Assertiveness and Self-Advocacy

When children feel angry or frustrated (or any related feelings like annoyed, hurt, etc.), it can often mean that something isn’t working for them. The first step to managing this situation is regulating one’s emotions to prevent a tantrum or unhelpful aggressive reaction (hitting, screaming, etc.), but the second step is often expressing one’s needs and advocating for a change. Being able to do this effectively is a life skill and takes a lot of bravery and practice. These books reinforce the importance of speaking up when something isn’t right, and they encourage children to do so bravely and respectfully.
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.

Say Something

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Age range: Preschool through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: This book encourages children to share their ideas and to make a difference with their voices, actions, and art. It’s a great start to talking about what children can do about injustices they see or problems they care about (e.g., racism, climate change, bullying at school). This book explicitly states right at the beginning that children can say something in any way that fits for them. “You don’t have to be loud. Powerful words can be a whisper. You can say something in so many ways. With words, with action, with creativity.”
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book celebrates speaking up for what a child feels is right–whether that be taking accountability, standing up to bullying, or inviting a new kid to play. Molly Lou Melon is “a tiny little girl with a big deep-down heart,” and she will likely inspire children to be brave like she is. This story is a lovely way to talk with children about when it might be difficult for them to speak up and what might happen if they do.
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is a fun read for kids who need some encouragement to advocate respectfully for what they want. It’s especially, but not specifically, relevant to children who are bothered by loud noises and/or who love math. Kids who tend to complain without doing anything about the situation or who use aggressive or passive aggressive strategies may benefit from Isobel’s experimentation with these different strategies and her ultimate realization that kindly and directly articulating one’s preferences is often most effective.