Lifebooks: Helping Your Children Through Scary Times


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In times of trauma, children need caregivers to be pro-active. Recommended in the aftermath of trauma is therapeutic parenting—a tall order for those of us who are also affected and are stressed to our limits. How do we figure out what to do?

One thing we might all do is create Lifebooks, using this presentation as a guide. Lifebook creation employs strategies similar to those used in therapy, including

  • narrative work, through shaping the fabric of a factual yet understandable account;

  • the imposition of safety and stability through devising a key ritual and,

  • focus on the child, through spending quality time that is memorialized forever.

    Children love their stories; they love to hear them and read them again and again.

    To start:

    1. Announce the Lifebook Project

    a) Tell your child that you have decided to make a book that’s all about him or her!

    2. Make a Date with Your Child

    a) Take a trip together to a crafts shop or an office supplies store. (Remember, this is about focused time for you and your child. ) Get a 3-ring binder and page protectors, or a traditional photo album and insert-able pages—whichever your child prefers.

    3. Basics

    a) A Lifebook focuses on the child’s experience. Start with a Title Page, and ask your child to select a favorite photo and help decorate that page.

    b) Call the book ‘All About Me. ’ Suggest to your son or daughter that s/he have a page of Favorites, a School page, a Best Friends page, a Pet page, a Family page, one for Things I Like To Do, and a Favorite Foods page.

    c) Move on to current events. Ask your child what s/he knows about the current disaster or tragedy. Notice what is shared, but don’t push. Correct any misinformation. (One 6 year old living in Ohio was worried about a big wave coming). See if s/he wants to draw a picture, then let your child choose whether this drawing is included in the book.

    d) Add a page on Safety. For a younger child (aged 4–7), list all the people who are working hard to keep him or her safe. For a school-aged child or pre-teen, write down your safety plan. Reassure your child that s/he is safe.

    e) Go back in time to when s/he was born. Select baby pictures together. Ask other family members to share some funny or memorable stories. Add favorite family times, fun distractions, and the like.

    f) Continue the book chronologically. You can use grades in school or places lived as focus points. Include important events as defined by the child.

    g) Finish with a page about the future: a to-do list of family activities, or a brief essay on what s/he wants to be when s/he’s grown up.

    4. Write up Some of These Stories on Your Computer

    a) Take lots of notes and create some typed pages. Pretend to be interviewing your child.

    5. Make Copies of the Lifebook

    a) Your child’s Lifebook will almost certainly become worn with use and attention. Make color copies and put a second copy in a safe place.

    Copyright ©2005 Beth O’Malley. Written by Beth O’Malley, M. Ed. , author of Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child.

  • To learn more about Lifebooks, visit To learn about children, trauma, and disaster, visit,, or

    Beth O'Malley M. Ed is an adoptive Mom and social worker. She finds families for children in foster care and helps them better understand their lives.

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