What Makes Me Do the Things I Do? is the latest in a series of books by Molly Potter addressing young children's emotions and behaviour. Molly currently works as a teacher in a short-stay school with children that have been or are at risk from being excluded from mainstream schools - putting much of her PSHE expertise into practice; she previously taught in middle schools as a class teacher, science and PSHE co-ordinator. She has also worked as an SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) development manager, delivering teacher training and supporting primary schools in the development of their SRE programme and policy and many other aspects of PSHE.
What Makes Me Do the Things I Do? (Bloomsbury Education)
What Makes Me Do the Things I Do? is the latest picture book in a series of books by Molly Potter addressing young children's emotions and behaviour. In this book, children are encouraged to think about why they behave in certain ways, and to consider how their actions affect others and effectively manage their emotions. Author Molly Potter tells us more:
Q&A with Molly Potter
1. Can you tell us about the series of books you're writing about children's emotions and behaviours?
Nearly all of my picture books aim to help children develop emotional literacy, healthy coping strategies and self-awareness. I think Socrates was on to something with his know thyself, as there's a lot of research out there telling us that effective emotion management (which takes self-awareness) is a skill that not only makes your life easier, it enhances it.
My books start children on the journey of self-reflection in emotions, thoughts and behaviour. By asking children to reflect firstly upon what they might be feeling, being curious about that feeling: why it visited and the thoughts that accompanied it and then more consciously deciding what to do once a feeling arises, helps reduce impulsive and potentially damaging responses. Good emotion management makes a positive outcome in any situation more likely.
Some of my books include It's OK to Cry, which helps children link emotions to their trigger and broadens their emotion vocabulary; while How Are You Feeling Today? helps children reflect upon what they might be feeling and what they could do when they are feeling that way.
2. What is your own background in child development?
I have worked for 30 years in education - firstly in mainstream schools, then as a PSHE advisor (with a special focus on RSE) and then in a pupil referral unit (PRU) with children who struggle to regulate both their emotions and behaviour. I always had an interest in self-esteem development, attachment, childhood trauma and personality theories, but this accelerated during my time at the PRU as I collected more and more understanding and tools to help the children learn to feel secure and regulate.
The understanding of how our very early years environment programmes us for survival within it, and how this doesn't always serve us well in the long run, has become more greatly understood in the last couple of decades. It helps you realise that healthy, caring relationships with very attuned and present adult, trumps all when it comes to moulding children's behaviour positively. I recently completed a qualification in person-centred approaches which tied up much of what I have learnt over the years in a neat bundle of understanding!
My book What Makes Me Do The Things I Do? does not look at behaviour from a child development point of view as much as being another tool for self-reflection.
3. Why did you want to add What Makes Me Do The Things I Do? to the series?
Emotions and behaviour are linked so What Makes Me Do The Things I Do? seemed like an obvious next book to write. With really young children, behaviour is often a straightforward expression of how they feel as they have limited language and ways for doing this. This book, therefore, is aimed at a later stage of development that explores aspects of behaviour that can be more consciously managed. This book is another reflection tool. It doesn't tell children what the right thing to do is, it asks them to think about what they do.
4. How is the book organised and what would you like children to learn from it?
The book explores 12 behaviours and their opposites. For each behaviour, the book considers why you might be tempted to do the 'less helpful' behaviour and then it invites readers to think about the possible benefits of the opposite behaviour. For example one double page spread looks firstly at why we sometimes 'give up' and secondly why it's good to be determined. Another two pages explore why we lose our temper and then why staying calm nearly always means things turn out better.
Every child will engage with the book differently but the main learning is as simple as becoming more aware of your behaviour so you can more consciously decide what to do in different situations. The book also encourages children to consider the impact their behaviour might have on anyone else involved and thus helps develop empathy.
5. How do Sarah Jennings' illustrations help reinforce the message on each spread?
I absolutely love Sarah's illustrations and they definitely make the book extremely engaging. Every time I open one of my books, I notice something new in the pictures.
