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Reading Feelings

Includes Mabel’s Fables List of Books That Connect to Kids’ Hearts

When we are born part of our temperament is locked in place by our genetics. However, everything that happens to us day-to-day also profoundly affects how our brains develop. In the book “The Whole Brain Child”, Dr. Daniel Siegel writes,
“Children whose parents talk with them about their experiences tend to have better access to the memories of those experiences.  Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own, and other people’s feelings, more fully.”

And we know that parents can help their children, through everyday challenges by doing very simple things.

I spoke with Dr. Sheri Madigan, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at SickKids Hospital here in Toronto.

She agrees it’s vital for parents to talk to their kids about feelings; “It’s really a two-step process”, she said, “Firstly, it’s important that parents are sensitive to, and recognize, the cues their kids are sending around their feelings. And, secondly, that they help their kids process these feelings effectively”.

Parents can help by being fully receptive to each child’s reaction to stressful situations. This is not always a walk in the park! Some kids will naturally share a lot about how they feel but others can withdraw or remain quiet and seemingly fine, even though they may be equally as anxious as any other stressed-out child.

Dr. Madigan emphasises that kids need to go through the spectrum of emotions (sadness, anger, frustration, envy, happiness, etc…) while they are young and practice how to manage each of these feelings effectively. “Home is where we teach kids how to deal with emotionally relevant situations”. When home is a safe place for kids to express themselves, they are more likely to explore emotionally relevant situations outside the home because there is a source of comfort back with Mom and Dad.

Dr. Madigan adds, “Good or bad – if we can teach them the skill of recognizing and processing their feelings, they learn adaptive ways to bring it into other interactions with people outside the home”.

To some, it may sound counter-intuitive. If we tell our kids they will be OK, aren’t we showing them they are strong and can overcome things by ignoring stress and emotion? Apparently not. They will not know how to cope with adversity if we shelter them. “Teaching kids to ignore their feelings is not beneficial for them”, Dr. Madigan says. “What we know from the research is if kids feel like they can be heard and their emotional cues picked up on, then they are less at risk for mental disorders and cognitive issues down the road”.

So how can we go about helping our children manage their experiences and feelings?

  1. Read together– Reading books about emotions and feelings with young kids helps them recognize specific emotions that they may find confusing. (For recommended reading with your children, see below)
  2. Recognize your child’s emotional cues – When they seem upset or stressed out, help them express how they are feeling.
  3. Talk about it –When you see emotions bubbling up in your kids, gently guide the conversation, and follow your child’s lead. Foster understanding by talking it through.
  4. Model it – Talk about your own emotions and what helps you when strong emotions come up.
  5. Listen– when you don’t know what to say, listen and nod or ask them if they need a hug. Sometimes just being heard or understood can make the difference.
  6. Don’t rescue them from their feelings – By telling them everything is OK and that they shouldn’t worry can often minimize their real feelings and can work to push feelings away, not resolve them. Instead, ask more about how they feel with open-ended questions…but don’t push. They are learning a life skill by processing emotions. Give it some time. You can ask them what they want to do about it, or what they think might help, but if they don’t know just yet, that’s alright. Just knowing you are there for them is what’s important.


Book List

I sat down with Erin Grittani of Mabel’s Fables bookstore to find out about her favourite books for children that deal with feelings. Among other things, Erin organizes Mabel’s books for schools program. Here are some she shared with me:

AGES 0-1
Peekaboo Baby Faces – by Dorling Kindersley and Dawn Sirett
This book deals with

  • Learning to identify feelings
  • Putting names to feelings
  • Empathy

AGES 2-3
Too Tall Houses – by Gianna Marino
This book deals with

  • Competition & collaboration
  • Conflict resolution & problem-solving
  • Friendship

The Dark – by Lemony Snicket
This book deals with

  • Fear of the dark
  • Anxiety

A Big Guy Took My Ball! – by Mo Willems
This book deals with

  • Bullying
  • Standing up for yourself
  • Self-esteem

AGES 4-6
A Perfectly Messed-Up Story – by Patrick McDonnell

  • Anxiety and worry
  • Dealing with unexpected situations
  • Self-esteem & self-reliance

Sam’s Pet Temper – by Sangeeta Bhadra and Marion Arbona
This book deals with

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Managing strong feelings

Willow’s Whispers by Lana Button and Tania Howells
This Book Deals with

  • Shyness
  • Courage
  • Standing up for yourself/Speaking up

Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis
This Book Deals with

  • Sadness
  • Stress
  • Breaking things up into manageable pieces

AGES 6-8
Emily’s Blue Period – by Cathleen Daly and Lisa Brown 
This Book Deals with

  • Divorce
  • Working through complicated feelings

Eric, The Boy Who Lost His Gravity – by Jenni Desmond
This Book Deals with

  • Sibling rivalry
  • Empathy
  • Strong feelings

Virginia Wolf – by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
This Book Deals with

  • Grumpiness/Depression
  • Empathy
  • Resilience

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton
This Book Deals with

  • Bullying
  • Not fitting in
  • Building confidence
  • Speaking up

AGES 9-12
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze – by Alan Silberberg (ideal for 11 & 12 yr olds)

  • Death & Dying
  • Grief

Loser – by Jerry Spinelli

  • Social issues
  • Self-esteem
  • Standing up for yourself and others

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen – by Susin Nielsen (ideal for 10 +)

  • Social issues
  • Bullying
  • New experiences



Liz B.