Emotional Processing

This refers to the process of feeling, understanding, and expressing one’s emotions. Emotional processing can occur via play, art, writing, speaking, or any other modality that resonates with a person. Emotional processing often helps people to cope with difficult or uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness and grief.
Age range: Preschool through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: This is a silly, sparkly book about Kevin the Unicorn who wakes up to a bad day, and by the end of the book realizes that “it’s okay to not feel okay.” The book is great for a kid who is reluctant to share when they’re feeling down or having a bad day due to a sense that they’re supposed to be/ act happy all the time. It normalizes bad days and highlights how problematic it is to pretend to be happy when one’s “insides [don’t] feel smiley at all.”
Age range: 2nd grade through 5th grade.
Recommended for: Children with a parent or caregiver who is experiencing psychosis (i.e., hallucinations and/or delusions) or is otherwise behaving very unusually. Parent diagnoses of Bipolar I Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Delusional Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder with psychotic features are all appropriate. This book is best completed in small doses with a therapist or a caregiver who is not symptomatic.
Age range: 2nd grade through 5th grade.
Recommended for: This book is ideal for an older, verbally-oriented child who is scared of their anger and/or feels embarrassed or ashamed by their behavior when they’re angry. The book destigmatizes anger by presenting it as a valuable feeling that shows us when we’ve been hurt or that something is unfair. It teaches children strategies for managing the feeling in healthy ways (e.g. deep breaths, talking about it with someone they trust) so that they can use their anger to motivate positive change.
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is a really great introduction to anger management and would probably be best received by a child who has expressed some interest in getting a better handle on their anger (maybe they want to get in trouble less, or they’ve expressed sadness about hurting someone’s feelings while they were angry). Importantly, it teaches children to listen to their anger (e.g., maybe a child needs a rest or someone needs to stop being unfair) as well as to calm down using a handful of impactful coping strategies (e.g., taking a break, deep breaths, exercise, talking with a trusted person).

Ruby Finds a Worry

Written and illustrated by Tom Percival
Age range: This book is short with simple language–preschoolers through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is great to read with children who seem to be carrying heavy feelings around with them and not sharing them. Kids with worries and/or mood symptoms would likely benefit from reading this book–the message that one can feel better by connecting with others and sharing one’s feelings is quite applicable to both depression symptoms as well as worries. For therapists, this book could be helpful as a read early in therapy with a child who isn’t sure talking about their feelings will help at all.
Age range: Preschool through 1st grade.
Recommended for: Best for children you suspect have lots of worries that are bringing them down (perhaps they’re also having tummy aches and nightmares) but who aren’t sharing their worries with anyone. Also great for a parent who needs a reminder that being a good listener when a child is sharing worries is invaluable (and that saying “Don’t worry!” isn’t helpful). This book leads well into an activity of a child drawing out their own worries.
Age range: Best for 1st grade through 3rd grade, but adequately applicable to kindergarteners through 4th grade.
Recommended for: Children with parents (or other caregivers) who have mood disorders will benefit from the developmentally appropriate explanations and reassurances this book provides. It’s part workbook, with opportunities for a child to draw and write about their feelings, questions, and experiences related to having a parent with depression. Great for family members, therapists, and/or school counselors to complete with a child whose parent is struggling with depression. Includes a section on hospitalization.
Age range: Elementary-aged kids. Older kids will understand the depth of the story better than younger ones, but this story does such a nice job describing a complicated but important concept in an accessible way that many younger children will get a lot out of it too.
Recommended for: This book portrays the importance of sitting with and “unpacking” our feelings rather than avoiding them. It is excellent to read with children who think that feeling sad is wrong, weak, useless, or scary and therefore minimize what they’re feeling and/or who avoid thinking about or sharing their feelings. It’s also great for a child who is feeling sad about a family’s move (as Santiago is), but it’s certainly not limited to this specific situation. This story is available in Spanish as well as English.
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: This book helps children to name the feeling of “missing,” which many children frequently feel following parents’ separation or divorce. It suggests journaling (drawing and/or writing) as a strategy to cope with this feeling. It’s best read after parents’ separation has already occurred and a child has a working understanding of separation/divorce. This book features a grandfather confidante and would be great if read with an extended family member or therapist, particularly if paired with a gift of a small journal or notebook.
Age range: 2nd through 5th, or even 6th grade.
Recommended for: This book is best for a more mature, verbal child who has some insight into their thoughts and feelings. It takes seriously the intensity of children’s feelings of shame and helps kids to recognize and name the feeling, as well as to share about what is causing them to feel shame. This book is appropriate for a child who has experienced trauma or abuse and is subsequently feeling shame, as well as a child who struggles more generally with feelings of inadequacy or negative self-talk. (It makes a nod to shame sometimes being the result of “something we did or didn’t do,” as well as “something done to us.”)
Age range: 1st grade through 4th grade.
Recommended for: This book is excellent for a child who is hurt and angry about their parents’ divorce and who feels invalidated by books that imply that there might be good things about it (e.g., all of the books that include a line like, now you’ll have twice as many toys!). This book validates a child’s pain, reminds them that it isn’t their fault, and encourages them to express their feelings. It is a great book for a therapist or counselor to use prior to introducing a relevant therapy activity (e.g., writing out a child’s worries on strips of paper; making a collage of their feelings) and as a way to communicate that in therapy a child doesn’t have to act like everything is okay. Parents may find this book painful, as it is a reminder of how difficult divorce can be for children, but for many kids, it could be a relief to see that their parent recognizes and accepts their feelings about the divorce. The parents in this book are never pictured, so it works for divorcing parents of all genders.
Age range: 1st grade through 4th grade.
Recommended for: This is a funny, touching book that portrays a creative way for children to mourn and make peace with having a family that spans multiple homes. This book is best read with children after divorce has already been explained and a separation initiated. This book is also a good fit for therapists who want to engage their clients with divorced parents in a relevant therapeutic art project–either related to a “blue period” or a collage.
Age range: Preschool through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: This fun rhyming story that’s a joy to read aloud helps children learn two anger management strategies to deal with a bad day: taking deep breaths and sharing about one’s feelings. It’s ideal for a child who needs a light touch when talking about these strategies (e.g., who might feel defensive or criticized with a more serious book).
Age range: 1st through 4th grade.
Recommended for: This book is excellent to read with a child who is already able to label their feelings at least some of the time, and who will enjoy thinking more deeply about their emotions. It teaches children that anger is often the “crust” on top of a pie filled with other feelings that need to be noticed and expressed so that they don’t bubble up and explode. After talking with her Tia, Amaya realizes that she’s been getting angry a lot lately because she’s been feeling jealous of the attention her baby sister has been getting, so it’s particularly relevant for kids in a similar situation, but it’s certainly not limited to this scenario. The book also provides a convincing rationale for taking deep breaths and provides a nice visual for practicing this skill. It’s available in English and Spanish.