Wondering how to discuss emotions with your toddler? Need a way to open up a discussion about feelings with an older child? Here are eight superb choices to use at home, in the classroom, in a clinical setting, or anywhere in between to help jump-start a talk about how we feel and what we can do about it. Aside from being useful, many of these are just plain fun to read!
“Zen Happiness” by Jon J. Muth showcases his incredibly beautiful watercolors, which are borrowed from his previous “Zen” books. It’s a small book, filled with bright illustrations and short sayings. “When you reach the top, keep climbing.” “Be kind to yourself. Whatever you do today, let it be enough.” I’d love to use these sayings in an elementary classroom and have the students pick their favorite saying, illustrate it themselves, and write a piece about what that piece means — in general and how they might use it personally. In younger grades it might need to be a discussion, but intermediate elementary students and middle school students would love the chance to write about something they feel has personal meaning. Publication date is March 26, 2019. (Scholastic)
Two books about feelings and how to deal with them are part of the “Dealing with Feelings” series by Rodale Kids. The goal of this series is to help young children learn how to identify their feelings (what they’re called) and how to deal with those feelings. The books are simple, both the text and the illustrations, making it easy for a parent or teacher or social worker to use them for a discussion about emotions. The first book, “This Makes Me Jealous” by Courtney Carbone is about a new girl who draws attention away from the unnamed narrator, who is not happy. But after talking through her feelings with a teacher, she realizes the name for what she is feeling. Her teacher asks her to think about what Amy, the new girl, is feeling, and the narrator decides that Amy needs a friend. The book ends with the two of them playing together.
“This Makes Me Scared” is part of the same series and is also by Courtney Carbone. In it, the main character feels scared about swimming class. Interestingly, the again unnamed narrator is not clearly a boy or a girl. In the swimming pool, the character wears a blue top and green shorts. The blond kid shares the scared feelings, “My heart is racing. Thump, thump, thump!” The child identifies the feelings as fear, and the teacher explains that it’s okay to be scared, and that they can face the fear together. They do some deep breathing, and soon the child is floating. (Rodale Kids)
Everyone feels sad at some point, and “When Sadness Is at Your Door” by Eva Eland helps children deal with that emotion. The illustrations are very, very simple (think Harold and the Purple Crayon). The gender neutral main character is reading a book when the amorphous, blue-ish, Sadness comes to visit. At one point, Sadness “sits so close to you, you can hardly breathe.” And even though you might try to hide it, Sadness won’t leave. The book suggests giving it a name and asking where it came from. Doing things with Sadness might help — like going for a walk or drawing pictures. Even just giving Sadness an embrace might help. And then, just as unexpectedly as it appeared, Sadness will just disappear one day. And the point is that with or without Sadness, life goes on. And that’s okay. (Random House Books for Young Readers)
“The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon” by Matthew Burgess is another book about feelings, and begins with a definition: “CURMUDGEON: A bad-tempered, difficult, cranky person; a grouch.” In this case, one of the main characters is a curmudgeon who just won’t budge. Or do many other things that involve lots of clever word play and fabulous illustrations by Fiona Woodcock. The curmudgeon features wild red hair that is surrounded by red, curmudgeonly spots, making the creature look even more ultra-curmudgeonly! What happens when the person trying to stop the curmudgeon from being so very curmudgeonly ends up being the curmudgeon herself? It’s pretty funny. But it’s also a wonderful tool to use for discussing what happens when kids get angry, and how that emotion manifests in behavior and body language. How can you coax someone to not be angry? What might help? Publication date is March 12, 2019. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“Grin and Bear It: The Wit & Wisdom of Corduroy” based on the characters created by Don Freeman. This is another small book filled with aphorisms and illustrations of Corduroy. For example, “No matter how nervous you are, walk in like you own the place,” and “Sometimes you’ve just got to go along for the ride.” This is another little book with sayings that might resonate with some children, and it would be a wonderful class or group activity to have children pick their favorite one and explain what it means to them. It’s the kind of book that makes sense to use in group activities rather than expecting a child to just pick it up and read it, although two kids reading it together might discuss what they are reading. (Viking)
And a book that’s humor-filled and pretty much the opposite of the previous book is “The Pursuit of Grouchiness: Oscar the Grouch’s Guide to Life” from Sesame Street. It’s also filled with sayings that could be discussed (with perhaps a different outcome!) like ‘As long as I can look back and say, “There’s no way I could have been grouchier,” it was a good day’ and “If you’re looking for morning cheer, YOU’RE AT THE WRONG CAN.” A fun activity for this book would be to have children turn around the sayings to drive Oscar nuts! Make them all positive instead of negative. Have fun with it. Laugh. Share it. That alone will drive Oscar nuts! Kids (and adults) will really like the lenticular cover of Oscar moving around in his garbage can. (Sesame Street and Macmillan)
Last but certainly not least is a book for older readers. “Find Your Rainbow: Color and Create Your Way to a Calm and Happy Life” by Jenipher Lyn is a combination discovery guide and activity book that could help children figure out how they are feeling and even guide them in decision making. When kids are going through a difficult time, this is a place where there is no pressure, just good common sense advice. One page counsels, “News flash: There is NOTHING wrong with being sensitive,” and it goes on to say, “Being sensitive is not a weakness. It means you care. It gives you the tools to be a better friend.” There is counsel about what to think if someone is being told she is not thin enough, or if the child feels depressed or anxious. There are myriad places for drawing and note taking. It’s a lovely guide/journal and perfect as a gift for intermediate girls. (Crown Books for Young Readers)