Anxiety. The mere mention of the word can make some folk’s hearts race and their muscles clench. No one likes to be reminded of the disquiet that fear, worry and panic can bring to a day. Fewer still can handle facing high levels of anxiety day in and day out without support. And that is why any child, parent, educator or professional whose life is touched by anxiety might want to thank Darlene Wierski-Devoe, author of Just Like You and the Just Like You Toolbox Journal.
After seeing her own children struggle with anxiety issues which mimic that of her own childhood, Darlene Wierski-Devoe created Just Like You to give a voice to children with anxiety. In doing so, she offered such children tools for treating their anxiety while also giving them a concrete way to share their struggle with others. Through reading Just Like You, people can better understand how to hear and help children with anxiety. They can recognize the reason behind behaviors that anxious children demonstrate, as well as the ways that everyone is the same. Thus, the silence and stigma of anxiety as a mental health disease can be reduced and the ability to celebrate everyone’s desire to be the best person possible can increase.
Just Like You – The Picture Book
Just Like You is written in the voice of Brooke, a young girl who, like other children, likes to run, play and have friends, but, who unlike many of her peers, faces paralyzing anxiety at times. Through simple, yet expressive text and full color illustrations, the book takes readers through a first person account of Brooke’s feelings, thoughts and reactions.
It begins and ends with an important concept – that Brooke is “just like you”, a person who likes to run, play, have friends and be the best that she can be.
However, Just Like You also explains how Brooke is different than other children due to the ways anxiety affects her feelings, interactions and behaviors. For example, readers hear how “sometimes for what seems like no reason at all tears come flowing down (Brooke’s) face,” and that while everybody cries, when Brooke does it, it’s because she feels terrified.
The book then goes on to introduce the concept of an “anxiety monster”, a secret “it” or “thing” that Brooke faces, which is completely separate from her, yet sometimes causes her to react with behaviors that others may not understand, such as crying, opting not to talk, choosing not to eat, etc. In other words, it effectively relates to readers how fear, panic and worry affect Brooke’s day.
After drawing readers into the ways that the anxiety monster manifests in Brooke’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, Just Like You shows how the monster can be pushed aside or beat. Readers are lifted as they hear Brooke whisper to herself, “I am not afraid. I am safe and I am stronger than it is.” They then hear Brooke’s request that “If you are playing a game ask me if I would like to play because one day I will. If I start to cry remember how you feel when you are scared or worried… do not ignore me… Be patient with me…” In doing so, Just Like You raises awareness and drives home an important message: Children with anxiety are helped when there are people around who understand them
The Just Like You Toolbox Journal
Can 17 pages make a difference to a child with anxiety? If they are 17 pages of affirmations alongside inviting black-and-white graphics and effective prompts that provide a child a safe place to let feelings flow, to own emotions and to identify options for dealing with anxiety, they sure can!
With their deep understanding of anxiety and their passion for drawing, Darlene Wierski-Devoe and her son created visual cues and prompts in the Just Like You Toolbox Journal which can help spark a child with anxiety’s journaling experience.
The journal, which can be used in tandem with the Just Like You picture book, offers children a way to process their emotions and to develop a positive mindset. In fact, even as the journal guides children to think about their challenges with anxiety, it reinforces ideas of power and strength. Children are even encouraged to draw and name the “pesky little monster that tells them things they don’t need to hear” while recognizing that they themselves are a “work in progress – always changing, learning and discovering.
Processing through the journal, children can recognize that ever day they get one step closer to making hopes and dreams a reality and that “Nothing is impossible.”
Tools in Tandem
With expressive text and illustrations and an empathetic storyline, Just Like You is a useful read for children with anxiety and can make a quality addition to any parent, teacher or professional’s “diversity library”. Children with anxiety who read Just Like You and use the accompanying Just Like You Toolbox Journal will come away with a sense of self-understanding and new tools for expressing and coping with their anxiety. Children who do not have anxiety will better be able to understand and interact with peers that do after reading Just Like You. Parents, educators and professionals will find that the book alone, or the book in conjunction with the journal, act as a springboard for understanding and discussion.
All who read Just Like You or use the Just Like You Toolbox Journal should appreciate the fact that neither just describe the challenges children with anxiety face, but that they also offer strategies and suggestions for driving the “anxiety monster” away.
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