Norfolk mum's new book can help young children overcome anger and anxiety
- Credit: Karen Li
A former restaurant manger-turned-hypnotherapist has written a new book aimed at helping young children deal with anger and anxiety as Nick Richards reports
While parents may worry about shoes being too small and trousers not fitting when their children return to school next week, it's fair to assume that their primary school youngsters may have far bigger issues.
As well as dealing with lockdown, home-schooling and the never-ending battle for more screen time, being seven or eight is tough for another big reason.
It's a time when big changes occur in children's brains that can have big implications on how they negotiate a tricky part of their life, which is often misunderstood, especially by their parents.
Eaton mum Karen Li had already seen her two daughters reach high school age when she noticed that her third child, a son then aged eight, was becoming angry and anxious without any real explanation.
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Keen to delve deeper in to the subject, she left her job and began a journey of exploration, which would result in a better understanding of anger issues among eight-year-olds, a career change and the publication of a new book, called Henry & the Anger Monster.
Why are eight-year-olds anxious?
Karen, 49, has two daughters, now aged 18 and 20, but when her son, now 14, was eight, she wanted to discover more about why he became anxious about so many things.
She said: "I didn't realise that children have hormonal surges and things that happen in their bodies mean they are more vulnerable to things around them. It made me start thinking about what was going on in their brain.
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"At ages such as seven-eight, 11-13 and 16-18 things happen to children's brains that there's nothing they can do about - they don't want to be angry people, but they often can't help it.
"I have discovered similar trends in many children the same age and that can't be a coincidence. It seems to happen with many kids at the same age.
"There are two parts to the brain - around 93% is the subconscious part that controls our beliefs and habits. Around 7% is the conscious part that controls emotions, decisions and behaviour.
"Research suggests that, at around seven or eight, children can switch between the two for the first time and they suddenly realise that things are fallible and there is more than one way of looking at things.
"They start to challenge things, which for some children is much easier than for others, so it's a big period of transition."
Karen said: "With my son there were triggers that set him off. For example he had a couple of friends that left his school and moved away. Every time he made a new friend they seemed to leave. He thought that he was doing something wrong.
"Another example is when we painted my son's bedroom and there was a curtain pole above his bed, which he used to look at.
"We put blinds up instead of curtains and later took the curtain pole down. One day he started screaming at me asking why we'd taken the curtain pole down.
"It was only when I did my training I realised that it was part of the grieving process - it's not just about people dying, it can be about losing anything.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, my son is grieving for his curtain pole!' and it suddenly started to make sense.
"Things like losing a grandparent or moving house can trigger anxiety which a parent may not think about."
Changing her career
Originally from Essex, Karen came to Norwich to study and for 20 years she managed the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant on Norwich's Prince of Wales Road (now known as Hong Kong Fusion).
While her husband now runs the Hong Kong Fusion Takeaway on Unthank Road, Karen works as a hypnotherapist, having established her own business, Wave Hypnotherapy Norwich. She says her time at the Chinese restaurant made her realise she enjoyed helping people.
She said: "Being a white women running a Chinese restaurant from my mid-20s was unusual, especially as a lot of the people we employed were Thai or Chinese students.
"We became their family and at the end of the shift we'd eat together. Looking back I was doing quite a lot of counselling with them.
"I also worked in a school as a teaching assistant at primary school level and dealt with children with special needs.
"Doing what I do now was always ticking over as a career choice and now it's a natural progression.
"I was in a lucky position that I could change career.
"I was managing a family restaurant but trained to become a hypnotherapist not so much to help other people initially, but to work out what was going on with my son.
"Although I see clients of all ages, I specialise in seeing children and young people. A lot of hypnotherapists don't work with children but I find them fascinating.
Henry & the Anger Monster
The idea for the book has been on the back burner for several years. Many people that Karen had spoken to and mentioned the idea, suggested it would make a great book.
Karen said: "I wrote the story a long time ago. It's a mish-mash of my experience, my son's experience, and experience of dealing with clients. People said: 'You have to publish it, I would buy it'.
