How Are You Feeling Now? Interview with children’s author Molly Potter
Molly Potter is a best-selling children’s author whose books help parents and children talk about feelings and other tricky topics. I’m a huge fan of her books, so I was delighted to have the chance to ask her about her work. Her latest book (How Are You Feeling Now?) is out now.
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Molly, what led you to start writing children’s books?
When I was a mainstream primary school teacher, colleagues would often borrow my more unusual and creative ideas to use with their own classes. I hadn’t thought anything of this until repeatedly I was told I should try and get these ideas published. Several years later, I bought the Writers’ Handbook and followed its instructions to put some samples, a rationale and CV together and send them off. I was absolutely delighted when I received an email stating interest from a publisher. In 2007, my first two books were born, called Outside the Box for two different age ranges. I still love these books as they remind me of my early days in teaching!
My job at the time these first books were published was a county advisor for Personal, Social, Health, Economic Education (PSHE). A school resource I produced in this role was a PSHE homework book that I wrote with a colleague. Its aim was solely to prompt conversations between children and their parents/carers. This resource was very well received as schools were often looking for ways to engage parents further, especially around the ‘soft curriculum’. This lay a very early seed for the concept of my, Let’s Talk series of picture books as they are also great for prompting conversations between adults and young children about many topics broadly found in the realm of PSHE: emotions, friendships, worries, differences etc.
What makes a great children’s book in your opinion?
I think most children simply love a good story! However, there’s a place for appealing non-fiction books too. Stories can feed the imagination, explore issues via metaphor and inspire and prompt discussion but they will nearly always be less direct than non-fiction. Non-fiction can usually cover greater depth and breadth of any topic. So for young children I think a good non-fiction book explores a simple idea – but extensively! For example, take one issue, like friendship and provide lots of aspects about friendship to explore.
I will also add something based on personal experience as a young child: that for me a great book required interesting pictures! I was slow at learning to read so it was the illustrations that kept me entertained. I feel I could have disengaged with books altogether if there had not been pictures to lose myself in.
What role do books play in supporting young children’s mental and emotional wellbeing?
The Reading Well organisation acknowledges research that demonstrates the positive impact on mental health that reading has. They consider two benefits of reading: that of self-help that can be gained from information in books as well as the relaxation and calming aspect of losing yourself in a good book. The Reading Well book list is selected by experts for maximum impact and they ensure copies of each book can be found in public libraries. It is an honour that two of my books have been included in this list, How Are You Feeling Today? and What’s Going On Inside Your Head? The first book helps children develop emotional intelligence and the second gives children ideas for maintaining positive mental health habits.
I know from my own experience that being immersed in an engrossing book is deeply pleasurable and feels similar to the soothing nature of being lost in creative flow. An engaging book takes up enough of my brain to stop me thinking about anything else – which is very similar to the effect of mindfulness. I also love the feeling of really looking forward to returning to an enjoyable book, and I notice the contemplative effect of reading often lingers long after putting a book down.
As a teacher, it was easy to spot the children that totally loved reading – probably for the same reasons that I have just described. When a reading session ended, they would be reluctant to return to the ‘real world’. The escapism a story provides, appears to reduce stress and be extremely calming. This was equally true of children who loved to listen when I read a book to them.
What’s your top tip for parents when reading books with their children?
I think a lot of the pleasure of books comes from reflecting upon its content. Because of this, I rarely just read a book to children! Discussing how the story made you feel, the bits you liked best, what feelings the characters have at different moments in the story, deciding who you’d most like to be friends with in the story, the pages you’d most like to step into etc., ‘milks’ the pleasure of a book further.
Likewise with non-fiction, reading the book with a child and exploring its content further through questioning enhances the enjoyment as well as deepening their understanding of the information it delivers. Books can be fantastic prompts for conversations that give you insights into your child’s world. I also think that the mutual sharing of opinions about a book with your child is a constructively connecting experience and it demonstrates you are interested in their viewpoints.
I’ll also just add that I often find younger children love repetition when it comes to books. As much as it can sometimes be boring for you to read a book for the umpteenth time, the familiarity of a book seems to soothe a child. You can nearly always find a new thing to consider, however many times you read a book!
Tell us about your 5-minutes-a-day for feelings campaign
I am advocating parents and carers spend five minutes – probably at bedtime – to reflect upon the feelings of the day as this will have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing. Emotions are a significant part of being human and yet they are so often considered inconvenient, dismissed or overlooked despite the fact they can have a huge impact on us. If in 5 minutes at the end of the day you acknowledge, explore and validate your child’s feelings, it will make them feel really listened to and cared for.
I know parents are really busy, but a five-minutes check-in with children at the end of a day can go a long way. You can explore with children – through their feelings – the high and low points of their day, any friendship issues, worries they might have had about lessons and any issues that arose at playtime, for example. If your child becomes used to this ‘debrief’, they will start to feel like they have a secure and guaranteed place to express any difficulties. Such sessions won’t necessarily be about finding solutions to any problems but in sharing their feelings, they will feel better.
Instigating conversations with your child via feelings has lots of benefits. It can help open up meaningful conversations rather than you just offering a tirade of advice (as we can sometimes be prone to do) so that your child can start to solve problems for themselves. It will help your child become more emotionally intelligent as they increase their curiosity about emotions, their triggers and what might be the best thing to do in response to each emotion. It will help your child see how feelings come and go as the next bedtime, you can reflect on how their feelings might have changed from the day before. You can also share your feelings of the day too of course, to role-model!
The books in my Let’s Talk series lend themselves really well to these 5-minute bedtime, sharing conversations as they explore emotions, friendship issues, worries and differences, amongst other things. They can sit by the bed to provide a useful beside reminder to do a ‘check-in’ with your child as well as providing prompts for exploring your child’s issues of the day.
*DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon, which means if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small fee. I have also received free review copies of Molly’s books. For more info, see my Disclosure Notice.