Undoubtedly you’ve experienced some surge of worry and anxiety in your household over the last couple of months. It is an unprecedented time we are currently living in, and managing a myriad of emotions (both your own and your child’s) takes a concerted effort.
A few days ago, my five-year-old was having a rougher-than-usual morning, and I decided to stop my household tasks to get down to her level and ask, “Do you miss your preschool friends?” She responded by bursting into tears and sobbing for several heart-wrenching minutes.
I couldn’t help crying with her, crying for missed friends, for missed outings, for a long-ago normal, for library outings, park visits, and every other thing that has been indefinitely placed on hold. We had a good cry together, and it was one of those moments where riding the wave of emotion felt like a small victory.
Childhood (and indeed life) is filled with anxiety and fear-inducing moments. Starting a new school, moving, a disposition to shyness, unfamiliar food, and the list goes on. While I’m not a child psychologist, I believe talking about feelings creates a safe space for children to feel secure in their environment.
Allowing children space within their emotions, whatever they may be, takes practice. The process isn’t linear, but it can be very rewarding. The picture books below have given us a few extra tools to discuss worry and anxiety with our kids. Perhaps they too will be of use in your family.
1 | A Whale of a Mistake by Ioana Hobai
A young child makes a mistake and immediately begins worrying about the mistake. Soon the worry starts to feel heavier and heavier, and before you know it, the worry has swallowed her whole. Shouting at the mistake doesn’t seem to make a difference, so the mistake (represented by a giant whale) takes the child on a ride through the sea.
Gathering courage, the youngster opens her eyes and takes note of the stars beaming in the night sky, but soon the stars begin to shoot through the air. Are they mistakes too? Eventually, the child and whale wind their way back to shore, where a little perspective puts the worry in its proper place.
2 | A Little SPOT of Anxiety: A Story About Calming Your Worries by Diane Alber
Gray Spot arrives on the scene, looking paralyzed by fear. Anxiety can kick in when you try new things or encounter familiar but still anxiety-inducing experiences like taking a test. Whenever Anxiety Spot appears, it’s a way your body protects you by worrying.
But worrying can be managed. Doing things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and being creative can shrink your Anxiety Spot; however, it can still appear in unexpected places. With a calming exercise halfway through the book, young readers can practice via real-life scenarios.
All of the books in this series can be especially effective for young (and old) readers.
3 | I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille
A young girl wakes in a wash of pink morning light. As she greets her fish, we see her color shift. Reluctant to head out the door for school, she is awash in a monotone gray. Helmet clad and donning a cape, she soon scooters her way into a warmer shade of jade.
Throughout the day, we watch as the girl shifts from hue to hue, and each color reflects how moods fluctuate throughout the day.
With splotchy watercolor endpapers and a myriad of feelings shown throughout, this book beautifully conveys the palette of emotions that make us each unique.
4 | I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black
Potato is worried. His friends ask him what he is worried about, and he succinctly declares The Future. Potato is particularly worried that something bad might happen in the future. He begs his friends to tell him that nothing bad will happen; however, they can’t do that since nobody knows the future.
Influenced by his friend, Flamingo starts to feel worried too. The three friends recall bad things that happened in the past and how each of those events eventually turned out okay. Still, Flamingo and Potato think they have a solution to solving their worries.
A humorous book that gets at the heart of shrinking worry about the unknown.
5 | Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna
“I have always had a secret. A tiny friend called Fear.”
When a young girl moves to a new country, Fear isn’t so little anymore. The girl wants to explore her neighborhood and go to school, but Fear makes it difficult. Fear gets angry when the teacher pronounces the girl’s name wrong, and Fear wraps herself around the girl, keeping her separate from her schoolmates on the playground.
Fear is voracious and continues to grow, creating vast loneliness inside the young girl. Until one day, a boy in class shows the girl something, and together the two children begin to draw and create with one another. When they play during recess, the girl discovers the boy has a fear of his own, and she soon realizes that most people also have a fear they are living with day after day.
6 | My Big Bad Monster by A. N. Kang
A curly red-headed girl gets ready for the morning, but a scraggly, gray monster starts to deride her as she combs her hair. He chortles at her on her way to school, whispering lies into her impressionable ears. The beast grows, filling the girl’s head with unkind words, which she soon starts to echo to other children.
At mealtime and bedtime, the brooding beast blathers on until finally, the girl can take no more. STOP! she yells at the hideous monster, but he refuses to listen. So the girl decides she too will no longer listen to the lies echoing in her head. With some creativity, the enterprising protagonist finds a way to beat the monster once and for all.
