From strengthening caregiver bonds to enhancing cognitive development, the benefits of reading to children are widely documented. Now, two Georgian Court University faculty members have used the power of storytelling to help children overcome worry and fear.
Worry No More
From the time she was a little girl, Lori Nixon-Bethea, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, ACS, assistant professor of psychology, was a worrier, she says. So, when she began her career working with children in foster care as a licensed professional counselor, she understood the pain of their worry. She continually looked for resources to help them, but those were scarce.
In her practice, Dr. Nixon-Bethea says she frequently sees children who suffer from worry and, in some cases, clinical anxiety. Today, children are bombarded through social media, television, and other sources with messages and images that can be worrisome. And they often don’t have the language, skills, or tools to express or manage that worry. So, she thought she would help them through a children’s book.
Riley’s Worry Away: A Children’s Book About Worrying targets children ages 5 through 8 and helps them understand what it means to worry, as well as how they can manage their worries. The book is designed to help children cope with their feelings and as a tool for parents and teachers to notice the signs of worry in children and address them.
“Notice and have them talk about their feelings. I think once that happens and children feel safe to talk about what they’re feeling, half the job is already done,” says Dr. Nixon-Bethea.
Taking an MRI to Mars
When Leslie Kumer, Ed.D., a longtime lecturer in the School of Education, first experienced a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine due to an injury, she thought about the fear that children must face lying still in that narrow tube and hearing the machine’s loud beeps and buzzing. So she began thinking of a story that would help them overcome that anxiety. A longtime interest in space and NASA led to a creative take.
Teaming up with her former Georgian Court graduate teacher certification student Heather MacFarlane as illustrator, Dr. Kumer wrote Tom’s MRI Space Adventure, an imaginative story of a young boy who falls off of his bike while not wearing a helmet. He is afraid of the MRI machine, but with his doctor’s help, he transforms his experience into a magical mission to Mars.
Dr. Kumer attended the 2018 Book Expo in New York City with a prototype of the book. There, she met astronaut Scott Kelly, who has had more than 500 MRIs. “He said, ‘This is a great book to help children.’ And that was the whole point, to help children alleviate this fear of going into this MRI and have a positive experience instead of a negative experience with the procedure,” she says.
Dr. Kumer ultimately self-published the book through Archway Publishing, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, in 2018. Since then, she has sent more than 75 copies of the book to children’s hospitals around the country and received a letter of gratitude from one in Hawaii.
Both books are widely available, and both authors are planning new works to help children.
Adapted from story by Gwen Moran in the Winter 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. Photo of Dr. Nixon-Bethea by Rodney Cross. Photo of Dr. Kumer by Jim Connolly.