Bibliotherapy, or the use of books as a therapeutic intervention, can be used to support children in understanding and processing their feelings and emotions. Bibliotherapy can assist children in overcoming problems by having them read stories about characters dealing with similar struggles.
There are a lot of great books for children that teach them to deal with complex emotions. Here are some of our favorites:
Books about Emotions
How are you Peeling? (Saxton Freymann & Jooest Elffers, ages 3-5)
How are you Peeling? introduces children to different types of feelings and provides a starting point for talking about feelings with children and encouraging them to think about their own feelings. Caregivers can ask questions like, “this red pepper looks sad. Do you ever feel sad?”
Today I Feel Silly (Jamie Lee Curtis, ages 3-8)
This book introduces children to different emotions and teaches children that feelings change. Caregivers can ask questions like, “do your moods ever change?” or “tell me about a time when you felt happy”
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Jo Witek, ages 3-6)
This book introduces children to the idea that some feelings make us feel “light as a balloon” and other feelings “as heavy as an elephant.” In My Heart explores a full range of emotions. Caregivers can ask children about the child’s big feelings, medium feelings, and small feelings.
The Way I Feel (Janan Cain, ages 0-8)
The Way I Feel teaches children that emotions are an ordinary part of life! Feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply are. The Way I Feel is a great book to introduce children to emotion identification. There are two versions- a board book for very younger children (ages 0-3) and a regular book with more emotions for slightly older children (ages 3-8).
Books about Worry
Wilma Jean & the Worry Machine (Julia Cook, ages 7-11)
Wilma Jean gives children the tools needed to feel more in control of their anxiety. Caregivers can discuss with their child the types of worries that they can and cannot control.
What to Do When You’re Scared & Worried (James Crist, ages 9-13)
What to Do When You’re Scared & Worried describes different kinds of fears and suggests ten Fear Chasers and Worry Erasers kids can try to feel safer, stronger, and calmer. Caregivers can identify different fear chasers and worry erasers that kids can try at home!
Don’t Feed the Worry Bug (Andi Green, ages 2-6)
Don’t Feed the Worry Bug is great story to start the conversation on worry and anxiety. Caregivers can ask questions like, “How do you know that Wince overcame his worries?” and “How can you make worries go away?”
Mr. Worry: A Story about OCD (Holly Niner, ages 7-12)
Mr. Worry makes obsessive-compulsive disorder understandable to both children and adults. The book discusses treatment, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with medication. Caregivers can use this book to introduce the idea of medication.
Lola’s Words Disappeared (Elaheh Bos, ages 5-8)
Lola’s Words Disappeared introduces anxiety management techniques specific to children with selective mutism. An accompanying activity book provides questions and activities that generate personal awareness. Caregivers can ask “What strategies did Lola use to help her words be braver?”
Books about Trauma
A Terrible Thing Happened (Margaret Holmes, ages 5-9)
This story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire. Caregivers can encourage children to think about how they’d help the main character, Sherman.
A Flicker of Hope (Julia Cook, ages 8-12)
A Flicker of Hope reminds children that dark clouds can be temporary and asking for help is always okay. Caregivers can work with children to brainstorm different ways to ask for help.
Books about Autism
A Boy Called Bat (Elana Arnold, ages 6-10)
A Boy Called Bat describes the day-to-day experience of high-functioning children with ASD. Caregivers can encourage their child to think about how they are similar and different from Bat, for example by listing the smells, tastes, sounds, and sights they like and don’t like.
All My Stripes (Shaina Rudolph, ages 4-8)
In All My Stripes, Zane comes to appreciate all his stripes — the unique strengths that make him who he is! Caregivers can encourage kids to draw a picture of a zebra and make their own unique stripe patterns.
Books about ADHD
I Can’t Sit Still! Living with ADHD
I Can’t Sit Still! provides a clear explanation of common symptoms and interventions in kid-friendly terms. Caregivers and children can discuss strategies to help them sit still, like taking breaks and fidget toys.
Shelley, the Hyperactive Turtle
Shelley, the Hyperactive Turtle teaches young children what it means to have attention-deficit disorder and help them feel comfortable with doctor visits and medication.
Books about Depression
Blueloon (Julia Cook, ages 7-12)
With help from the wise rock, Blueloon learns what he can do to “bounce back” to being the way he used to be — bright, round, and full with a very straight string! The activity book offers processing tools and strategies to help children and parents cope with this difficult situation.
Hurty Feelings (Helen Lester & Lynn Munsinger, ages 4-7)
Hurty Feelings is about a hippo that negatively interprets other animals’ comments and consequently feels depressed. She finally comforts someone else and learns to accept compliments at the end of the book. Caregivers can discuss with your child other ways to interpret situations and the impact of their negative thoughts on their moods.
Books about Death/Grieving
I Miss You: A First Look at Death (Pat Thomas, ages 4-8)
I Miss You helps children understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one’s death. Caregivers can help children understand their personal feelings as the first step in dealing with them.
The Invisible String (Patrice Karst, ages 3-8)
The book’s message is that no one is ever alone, even when their loved one is not physically present. Caregivers and children can create their own invisible strings.