By Patti Richards

Parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And when your child is having a meltdown in the mall, you probably wish it did. Sometimes, a just-right kid’s book, written to and for your little one, does more to help hone emotional health in your child than all the parenting volumes in the local library. When a well-written story validates a child’s emotions, it opens the door to conversations the two of you might not otherwise have been able to have.

But how do you choose books for your child’s age and stage that address emotional issues she may be struggling with? Scholastic recommends using the PICK method:

  • Purpose – Why are you and your child looking for a book? Knowing what you’re looking for, especially when it comes to emotional issues, can help you and your child find the right book at the right time.
  • Interest – Using your child’s interests to help choose books can help her find themes and characters she relates to. Simple things like looking at the cover, flipping through the pages and looking at the pictures can help you tell right away if the book will interest her, regardless of subject matter.
  • Comprehend – Are the books you’re considering at an appropriate reading level for your child? Can she comprehend what she is reading or hearing?
  • Know the words – Choose books that your child comprehends when it is read to her, but that she can also read independently. Look at a one page of the book. If there are zero to one unknown words, the books is too easy. If two to three unknown words, the book is just right. And if four to five unknown words, the book is too difficult.1

Using the PICK method to help, look for books about the issue your child is facing. Books that deal with self image, making friends, being bullied or being accepted help your child see that she is not alone. Books that offer hopeful solutions and new ways of addressing things can help her with fear, loneliness or even the death of a loved one or pet.

With this in mind, the following titles can help you build an “emotional health” library that can grow with your child:

For Self-Esteem

A healthy state of mind begins with a healthy self-image. Many children begin struggling with body image issues and feelings of inadequacy from an early age. Books that affirm children at every stage help kids feel okay in their own skin. These titles do that well:

  • Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy (Ages 4 to 11; Cardinal Rule Press, August 2008): Lucy is one-of-a-kind, and Ralph likes to point that out to anyone who will listen. Lucy can’t understand why he is so mean. But when Ralph needs help, Lucy is the only one with the courage to do the right thing.2
  • Dear Girl by Amy Klouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal (Ages 4 to 8; Harper Collins, December 2017): This mother-daughter writing team encourages young girls to be themselves and to love who they are.3
  • Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Ages 12 and up; HMH Books for Young Readers, Reprint, February 2013): Doug has a problem with making bad choices, especially after his quick-tempered dad loses his job and the family must move to a new town. But through new friendships, art and strength of character, Doug learns to accept himself and start making positive changes.4

For Anxiety and Depression

For some children, feelings of anxiety and depression often simmer below the surface. Changes in behavior, acting out, sudden clinginess or new, unexplained fears can all indicate the presence of anxiety or depression in children. The right books can start conversations when the words just aren’t there. These titles do just that:

  • The Great Big Book of Feelings by Mary Hoffman (Ages 4 to 7; Francis Lincoln Books, August 2013): This books begins with the question, “How are you feeling today?” and moves from one brightly colored spread to another explaining the ways children feel.5
  • The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside (Ages 3 to 5; Hatchett Childrens, January 2011): Jenny’s worries are always around — in a big blue bag that follows her wherever she goes. When she doesn’t know what to do, a kind neighbor shows her that opening the bag and sharing the worries helps them go away.6

For Specific Situations

Children’s books can help young readers and their parents deal with more than just broad feelings and emotions. Being afraid of the dark and monsters under the bed, the first day of school and being bullied or left behind are all things that can disrupt a child’s normally happy life. The following are three of many examples:

  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer (Ages 4 to 8; Albert Whitman, May 2016): Penguin is having a grumpy day and he doesn’t know why. Maybe the best thing to do is start all over again.7
  • Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller (Ages 3 to 6; Roaring Brook Press, February 2016): When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress at school, her friend comes up with ways to make her feel better and teaches those around her how to be kind.8
  • The Fix-It Friends: Sticks and Stones by Nicole C. Kear (Ages 6 to 9; MacMillan, May 2017): Veronica sees Noah getting teased so she steps in to help. But when the teasers make her their new target, she’s so embarrassed that she agrees to a makeover, which only makes things worse. What to do? Call in the Fix-It Friends!9

Finding Help for Emotional Wellness

If your child struggles with sadness, depression, anxiety or other symptoms that might indicate a growing problem, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline, 24 hours a day, to talk with an admissions coordinator about the treatment options available to you and your family.

1 Mascott, Amy. “Help Kids to P.I.C.K. the Right Books.” Scholastic, January 30, 2018.

2Maria Dismondy: Children’s Book Author.” Maria Dismondy, Accessed January 2, 2018.

3 “Amy Krouse Rosenthal.” Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Accessed January 12, 2018.

4 Engelfried, Sally. “Okay for Now – Book Review.” Common Sense Media, Accessed January 2018.

5The Great Big Book of Feelings.” Little Parachutes, Accessed January 12, 2018.

6The Huge Bag of Worries.” Little Parachutes, Accessed January 12, 2018.

7 Valente, Joanna C. “5 New Children’s Books Your Kid Needs to Read About Mental Health.” Kveller, May 13, 2016.

8Pat Zietlow Miller.” Pat Zietlow Miller, Accessed January 12, 2018.

9 Kear, Nicole. “The Fix-it Friends: Sticks and Stones.” The Fix-It Friends, Accessed January 12, 2018.