post by Liz Zadnik
Liz Zadnik is the Capacity Building Specialist for NJCASA and passionate preventionist. She has her masters in community psychology and social change from Penn State University; her work and research focuses on effective community-based change efforts and meaningful engagement.
I’ve been working in the anti-sexual violence movement for six years. Before that I worked in sexual health and reproductive rights, as well as in the anti-domestic violence movement. The last decade or so has been a journey toward a meaningful and lifelong identity: Activist.
Along the way my personal life has also given me another identity: Aunt. I have five nieces ranging from three to 10 years old. They are each their own magnificent person. Independent. Brilliant. Hilarious. Creative. Compassionate. Every time I’m with them I learn more about myself and think about the person I used to be – back before I knew everything I know now. I try not to let my fears and outrage at the world keep me from being present with them. I try to take off my Activist Hat as much as possible.
But sometimes that’s easier said than done.
In those times I try to find a way to communicate with them in their language and create a space where they always feel comfortable around Aunt Liz. One of my favorite strategies is using books to connect. Books are a great opportunity to practice skills together and have a light (but meaningful) conversation.
Here are some of my favorites:
- The Angry Octopus: This is a great story to introduce deep breathing and stress relief into a bedtime (or anytime) routine.
- You’ve Got Dragons: A beautifully-illustrated book that normalized anxiety and ways of coping. No worries, though, the dragons are friendly, not Game of Thrones-style.
- You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses: I love practicing yoga with two of my nieces – they have even been known to “teach” each other from time to time when I’m not around. The illustrations are adorable and I dare you not to feel amazing after a few rounds of Lion’s Breath!
- My name is NOT Isabella: Probably my all-time favorite! Isabella is a young girl who wakes up each day as a different woman from history – Sally Ride, Annie Oakley, Rose Parks, and others. The back of the book has a short blurb about each of the women and is a great conversation starter about dreams and hopes and possibility.
Each of these books gives me a chance to be an Activist and Aunt at the same time (an Auntivist?). I get to be my whole self and see how I’m stronger in both areas as a result. I connect with them in a way that feels authentic to me and, in return, they get another enthusiastic and genuine caring adult in their life invested in keeping them safe, empowered, and confident. It’s a win-win.
P.S. Don’t forget to do different voices for each character!