Loretta Crawford: “The emotional wellbeing of children matters”

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The Horse and the Hurricane King is the first children’s book from Tauranga author Loretta Crawford. It tells the story of a young child who has a tough time managing his frustrations and when he meets a friendly horse he learns a special way to set free his emotions and become calm again. This gentle story, with gorgeous illustrations from Tauranga artist Ra Savage, introduces young readers to mindfulness and how a simple breathing exercise can help to calm angry thoughts.

How did you get the idea for this book?

I was looking for books I could read to my son about managing anger and emotions but there wasn’t much available. There were quite a few about anxiety, but nothing on what to do when you feel angry and for some children that’s not always easy to learn. Unlike other children, who are more emotionally resilient, my son has found it difficult to shrug off his frustrations, and his anger used to erupt really quickly, and gather power like a tornado. An occupational therapist suggested we try a mindfulness practice to help bring him down from those hyper-aroused states and this began to help a lot. I decided to write the book because I think if you go through something like that you almost have a responsibility to share it, to maybe ease the burden for someone else, and help them realise they are not bad parents and their kids are not defective, and to suggest another way to manage the situation. The book was also an opportunity for me to turn a really challenging experience into art and tell a story.

How did the elements for the book come about, like the horse and the net?

I asked my friend Ra Savage to illustrate the book and we discussed having an animal as a guide for the boy. When a small child is in the presence of a big animal, like a horse, they have to be more aware of their surroundings, and it can be a calming experience. The horse would be the guide, showing the boy what to do with his anger, because you can’t always figure out that stuff on your own. The idea for the net came from a really old poem I like, about love. It was the imagery from that poem that I liked and I wanted the boy to be breathing into something that would capture his anger, and then the horse would carry it away.

How has this book, or the techniques that form part of the story, helped?

We were already practising the breathing techniques and were using an app called Smiling Mind which has recorded meditations for kids. We talk about breathing and relaxing each part of his body. He knows that he feels things deeply and that deep breathing helps his body but he doesn’t always choose to do it. It’s part of his emotional tool kit but instead of breathing he will often just take himself off to another room. So over the last year he has learnt how to cut himself off at the pass, before things escalate. He’s come a long way.

How has it helped you?

If I expected this little kid to deal with these emotions, I had to turn that mirror back on myself and look at how I was dealing with my frustrations. So now, when I’m sitting in traffic and feeling frustrated because we’re running late, he’ll say, ‘you’re angry aren’t you mum?’, and I’ll say ‘yes I am and I’m going to breathe in and out and calm myself down because I’m feeling so frustrated by this traffic.’ I label everything that I’m feeling and explain why my body is tensing up. As a parent it’s my responsibility to keep the environment calm and set a good example of how to deal with emotions. It’s also important for him to understand that other people are feeling things too and if he can recognise that in others, then it will help him to understand compassion.

 What do you hope parents will gain from it?

My son and I have made some pretty big changes and it did start with me. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent but you have to be aware of the things you might be doing that aren’t so helpful to your child’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Hopefully it will help parents look at their situation and ask, “is there another way to manage this?”

You have to look after yourself as a parent. Most people have a lot of balls in the air – this is 21st century living – so consider all areas of your life: exercise, sleep, diet, relationships. Are there external factors that are making you more irritable with your kids? I also found it was important to pick the things that were really important for us and focus on those – for us it was developing emotional intelligence and emotional resilience, so there is still chocolate in our life!

What writing challenges did you face?

At first I was concerned about whether people would find the ‘meditation for kids’ theme a bit ‘fruity’. You feel really vulnerable and I had to overcome that fear of what others would think if I put a book like this out. But I realised that if I couldn’t find a story like this in the shops, then it’s likely there could be another parent like me out there who could really use it. There needs to be more awareness around this subject.

You decided to self-publish. Tell me about this process.

I wrote the first draft relatively quickly and then refined it. Ra and I wanted the book to be quite dark and stormy initially and then lighten up towards the end, as a metaphorical representation of the boy’s mood, so she developed the style using a mix of photography and her own sketches. That process took six months and then my dad, who is a graphic designer, worked on the layout. It’s a niche book and I just wanted to get it out there so decided to self-publish, which is a huge job and Tauranga Writers gave me lots of practical guidance. We started a crowd funding campaign through Pledge Me, and within a few days reached 50% of our target. We printed 100 copies and it’s also on Amazon.

The Horse and the Hurricane King is for sale at Books a Plenty in Tauranga and the Tauranga Library also has a copy. Readers can scan the QR code at the back of the book and go to a website called Sound Cloud which will play the meditation.