Inside: Those picture books about negative emotions will help your kids expand their emotional vocabulary, allow them to explore negative emotions safely, and help them learn the best ways to deal with them.
Like clouds in the sky, emotions come, and emotions go. They are not inherently good or bad, and it’s only what we do when we are inside the cloud of a big emotion that might create a problem. The trick is to remember that the sun is waiting for you on the other side, something that kids, in particular, can have a hard time with.
Luckily, we can help our kids gain more control over their emotions, strengthen mental flexibility, and build up a tolerance to situations where reality fails to meet their expectations.
How you talk about negative emotions (your own and those of others) as well as the tools and strategies you share with your children will greatly impact how your kids navigate their emotional lives. What’s more, reading books about characters who deal well (or fail to deal well) in different circumstances can give us new perspectives and teach useful lessons.
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Mother Bruce, Ryan T. Higgins
I’m giddy with delight to be sharing this book with you! Bruce is a grumpy bear who lives by himself in the middle of the woods. He hates rain, hates shine, hates cute animals, and is entirely unprepared for dealing with a bunch of goslings who imprint on him. If you think that this setup is ripe for comedy, you’re absolutely right. Add to that a few clever twists and a surprising ending, and you can see why I’m so excited about this story.
It’s great for talking about our reactions to life experiences and dealing with negative emotions. During the course of the story, we see Bruce going through anger, disgust, panic, boredom, fear, frustration, and annoyance. You can invite kids to offer suggestions on how Bruce should have handled it. The charmingly expressive artwork will make you smile and laugh, despite Bruce’s troubles.
Hungry Jim, Laurel Snyder
Jim is a little boy who wakes up in such a beastly mood that he wants to destroy everything and anything. He also wants to cry…and to run away, which he does. But as the saying goes, wherever he goes, there he is, and there his feelings are too.
This is one of those quirky (and cleverly illustrated) picture books that can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways depending on your preference and whatever your kids are dealing with at the moment. All kids feel like Jim sometimes: grumpy and angry. We help them a lot when we tell them that it can happen to the best of us, and then discuss appropriate and inappropriate ways of handling difficult moments.
Because I Stubbed My Toe, Shawn Byous
It all started with a stubbed toe. Then the chair fell over and scared the dog, who scared the cat, who caused the ice cream cone to fall out of a child’s hand… and there it goes… a giant chain reaction getting grander and more over-the-top with each page. Don’t worry. The book ends surprisingly well for the main protagonist and reminds us that when bad things happen, we can choose not to get stuck in negative emotions.
Did you know that our emotions last only 90 seconds? When we have an emotional response, there is a 90-second chemical reaction in our body. If you feel like you’re stuck in an emotion longer than that, it means your thinking is keeping you stuck in an emotional loop. And that means it’s time to take a deep breath and interrupt the pattern. What a valuable piece of information to share with our kids.
Moosekitos, Margie Palatini
Moose put his heart and soul into planning a perfectly perfect family reunion, but things are not going according to his plan. Instead of “togetherness,” group games, and family hikes, everyone is doing his or her own thing, and it’s so frustrating!
As we all know, over-investing in a particular outcome can easily lead to disappointment. It’s good to remember not to take it personally when reality fails to live up to our expectations. It’s not that the moose family set out to frustrate our main hero on purpose. It’s just that little moose kids are tired, teens are bored, and someone has an acute attack of allergies. The best strategy in this situation is to roll with the punches.
And by the way, the hairstyles, clothes, and tongue-in-cheek references to familiar things in moose-like style (i.e., Moosachusetts and Moosisippi) are delightful.
The Way I Feel, Jan Cain
So how do you roll with the punches, accept things as they are, and move on? A good place to start is to remember that whether “silly or angry, happy or sad,” emotions are neither good nor bad. They simply are, and they are actually pretty short-lived.
This is a fantastic book to expand kids’ emotional vocabulary and open dialogue about the different types of emotions we experience on a daily basis. Each colorful and expressive double spread features a relatable character in the midst of some common emotion: fear, disappointment, frustration, shyness, …
I read this so many times that I’ve learned it by heart (although I did change some rhymes to suit our situations better). Now I can recall a rhyme whenever one of my kids (or I) need it.
It Wasn’t My Fault, Helen Lester
Things often don’t go well for poor Murdley Gurdson. Your kids will relate to goofy problems he faces, like a tube of toothpaste disastrously escaping his control. Or a kite getting tangled up in a tree. It could happen to anyone, and it’s not his fault, right?
One particularly frustrating day, Murdley Gurdson sets out to uncover, once and for all, whose fault it is that things don’t go as they should. And the resulting confusion and laugh-out-loud adventure is dearly entertaining and highly educational.
This is a super delightful book that you absolutely must read with your children. Helen Lester focuses on writing books that are as hilarious as they are educational. What she brilliantly highlights in this story is that among those who play the blame game, there are no winners. The only way to win is to take responsibility for our part in the story and go from there.
