Phrases like “coping skills,” “social emotional learning,” and “growth mindset” are the latest in buzzy educational jargon. However you describe it, adults are starting to adapt to the fact that we cannot ignore the mental health of children. While we accept that kids need explicit instruction in how to read or multiply or understand scientific concepts, for a long time, we acted like an ability to recognize and manage emotions would come naturally as children age. A short time spent observing emotionally stunted adults should disabuse us of that notion. Luckily, there has been a sea change, and children’s books about mental health have surged alongside.
Children carry all the same baggage as adults, but without the autonomy to do many of the things we do when it all gets to be too much. Most kids can’t decide when they’ve earned a little treat, make the choice to go for a long walk, or reach out to a mental health professional without support from someone else. While some kids may accidentally stumble on the skills that help them calm down and process, others might have understandable breakdowns and then be scolded for acting out of control. This is where the books about children’s mental health come in. Step-by-step teaching skills for what to say and how to respond when challenging situations arise is the biggest gift we can give the children in our lives. As adults, we’ll likely pick up some coping skills along the way.
Below, I’ve gathered several picture books that support children’s mental health, covering topics from anxiety to personal autonomy to flexible thinking. Ready to grow those social-emotional skills? Read on.
When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… by Molly Bang
I really love Sophie. Bang’s series showcases each moment of this child dealing with her big feelings. While this particular title shows Sophie walking her way through disappointment when she fails at a task, all the books do an excellent job of using simple language and relatable experiences to reach kids. After they meet Sophie, your child will want to try again.
Ortego has a whole series of “superpower” books that celebrate different character traits. In this title, our heroine, Sofia, uses the power of breathwork to remain calm in many different situations that your child will recognize. The book has kids practicing this skill repeatedly, which should help them access it when they need it in the real world!
When Harley Has Anxiety: A Fun CBT Skills Activity Book to Help Manage Worries and Fears by Regine Galanti, PhD and Vicky Lommatzsch
Worry is one of the top concerns for children I see as an elementary educator. This book, written by a cognitive behavioral therapist, uses cute characters and simple instructions to help kids get a grasp on their anxieties. Crafts, writing prompts, and mindfulness exercises give kids a menu of strategies they can turn to when their fears threaten to stop them in their tracks!
Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez and Jess Golden
While many of the books on this list have an instructional feel, this narrative story about a ballet dancer who experiences audition anxiety is a lovely contrast. Pilar loves to dance, and she is very good at it, but when it’s time to audition, she feels the fear in her entire body. Children will love learning the strategies that are masterfully woven into this story.
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley
There is nothing more important than destigmatizing and degendering the experience of having feelings. Negley’s bold, graphic illustrations depict superheroes embracing emotions that are typically swept under the rug. This light, enjoyable picture book allows some of these mental health discussions to remain slightly silly and very joyful.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller
Having a strong sense of self and boundaries is one of the more important mental health skills we can impart. We have to teach kids to say “no” and “don’t touch me.” It’s also important to make sure they understand that this does not make them mean, and they can say it even to people they like. Miller’s book does an amazing job of imparting that one should ask before touching another, it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to change your answer as often as you like. A powerful master course in consent with fun alien and mermaid illustrations? If you buy one book from this list, I suggest this one.
Spanish is My Superpower by Jennifer Jones
Many languages are spoken in the school where I work, and I am often in awe of the bilingual students who are working hard at achieving academic success in English while also being fluent in another language. Often, my students are translating academic details for their families. Many times, they are the only people in our school who speak the language of newcomer students. Sometimes, my students don’t realize how amazing this skill is. It is my job as an educator to make sure they understand how powerful they are. This book helps bilingual students and English language learners see their home language for the superpower it is.
The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi and Lorena Alvarez
This book is pretty and inspiring. Persevering when something goes wrong is a skill that almost every human could improve. As a child, when almost everything is a work in progress, getting discouraged is easy. The Magical Yet uses simple rhymes and bright illustrations to celebrate the promise of the word YET. Add this word to your daily vocabulary, and you’ll be surprised what an effect it has on your ability to bounce back from temporary failure.
Hopefully, you’ve found something to address the needs of the children in your life. Looking for more books about children’s mental health? Check out this list covering anxiety books for kids. Happy reading!