" I found that when children get to the seven-eight age group there's quite a big jump in their reading to the chapter-style books, whereas my son still liked the picture books.
"He did have a strange story with weird illustrations about waking up and supposing there was a big hole by the bed. I wondered why on earth would someone want to read that before bed.
"Children need to be reassured before they go to bed so I thought what if we could write a bedtime story with hidden messages that could make children behave in a more positive way during the day.
"I was spending huge amounts of money on buying books about dealing with angry and anxious children in the hope that I would find the answer to all my problems, but I realised there was nothing out there. So I spotted a gap in the market and so I wrote Henry & the Anger Monster.
"Children are so busy in the day that the conscious part of their brain isn't really used, but at the end of the day it comes out, so the period before going to bed is often a point that they start to worry.
"The book is written in a style that makes it suitable for all children, angry or not, with an underlying environmental message and subliminal suggestions to improve confidence and behaviour.
"This book can help to give children those positive messages and can take away the fear factor."
Henry & the Anger Monster has a workbook with it that has questions which children can answer and then discuss with their parents.
Bringing the story to life
"I met Rachael Constantine, a graphic designer from Salhouse who has her own business called Cora Studios around Christmas 2019 and she has provided the illustrations.
"Her background is in graphic design so this is stepping back to her roots. She's very creative which you can see in the book through the great illustrations.
"We self published last December, using local printer Gowise Print in Norwich.
"Rachael has been amazing in this whole process.
"I would never have got the book to print without her amazing illustrations and constant support. We really boosted each other up through lockdown, and fortunately our days of despair, doom and gloom never coincided so we became each other’s therapists!
"It is great to be working in such a positive way with a like-minded person, and although the words are all mine, they are nothing without her wonderful illustrations.
"We have never published a book before, and the whole experience has been a fantastic learning curve for us both. Hopefully, though, what we have produced will be helpful for others and help to spread our message of hope, positivity and kindness."
Lockdown and anxiety
"The book is timely," Karen said.
"There's going to be a huge amount of anxiety with going back to school.
"Many children have loved being off and now going back into a much faster, more hectic playground pace of life, there are going to be many children very worried about going back.
"The way you've got to look at it, is that it's a chance to meet your friends again and there will be children desperate to go back, but equally school will be very different when they come out of it at the end of the day and often any frustrations children have will come out then.
"We've done some pdfs that can be downloaded for teachers or parents to pin up to help with this.
"I wrote the book for people that didn't want to come and see a hypnotherapist but my dream now is that the book goes into schools.
"I've had positive feedback from teachers and headteachers, but in the long term it would be great to work with other professionals that go into schools, such as the Benjamin Foundation.
"I've spoken to Norfolk Children's Services who can see the potential in it. It could be that we develop a licence so that parts can be downloaded, which is certainly a direction I'd like to go in."
Children and screen time
Karen said one issue that can cause issues with today's children is too much time looking at electrical devices.
While the book will give them time away from tablets, phones, games consoles and the television, she suggests that screen time does have its positives.
She said: "I would have adamantly said there is a link between too much screen time and childhood anger and anxiety if you'd have asked me when my son was eight, but now I actually think that having screen time isn't so bad.
"I think it's important for boys especially as I think there's a big difference between boys and girls.
"Girls are far more social online and will chat and message, while boys will tend to communicate on the football or rugby pitch - these things were taken away in one fell swoop with lockdown.
"Certainly in my son's case I was happy that he was communicating with friends through his headset and playing games as part of a team. I could see his self esteem going up"
"I see that as kids get older they will come off it at their own pace, which is all part of children growing up and becoming more rational."
More: Henry & the Anger Monster is available at www.branchingoutbooks.com and costs £5.99. The book, workbook and workbook guide is £15.99. Karen has also written a book of poems called Letters From Lockdown with profits from the book going to Finnbarrs Force and The Benjamin Foundation.