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Young children and many people with some kinds of intellectual disabilities tend to be literal and to live in the “here and now.” Changes that seem normal to others can be frightening because they don’t understand what is going on and what is going to happen. Safety Rules can be confusing because they don’t see how this applies to their situation. Verbal explanations by themselves are often not enough to take an idea that is theoretical and make it real in a concrete way.

During her leadership of the Parent-Toddler groups at the Early Childhood Center of Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, a licensed clinical social worker named Phyllis Rothman initiated the Little Book Project. The purpose of this project was to support parents in making little books to help prevent and resolve emotional problems for small children.

According to Dr. Rothman, “In my practice, I have seen children go from feeling helpless to feeling empowered when adults helped them understand a problem, express a feeling, or address a fear by making their own little books.”

In our workshops for people with special needs, we found that the Little Book concept can also be helpful for people of any age who think in very literal immediate ways. The stories are different but the benefits are the same.

All you need is a few pieces of paper folded in half and stapled down the middle to make a book. You can make a plot that tells the story of what is going to happen or that explains something that has happened. You can illustrate the story with stick-figure drawings or photos.

Keep stories simple with just one or two ideas per page.

For example:

Mommy Goes on a Big Trip. Mommy has to go on a big trip for her work. Mommy kisses me and waves “Bye-Bye.” I don’t want Mommy to go so I cry. Mommy is sad too. She goes on an airplane. Mommy calls to talk on the phone. Mommy comes home. She is happy\ and gives me a big hug. I am happy to have Mommy home.

The Owie. I was riding my bike. I crashed down the big hill. I got a big cut. There was red blood. I cried. It hurt to clean out the dirt. I had stitches. I got a lot of hugs. My cut got better. I got to ride my bike again but not down the big hill.

You can tell most safety stories in four pages with simple statements of The Situation, The Safety Problem, The Safety Solution sometimes using a Kidpower Safety Signal, and the Happy Ending.

For example:

The Lovely Dogs. Esperanza loves to pet the dogs every time she goes out. It’s not safe to pet dogs you don’t know. Next time, Esperanza Checks First and Stays Together. Everybody is safe and happy.

The Bad Mood. Pete gets in a bad mood when his friend wants to eat with someone else. He gets into trouble for throwing his food on the floor. Next time, Pete uses his Calm Down Power and finds another friend. Everyone is safe and happy.

Having their own book that tells their own story can help people to feel important and to understand.

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Published: May 20, 2020   |   Last Updated: May 20, 2020

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.