Finding the right words to help kids through tough emotional moments is one of the true challenges of parenting! Everyday, I want to inspire my son’s kindness, buoy his courage or offer perspective. More often than not, I’m stumped. When my own words fail, I turn to kids’ literature. Books can support our kids’ social-emotional development, and help us out as parents. The proverbial They say, “it takes a village”. To that I would add, “It takes a village and a great bookshelf.”
When I was growing up, my actor-parents, often quoted from lines of plays or books. Maybe I was complaining I was hungry, in which case I heard from A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh, “‘Time for a little something’ as Pooh would say”. Perhaps we were running late, in which case, Shakespeare’s Puck had the right words: “I go, I go, look how I go, swifter than an arrow from a Tartar’s bow!”. These well-chosen lines would become my own family’s personal aphorisms and express exactly what needed to be said.
I used to spend hours – even before I had a kid – hanging out in the children’s section of the bookstores. A decade ago I started curating a library for Child’s Play NY that would form the backbone of the classes we use in our earliest children’s theater curriculum. I looked for books that were actable, that explored conflict, drama and showed characters expressing big emotions.
When I became a mom, these books took on a whole new importance. My family has found our own quotable lines from Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series or David Shannon’s No, David! And of course the superb Dr Seuss.
Here are some of my current favorites that I use in class and at home to help kids accept and access and manage their rich emotional life.
Books that Help Kids With Their Big Emotions and Feelings
Ahn’s Anger by Gail Silver
When 5-year-old Ahn is asked to stop playing and come into dinner, he erupts in anger. His grandfather suggests that he sit with his anger, acknowledging the feeling and allowing it to transform. This powerful book allows for kids to experience their emotions and helps them with tools to make powerful feelings of anger productive.
The Blue Day Book for Kids by Bradley Trevor Greive
Subtitled, “A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up”, this imaginative book looks through a child’s eyes with simple phrases and beautiful photographs. The spot-on pairing of animal images and inspirational thoughts can help kids develop compassion, especially for themselves. It helps with feelings of isolation, and those blue days – and the animal photographs make it especially sweet to read!
When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
This Caldecott Honor book helps kids cope with angry, intense feelings. We see Sophie erupt when she has to share her toys with her sister. Ultimately, she seeks comfort in nature and learns that the negative emotions will pass. Because it is rooted in a specific, yet relateble, narrative, kids enjoy the story and still identify with the protagonist. It helps posit the question – “What do you do when you are angry?” which is an excellent conversation starter.
The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright
A mouse wants to learn to roar like a lion so that he’ll get respected. As it turns out, the lion he seeks to learn from is frightened of the mouse! This sweet rhyming book is a gentle reminder that, no matter our size, there is a lion and a mouse inside all of us. I love it to encourage bravery and nurture empathy with all sorts of feelings.
For suggestions on How to Talk to Kids About Big Feelings read this
Picture Books that Help Kids Learn its OK to Make Mistakes
Additionally, I consulted my favorite librarian, Paula Zamora-Gonzalez about the best books to help kids through difficult emotions. She is the Lower School Librarian at Friends Seminary in New York City, and she knows from whence she speaks!
It’s OK to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr
From the author of It’s OK to Be Different, comes a book about embracing the joy of happy accidents. Todd Parr is a master communicator of the social-emotional. His whimsical drawings coupled with straightforward text, help kids learn to be flexible, resilient and embrace their differences. Check out my video review of his “Feelings Flashcards” too.
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
A stunning visual book that shows kids – quite literally – how mistakes can lead to creative success. A spill on a page or a rip can actually transform the art into something else, unexpected and even better than planned. Since the book itself transforms, kids can see how much more interesting the art becomes when they are flexible!
Check out more of Paula’s excellent suggestions with 4 Books that Inspire Kindness
Other Resources for Parents to Help with Social- Emotional
- Check out the Mount Sinai Parenting Center’s website. It features supportive tips and practices – backed by doctors – that you can practice with your child, helpfully broken down by age and activity.
- A new space in Brooklyn that opens in May, that I’m so excited about is: The Great Room. I love it designed specifically to bolster the parenting community by offering classes directly to moms and dads! Child’s Play NY is partnering with them to bring imaginative birthday parties to the neighborhood as well.
- I love the RULER curriculum developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Parenting is one big “Beautiful Ooops” – and it can be helpful to remember the lessons in these books ourselves.
Let me know what your favorite books are for essential social-emotional support!
Thanks for watching and reading!