Little Grey Fox: a review
All opinions expressed in the following piece belong to the author(s).
“I enjoyed reading Little Grey Fox and felt it connected with children brilliantly!”
– Phil Benge, CBT counselor
This is a remarkable book authored by a skilled, certified practitioner of the emotion-focused relational therapy of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (a.k.a. DDP.)
It is written from the heart, using many DDP lessons about the shame young children can feel during their ego-centered early life, when both good things and bad things seem certain to be caused by their own existence.
It is a slow story with ample repetition, reminiscent of the tide coming in — three waves forward, two waves back — to reach its narrative conclusion. I like this realistic sense of time the story takes to reach resolution. From her experience as an attachment therapist the author knows to slow our logical adult expectations and allow plenty of flexibility for a child’s inner doubts to resolve.
Indeed, even when Little Grey Fox is adopted into another fox-family best able to care for him, he still has no emotional vocabulary. He still has had no modeling of story-telling, or how to express his inner thoughts and feelings — his inner life.
As the story notes part way through, he’s stuck!
It is when safety is finally felt and affect has at last been co-regulated by the red fox parents — while connecting during an intersubjective* moment with Mummy Red Fox, Little Grey Fox finds his words, shares his feelings directly, hears new meanings, and relaxes into being cared-for — a successfully dependent little fox kit at last!
Who is this book for?
As I read the Little Grey Fox story I saw it speaking to three distinct reader groups.
For emotionally wounded children in an early ego-centered stage, Little Grey Fox will likely resonate with any negative internal working models they have formed from past experience. I.e., to avoid the alternative model of patternless chaos, maltreated children often find a pattern in ideas of reference: All these bad things happened because of who I am! I’m really NOT lovable! It finally makes sense: bad things happen to me — because I’m bad!
However, the story does not leave children there. It takes them through the slow process toward trusting adults for care and love and healthy boundaries. Back and forth, incrementally, children must test the waters, then pull back, then trust a bit more, and so on. DDP trainings can inform us that kids have to test and test, because if they trust too soon and then things fall apart again, they will feel the worst kind of betrayal — of having betrayed themselves by trusting too soon.
The story also speaks to adult caretakers of struggling children. It begins with the initial perplexity about what is going on. Then the story includes some well-meaning attempts at (prematurely cognitive) reassurance.
Daddy Red Fox at first tried to reassure him,
“It is okay.”
and Little Grey Fox thought to himself,
“Oh no it isn’t!”
Additionally the story models for us adults different ways to be open and engaged — open to the child’s and family’s affect in the immediate moment, and engaged with the child’s driving narrative underneath the surface — both present inner meanings, and historical meanings from hard experiences.
Finally, this story speaks to therapists engaged in the challenging field of attachment therapy with emotionally wounded children. Readers familiar with DDP skills will recognize a number of these in play in this story, such as:
— the therapeutic attitude of P.A.C.E.*, especially the potent combination of Curiosity and Empathy; curiosity nudging the dialog a little deeper, while accurate empathy numbs the pain of doing so.
— an intersubjective** state of connection with the child, in which walls seem to dissolve.
— talking with the child, talking for the child, and talking about the child, so they can easily listen and absorb our good thoughts about them,with the safety of no pressure to respond.
— repairs. Relationship repairs were often missing in the child’s early life experience. They may have no idea that relationship breaks are even possible to repair!
Mention must be made of the deft, emotionally accurate, eye-catching illustrations by Bettine Harris. It may be just me, but I think these illustrations are a stand-alone art exhibit. They clearly and tightly follow the story, showing weedy flowers clinging to Little Grey Fox like stuck feelings. Indeed, the weeds only fade away when healing stories are shared, and shame is finally made small.
Little Grey Fox is one of the best story books I have found for children and parents/caretakers to read together when grappling with a child’s history of surviving early maltreatment and/or the foster placement system. With little or no help to address the inner recurring shame of a child trying alone to make sense of their early life of sub-minimal care, families and the therapy field will likely find this lovely book fills a great need.
Certified DDP Consultant
Little Grey Fox is a therapeutic children’s picture book by Nikki Linfield, illustrated by Bettine Harris and edited by Robert Spottswood.
*P.A.C.E. In DDP therapy, PACE is our therapeutic attitude toward clients, especially child clients:
Playful –being playful says, ‘You’re special to me! I enjoy being with you.’
Accepting — accepting all their thoughts and feelings. (We still set limits on behaviors.)
Curious — about the child. ‘I just can’t learn enough about you — tell me more!’
Empathic — a powerful anaesthetic for painful or tender feelings.
**Intersubjectivity is felt in a here-and-now moment when two or more people simultaneously share the same affect (outward expression of inner emotion), and complementary intention or goal, and a shared focus on the same object, idea or experience — often including a focus on their experience together in that moment.
Additionally each partner is open to the influence of the other, making the experience emotionally richer, versus controlling.