I think the illustrations help children more immediately tune in to whatever point is being illustrated. They also provide more material for parents/carers to discuss with their children as there are many relevant and typical situations where an adult and child could see the same situation from quite different stances. This can provide an opportunity to develop greater empathy and understanding both ways!
6. Do you write the books for both child and parent, to help understand the issues you explore in each book?
While my books can be read by children independently, I certainly write them with the notion of an adult and child sharing the book together. If a parent makes a deliberate bid for a child's attention (and an obvious way to do this is by settling with a book together) this really makes the child feel valued. Also, if the book itself explores potentially difficult issues, it can enable problem solving, reflection, mutual understanding and even more connection.
I think these books can sometimes help parents reflect as much as children. For example, in my latest book, What Makes Me Do The Things I Do?, it's not about just getting a child to comply; it's about helping children understand why some behaviours are helpful and others less so. In exploring behaviour in this way, the book could also help parents/carers reflect upon how they respond to their child's behaviours and why they might ask for compliance more urgently over some things than others.
7. At what stage in a child's development, or in what situation, would parents or carers ideally share this book with their children?
I would consider this book would be great to start exploring meaningfully with children around the age of four or five as prior to that, a child's stage of development would mean they'd really struggle to reflect on their behaviour and make it more conscious. The level of self-reflection and regulation this book aims to develop is not really possible in really young children. However, there would be no harm in introducing the book to younger children to lay the foundations towards exploring the behaviours as long as it didn't give parents/carers unrealistic expectations in terms of the possible impact on behaviour.
8. How would you like this book, and others in the series, to be used in the classroom?
I used to do an activity called helpful and unhelpful behaviours with children at the PRU. That's where the idea for this book was hatched. We used the activity mostly to encourage empathising with those on the 'other end' of a behaviour and the impact it had.
I think teachers could get a lot of mileage in terms of meaningful learning from this book. Here are a couple of ideas:
• Before you read the book, list the behaviours and sort them into 'helpful' and 'unhelpful' categories and listen to children's reasons for their answers. Did they guess any of the same reasons that I included in the book?
• Consider some of the 'unhelpful' behaviour pages by asking children if they have ever engaged in that behaviour and to really think about why they did. You could ask them to report anonymously. See if children can come up with more reasons for why they might do that behaviour than are listed on the page.
• Roleplay some of the unhelpful behaviour scenes in the book and explore what each person is probably thinking and feeling (both children and adults).
• Ask children if they can think of any other unhelpful behaviours and how they make them feel.
• Make posters explaining why the positive behaviours are helpful and how they impact on other people.
• Individual two-page spreads could be the springboard for complete PSHE lessons. E.g. staying cross with someone or forgiving them. Children could look at different situations and order them from those they could forgive easily to those they would find hardest to forgive and why. Children could write the top five tips for forgiving. Children could look up quotes about forgiveness, explain what they are telling us and declare their favourite etc.
For free resources, you can check out some downloadable activity packs on the Bloomsbury website for It's OK to Cry and The Same but Different. I think all my books lend themselves as springboards for discussions and activities that can develop children's understanding further on all of the topics they cover.
9. Are you planning more books in the series?
My next book is the sequel to How Are You Feeling Today? and it explores 12 more emotions and what you could do when you experience them. Obviously these emotions are slightly more sophisticated than those in the first book, so they will add to each child's emotion repertoire.
10. What do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk?
Firstly, I have to say that one of the things I enjoy very much is still at my desk and that is writing. I love to blog and vlog in particular. But away from my desk I love messing about with my (sort of grown-up) husband and two children, cycling and walking in the countryside, reading (mostly in the areas I write about), socialising, having ideas, live music, playing my fiddle, local history, crafting things, travelling and saying 'yes' to most things I am asked to do which gets me involved in quite a variety of things!
I also enjoy bombing friends with kindness parcels with gifts, poems, treats and so on. And also like creating mischief. For example, I once filled up a friend's front garden with pebbles with googly eyes over a period of six months. Her garden became more and more populated with little pebble people! I often decorate people's front gardens on Christmas Eve.