A compelling look at how powerful self-talk can be.
7 | Out, Out Away From Here by Rachel Woodworth
Another spirited redhead discusses how some days she feels mad, other days she feels sad, and then some she feels glad. Sometimes though, all those emotions get wrapped into one, and when life at home feels particularly heavy (i.e., parents fighting), the girl likes to escape into the world of her imagination.
Her imagination is a place where trees rustle and sway, a spot where a fox can be a companion, and the size of things can shift without a moment’s notice. It’s a place where climbing mountains of homework or boiled baby carrots is as natural as the emotions that take us to places out and away from the worries of everyday life.
8 | Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez
Pilar practices dance moves while brushing her teeth. Friday is her favorite day because it’s ballet day. On the way out the door, Pilar remembers she has auditions for the upcoming Winter Wonderland show, and soon her mind starts to spin, worried that she’ll forget the steps.
Throughout the day, Pilar is confronted with ongoing worries, and after dance class, she can’t muster the courage to sign up for auditions. At night she discusses her concerns with her Mama, and Mama offers comforting words. Unable to sleep, Pilar practices her dancing snowflake moves and gains confidence in the late-night hours.
The next morning Pilar auditions and even ends up getting the role she wanted. With an author’s note at the back of the book, this book provides additional resources for caregivers and educators.
9 | Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
Ruby loves being Ruby. She’s a happy child until one day she discovers a worry. The worry isn’t big (and disguised as a lemon with a unibrow, it even looks somewhat friendly); however, the worry gets bigger each day and won’t leave Ruby alone.
It follows her through the day and is still there at night. Yet no one else can see Ruby’s worry, so she pretends that she can’t see it either. Soon the worry stops her from doing the things she loves, and Ruby feels like she might never be happy again.
One day Ruby notices a boy sitting alone, feeling sad on a park bench. Sitting next to him is a worry of his own. Once Ruby realizes other people have worries as well, she starts to feel like she can talk about her worry with other people, and miraculously that simple act helps shrink her worry to a manageable size.
10 | The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew
Molly and Murray are off to visit the waterfall when Murray starts listing off his worries. Molly shares a secret with her brother and shows him her worry box. The worry box is where she places her worries so that she can continue without letting them stop her.
As the two bear cubs wander through the woods, they enjoy nature, visit with friends, and let Murray stop to write down his worries for safekeeping inside the box. Eventually, Murray shares his secret with another woodland creature, finally realizing that sharing worries with others makes them feel less scary.
This book is an endearing read, featuring ever-relatable anthropomorphized animals.
11 | Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Wemberly is a mouse plagued with worry. She worries in the morning, at night, in the bath, about a crack in the wall, at the park, and everywhere in between. Whenever Wemberly worries, she rubs her doll Petal’s ears. She even worries that one day, Petal won’t have any ears left.
On Halloween, Wemberly worries other kids will have the same costume as her, but then she worries when she ends up being the only butterfly. Not until Wemberly finally meets a like-minded new classmate does Wemberly find some relief in her worries.
With Henkes’ signature asides (be sure to read each one), this original worry book will have something for children young and old.
12 | When Worry Takes Hold by Liz Haske
One night Worry sneaks into Maya’s mind. He quickly grows bigger and crowds her at breakfast. He stays for the walk to school and even pesters Maya at a birthday party. When bedtime rolls around again, Worry forces Maya to cling to her parents’ legs. Soon Maya’s mom and dad begin to worry about their daughter and how they can help her.
Then one day, at circle time, Maya meets Worry’s enemy: Courage. Maya learns how to focus on her breath, giving her the power to calm the fears that make Worry grow. Soon she even gathers enough courage to confront Worry and begins to realize how she can live her life with both Courage and Worry.
13 | Worry Says What? by Allison Edwards
Sometimes Worry likes to set up camp inside our brain. At first, he whispers things like “You can’t do it,” or “It’s too hard.” But soon he starts to yell. He niggles his way around your brain and chants mean phrases when you’re supposed to be having fun. Maybe Worry is right.
Finally tired of listening to Worry, the young girl in this story realizes that listening to Worry is ruining her life and decides to say the opposite of what he’s been telling her. Worry is still there, but over time he begins to shrink.
Like other books previously mentioned on this list, I especially appreciate how Worry is depicted in concrete bodily emotions (tummy in knots and a rapid heartbeat), which is relatable to kids (and adults).