As a child therapist, I’m always looking for books to help kids understand their mental health, their symptoms, and learn coping skills. Carol Wulff, LSW, shared with me her experience of writing William, the What-If Wonder on His First Day of School.
Carol is a social worker and mother of someone who lives with anxiety. William’s story is based on the life of her son (who is now an adult and gave consent for his story to be shared). She changed some details, including the child’s name, but she said that her son had “shivers” the first time he read the book because “that’s exactly what it was like.”
She shared with me feelings of guilt that her son had mental health issues and how she overcame this. Her journey of helping her son learn to cope with his anxiety is a great resource and source of support for other parents going through similar experiences.
When her son began to exhibit anxiety, he asked “What-if” questions, and Carol tried to reassure him but found that this was not an effective way to alleviate his worries. Through treatment with a therapist, Carol learned how to redirect her son in productive and healthy ways. In fact, her co-author for the series was her son’s therapist when he first started treatment. She reported that, even in adulthood, he refers back to his childhood therapist: “I remember I’m bigger than my worries.”
Reassurance is not always helpful with anxiety because anxiety is not logical. I told Carol what I tell many of my clients: “If anxiety were rational, I’d be out of a job.” When doing research for these books, Carol noticed that, although many children’s books about anxiety exist, “There weren’t a lot of books that introduced the child to what they could do about their anxiety.”
With William’s stories, Carol emphasizes problem solving over reassurance because we do not always know what will happen in an unfamiliar or anxiety-provoking situation, so instead of telling William everything will be okay, she focuses on teaching William how to problem-solve when an unexpected or scary situation comes up. We cannot predict everything that will happen, but we can arm kids with the confidence that they can overcome difficulties, and they can either figure out a solution or ask for help.
Carol shared with me that part of her motivation in creating William is to push for early intervention for kids with symptoms of mental illness. Her approach is to write books that help therapists and parents talk to kids about their feelings and provide developmentally appropriate education to kids. Her goal with the series is to present many scenarios that might bring up anxiety in kids so that parents, teachers, and therapists have go-to resources when kids bring up “What-ifs.”
Carol does readings of her book and shared that she can see in kids’ eyes the understanding of William’s experience and the sense of relief that “somebody gets it.”
The next book in the series, William, the What-If Wonder and His Sleepover Worries is coming out soon, and Carol has ideas for more books, including helping kids manage anxiety about storms. I can’t wait to see what she shares next.