity to learn to empathise and understand others. My Elephant Is Blue is an easy and heartfelt step into approaching the tricky topic of sadness infused with the important sense of acceptance and hope throughout.
Have you had to chat about some tricky topics with your children?