Through the looking glass of books

Active participation in stories helps children develop future mental health


If you read any book during childhood that informed your view of the world, transformed your thinking or stuck with you for life, you’ll be acutely aware of the incredible power children’s literature has on developing minds. Stories and metaphors carry meanings for children which are explicably linked to their internal world. These stories provide safe havens and previously untapped spaces to embark on exciting adventures and jump into creative expression.

Stories, and the metaphors within, prepare children to experience the world at a safe distance; all manner of human trials and tribulations are the stuff children’s books are filled with. Children’s literature – whether spoken, read or watched – contains the age-old struggles of love, betrayal, envy, rage, jealousy and fear. Whether a reader or listener, we can immerse ourselves in worlds where fearsome dragons are slain, superheroes rule the world, happy endings sometimes happen and where love conquers all!

In the creative world of a child’s imagination, possibilities are endless. Children learn adversity can be overcome, mistakes learned from, resources acquired and resilience builds from within. Active participation in stories assists children in the formation of future mental health.

As Whitney sang “children are the future” but parents curate that future by cultivating the “now”! There are many relatable truths about parenting: 1) its stressful; 2) it’s the most difficult job anyone will do; and 3) there’s no instruction manual!

Often, as parents, the only template we have is based on our own childhood experience – either we copy what went before or over-compensate and do the exact opposite. Pleasurable parenting is not just a wistful idea, it’s a real possibility but it takes courage, commitment and maturity to learn how to be the parent you want to be. Effective parenting is all about recognising the potential to grow from personal limitations, affirming your strengths, learning from mistakes and above all else never giving up.

As therapists with a combined experience of 35 years working with children and parents, we have come to realise that children’s literature is often a bridge between brain development and developing the ability to relate. This connection is not just useful for psychotherapeutic treatment purposes but also from a parenting perspective – building emotional resilience, which develops early and lasts a lifetime. With Parental Pathways, our mentoring approach to parenting recognises, values and encourages parents and guardians’ strengths to equip, educate and empower them to be the best version of themselves they can be. We know that children are all different, diverse, curious and creative like all humans are, and this is the rich ground upon which we build resilience in parents! Which is a model for their children – the parents of tomorrow!

Building resilience is the theme of our second annual conference, taking place in Dublin’s National Library of Ireland on June 23rd, which has children’s literature as the topic and presents a unique coming together of the worlds of psychotherapy, literature, neuroscience and art. A thought-provoking conference that peers through the looking glass of children’s literature, promoting emotional and psychological resilience.

Parental Pathways aims to educate, equip and empower parents to find pleasure in parenting – one of life’s most wonderful and rewarding experiences – bringing together of collective wisdom from varied perspectives to inform and inspire parents.

Responding to the complexities of parenting in the 21st century with a backdrop of the fast-moving, technological age, parents are feeling more social isolation and increasing anxieties about their parenting capacity. The Parental Pathways approach is underpinned by research in the fields of attachment theory, child development, neuroscience and psychoanalytic concepts. Ample research indicates that securely attached children are better equipped for modern life and our aim is to help the family unit, parents and children, to relate better and ensure future mental health.

Parental Pathways, in partnership with Children’s Books Ireland, will host its second national conference in Dublin, titled Children’s Literature: Building Resilience, on June 23rd at the National Library of Ireland. Contact Maria or Linda on

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