Whether they tend to be easygoing and quiet, or are in the stage of daily tantrums, it is always beneficial for kids to learn about emotions and healthy ways to handle them. Children’s books are a fantastic way to introduce and explore these topics. With the countless options available to parents, it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve handpicked children’s books that are engaging, fun, and full of learning opportunities about feelings, calming strategies, and more. Below you’ll learn about our recommended reads and how to make the most of them.
Why reading books together can help
We’ve talked about why kids have a hard time learning calm-down skills when emotions are running high, and highlighted reading with caregivers as a particularly helpful alternative. In addition to the language and images being tailored to the developmental level of young children, books allow kids to learn during a time of enjoyment and connection. Once they are already struggling, it can be hard to reach kids with calming strategies, especially new ones. Adding to these benefits, reading with their children provides parents opportunities to revisit and reinforce the information presented in the stories.
Importance of Teaching Calm-Down Skills
Just like reading, writing, and math skills, children are born with a tremendous capacity to learn, but aren’t immediately ready to practice social-emotional skills. If a friend asked if your newborn could read yet, the answer would be…of course not, they’re not developmentally ready and no one has taught them how! The same is true for skills like calming down and impulse control. Self-regulation is something we build towards rather than gain overnight. As with academic learning, kids need to be actively taught and supported around social-emotional skills. Healthy modeling from adults can be enough for some kids to pick up on expressing and managing their emotions, but most will need a more direct approach. Reading to your child is one of many ways to accomplish this.
Top 8 Therapist-Recommended Books for Teaching Kids Calming Strategies
Beyond naming, noticing, and sharing their feelings, there are many more coping skills available to kids of all ages. From deep breathing to connecting with loved ones to yoga poses and visualizations, these 8 amazing books introduce children to healthy and fun ways to calm down.
The Monster Meditation Series
A joint effort between meditation app Headspace and Sesame Street finds beloved characters encountering various real-world situations. While they’re waiting with anticipation for cookies to be baked or getting ready for school, the Sesame Street monsters learn ways to manage their emotions with mindfulness activities.
Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
By Barney Saltzberg
What Should Danny Do?
By Adir and Ganit Levy
Young readers are encouraged to decide what Danny should do in tough situations. They’re reminded that we can make good choices even when faced with a big emotion. Or, we can make a different choice the next time!
Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
Sweet Dreams: Bedtime Visualizations for Kids
By Mariam Gates
The simple visualizations in this book are kid-friendly and soothing. It may have been written to help kids fall asleep, but it’s great for any time kids need help calming down. Find this book on Bookshop or Amazon
Mindful Me: I Am Calm
By Roger Priddy
This book presents mindfulness tools for kids as well as tips for parents. There are specific poses, breathing techniques, and prompts with illustrations to guide kids in practice.
My Monster and Me
By Nadiya Hussain
Big feelings come to life in the form of a monster that seems to always be with the main character of this book. After attempts to simply avoid the monster, the child learns how to attend to feelings without letting them take over his life.
By Alexandra Penfold
In addition to showing kids experiencing the ups and downs of big emotions, this book gently presents options like asking for help, trying something new, and working in collaboration when the going gets tough.
Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere (Mindfulness Moments for Kids)
By Kira Willey
Breathe Like a Bear is a stunningly illustrated collection of mindfulness exercises designed to teach children strategies for managing their bodies, breath, emotions and more. Best of all, these 30 short practices can be done at any time, in any location: in a car ride, during a sports game, or even at school.
How can I help my child label their emotions?
You may first be wondering why it’s important to learn to identify or label your emotions. It might seem silly to differentiate between specific emotions when all that matters in the moment is that someone is unhappy. But that’s not the case! If we are able to identify our own big emotions, like sadness, fear, anger, disgust, Understanding and being able to label your feelings is important because it helps you to communicate your emotions effectively, gain clearer self-awareness, make better decisions, foster strong relationships, and manage your emotional well-being. Being able to express and identify your feelings also helps in developing emotional intelligence, which is crucial in navigating various life challenges successfully.
How can I help my child label feelings?
For many kids, being able to put words to their feelings is the first step in learning how to manage emotions when they become overwhelming. This is why naming feelings is often listed as a calming strategy in and of itself!
There are so many words and descriptions for the ways we feel, and often parents don’t even have a handle on which words to use at which time. Having a feelings wheel somewhere in your house is helpful, both when your child is having trouble explaining their feelings but also for you as a parent. Look at the feelings wheel at various times throughout the day with your child and try to point out how you’re feeling, and why that particular description is right this moment. As your child sees you work to label your own emotions, they’ll start to model that behavior and understand the importance of expressing and identifying their feelings and needs. They also learn intuitively from your demeanor, so adding a specific label to what they’re absorbing is very helpful.
Best Books for Teaching Young Children About Feelings
These books can help kids differentiate between emotions.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
By Cori Doerrfeld
Animals of all kinds have ideas for how Taylor can handle his emotions following a difficult situation. Taylor is finally able to express himself to the rabbit, whose main goal is simply to listen. Kids are encouraged to talk through their emotions and listen to others with compassion in this sweet story. Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
The Boy with Big, Big Feelings
By Britney Winn Lee
Kids are likely to recognize situations they’ve been in themselves as well as familiar feelings in this picture book that honors how big our range of emotions can be. Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
When Sophie Gets Angry…Really, Really Angry
By Molly Bang
My Magical Feelings
By Becky Cummings
My Body Sends a Signal: Helping Kids Recognize Emotions and Express Feelings
By Natalia Maguire
Tuning into their bodies can help kids notice and understand their emotional state. This book explores that concept, and provides activities for continued learning. Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
By Jo Witek
A New York Times bestseller for good reason! Numerous emotions are explored, along with the thoughts and physical experiences typically accompanying them. Find this book on Bookshop, Target, or Amazon
Reading about emotions and calming strategies is just the first step towards more regulated kids! Once you’ve added some of the books above to your child’s library and started enjoying them together, you can try these next steps to get even better results.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Children tend to make it clear which books are their favorites. While it can be less than exciting for parents to tell the same story over and over, do your best to follow your child’s lead here. Repetition is an important part of how kids learn, and we want to encourage their engagement with books, especially if it means improved behavior and social-emotional skills!
Stick with it! If you haven’t noticed your child gravitating towards any particular book about big feelings or calming down, keep trying! Kids grow and change at an astounding rate. A certain book or calming technique that didn’t appeal to them a few months ago could become their favorite in no time.
Practice. Be on the lookout for real-world applications of the ideas and skills you’ve read about with your child. Remember that your child isn’t the only one who can (or should!) practice!
Celebrate Successes! We’ll always advocate for this one at Team Happypillar! When you catch your child applying anything you’ve been reading about it in their daily life, let them know you notice and express
Share! We encourage you to let other caregivers, like grandparents or teachers, know what you’ve been reading at home, as well as what’s working for your child! The more trusted, caring adults are involved in this learning process, the better.
If you find that your child needs more support around managing big emotions than others their age, that is okay! This does not mean that your child won’t ultimately excel at expressing themselves in healthy ways. Reading together may not be the only thing your child needs on their journey to building social-emotional skills, but it can be a great first step.