Good Night Owl, Greg Pizzoli
This book about overreaction has been a favorite with all of my four kids. Owl is getting ready to go to bed when he hears a strange noise. It seems like the sound is coming from under the floor. Or is it coming from the roof? Or maybe it’s in the walls?! The owl ends up destroying his house to find the annoying source. Spoiler alert: it was a mouse.
This story is perfect for talking with kids about knee-jerk reactions and why it’s important to think rationally under pressure. The artwork is simple but very funny and expressive. It makes it easy to figure out the owl’s emotions at each stage of the adventure. Ask your kids to name them as they come.
Hurty Feelings, Helen Lester
Fragility is a big, strong, good-looking hippo, but she is overly sensitive and cries about every little thing. Now all of her friends are staying away for fear of upsetting her, and she’s lonely. You won’t believe what helps Fragility get over her sensitivity!
Lester (author) and Munsinger’s (artist) creative collaboration is, as always, amazing. This book is perfect for teaching kids about feeling things deeply, appropriate reactions, emotional control, and handling big emotions.
Tad, Benji Davies
Tad is worried. His siblings are disappearing one by one, and he’s convinced that Big Blub, a great scary fish, has something to do with it. Well, it turns out that his siblings are all okay, and what’s more, he faces Big Blub and survives the experience.
It’s often like that in life: things that scare us, and that we try to avoid at all cost, become the best teachers and the impetus for progress in our lives. And like many negative emotions, fear can be useful. Fear kept Tad alert and helped him survive when Big Blub got on his tail.
The expressive teal, blue, green, and black palette enhances the story.
Randal the Elephant, Ciara Gavin
Despite what the title of this story might lead you to believe, Randal is not an elephant. He is an otter who wants to become an elephant! He decides to follow his dream, says goodbye to his friends, and goes to live with the elephant herd.
What I love about this book is that, with the help of sweet humor and gorgeous artwork, it shows that even when things fall far below our expectations, freaking out is not necessary. We can treat everything as a piece of new information, learn from it, and move on… to new dreams, events, and adventures, just like Randal did when he realized that his life’s dream wasn’t working out for him.
What’s in Your Mind Today? Louise Bladen
Oliver’s thoughts are monsters stomping around. Molly’s thoughts are butterflies that flit and flutter all over the place. No matter what your thoughts are though, they come and go like clouds in the sky.
This wonderful book, written specifically for children who struggle with negative thoughts, is an introduction to mindfulness practice. First, kids are guided to find their center through deep breathing. Then, they’re invited to explore what’s on their mind, finding calm in the midst of thoughts, welcoming all feelings, and watching them come and go without getting over-invested in any particular thought.
And don’t assume that it’s too sophisticated for little kids. Research shows that children are interested in and respond well to mindfulness practice.
Waiting is Not Easy, Mo Williams
We are already at the end of the list, and we still haven’t talked about patience! If you’ve been around little kids any amount of time, you know: waiting doesn’t come easy to them. (Actually, who am I kidding? The same can be said about anybody depending on the situation. Ever waited for a baby to fall asleep? Or test results for a potentially life-changing diagnosis?)
Piggie has something amazing for Elephant, but they need to wait. Poor Elephant goes through multiple stages of frustration that, thanks to Mo Williams, are hilariously entertaining (as well as informative).
The purpose of the story is to show that some things just can’t be hurried and that there are things worth waiting for.
And finally, some board books, because it’s never too early to start learning about navigating negative emotions.
I’m Grumpy, Jennifer Holm
This book is absolutely delightful, and we’ve been reading it almost every day with my preschooler ever since we discovered it. The cloud is grumpy. First, a bird woke him up, then it got wet, and finally ice cream slid out of his cone. The sun, on the other hand, is happy and tries to cheer the grumpy cloud up. But it only makes our cloud grumpier.
You will have to read the story to find out the resolution of this problem, and then talk to your kids about handling negative emotions without hurting anyone else’s feelings. The comic style of illustration is very expressive and attractive to kids of all ages.
Mad, Mad, Mad, Leslie Patricelli
Someone is feeling cranky today. It doesn’t matter why: what matters is that there are so many things that can help the mad go away! Pillow punches, deep breathing, listening to music, friends…
If you are already familiar with Leslie Patricelli board books, you know that they are very bright, sturdy, informative, and loved by kids everywhere.
Will Giraffe Laugh? Hillary Leung
Giraffe is feeling grumpy. His friends feel it’s very important to help him get over it. They do all kinds of things to make him laugh, but nothing works until it starts raining, and they all get muddy. This book ends with a philosophical question: how do you cheer up your friends?
This is a cute and colorful board book. Use it to talk with your kids about feeling grumpy and why it’s okay to feel that way. Sooner or later the rainbow will come out, and things will be okay again. You can also tell your kids that whatever they would do to cheer their friends up, they can do to cheer themselves up the next time they feel down.
What book on this list caught your attention?
In recent years, the connection between movement and emotions has revolutionized the field of early childhood education. With the right guidance, music and movement activities for preschoolers can build positive self-esteem, improve self-regulation, and help children express themselves in a healthy and meaningful way.