How to Talk to Young Children About Mental Health – Reading With Preschoolers
All parents care about their children being health and happy. While we often get lots of information about how to help our children grow healthy and strong physically, how to help them grow socially and emotionally can be a little more complicated. The Early Development Index (EDI BC 2019 Report) indicates 16 percent of British Columbia’s children enter kindergarten with vulnerabilities in social competence, while 17 percent have vulnerabilities in emotional maturity. Both of these areas are essential to children succeeding and doing well in school and in life. the younger we can help these children to catch up to their peers, the easier it is for them to be successful in their future.
One easy way to start creating mental wellness, emotional literacy, and social skills is by reading with your children. There are increasing numbers of books designed to help children and their parents explore these topics. A bonus to reading to young children is that it will increase their vocabulary, which in turn will help them prepare for school. So, cuddle up with your little ones and start building some of the skills for mental well being.
The first step to being able to help our children with feelings is to teach them about them. Exposure to feeling words and how they are experienced in the body is critical to having children who are emotionally well adjusted. Here are some of my current favourite books that can help kids learn about moods in general.
The Color Monster A Pop Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas: This book is fun and engaging and does a wonderful job of explaining how emotions are felt in the body.
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna : Anna Dewdney does an excellent job of introducing feelings in her Llama Llama book series.
Classic Munsch Moods by Robert Munsch and Micheal Martchenko: This book takes pictures from well known Munsch stories and provides the feeling words that go with them. Some less used feeling words are in this book.
Books about Moods and Social Skills:
Reading about social situations, which have clear illustrations about how children feel and respond while encouraging empathy, can help you and your little ones start to build caring and compassion for others. These can be gentle ways to start instilling these values in our children.
My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison: This book explores peer pressure and friendship. I particularly like how the illustrations help us to see how the characters are feeling. I recommend having the children try to put words to the feelings they see illustrated or that you as a parent discuss what feelings you think the different characters are having.
Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHara: In this book, anger makes characters treat each other unkindly but an act of kindness helps them find common ground.
Books About Anxiety and Fear:
From how to get ready for the first day of kindergarten or daycare to dealing with the fears of going to bed helping our children learn how to express and face their fears is really important. In these books the different characters explore these fears.
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt: This is an excellent book for children with anxiety. The squirrel learns how to face his fears and experience a whole new world. This series also has a book about social anxiety.
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney: This is an excellent book about facing new situations and learning to adjust to them.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket: In this book a little boy learns to make friends with the dark that lives in his house.
Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward: In this book a child faces her fears in a creative way by singing. It provides children with an example about how to deal with situations that make them worried or afraid.
Once we have a language to start to discuss the feelings we are having, our ability to ask for help, express our needs, and work through our feelings increases. Emotional literacy is part of building mental health in children. Using books is a fun way to bond with your child but also to introduce ideas around social skills and how to manage them. Once we learn the words, we can start to introduce them in real life settings. When you see your child is sad or frustrated or excited, comment on it. “It looks like you are…” then offer empathetic support. Use the books as a starting point for learning about mental health and social skills.
I would like to acknowledge the help of the Port Moody Public Library in suggesting so of the titles listed here.
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Dr. Tamara Williams is a registered psychologist that has over a decade of experience working with babies, children, youth, young adults, and parents. She works with children and youth up to the age of 25 along with their parents and siblings. Tamara is an attachment-based counsellor who believes that healthy relationships are an essential component of mental health.
Tamara has experience with a number of approaches including: cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT), solution focused, play-based, educational, attachment, Circle of Security, and existential. She is passionate about helping parents of infants, preschoolers, and school age children survive and thrive through the challenges of the early years while helping them set a foundation for life long mental health. Tamara works with a wide range of concerns from the tantrums of the toddler years to the challenges of high school and the first years of college. Her aim is to provide a compassionate environment for families while supporting them towards their goals.
Tamara has experience working with individuals and families who are dealing with adopting or fostering a child, anxiety, depression, and adjusting to parenthood. She is passionate about helping young adults face the increasing challenges facing them. Tamara enjoys working with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Dr. Williams is a passionate public speaker who enjoys presenting in retreat, community, and university settings on topics related to her expertise. Past talks include: “Emotionally Accessible Spaces for Everyone”, “Promoting Attachment in Children”, and “Coping Skills”. Dr. Williams is happy-to tailor a presentation to the unique needs of a particular group.
Tamara received her HBSc in Psychology with a Developmental Specialty from McMaster University, her MA from Trinity Western University, and her PhD in counselling psychology from the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the BC College of Psychologists, the Canadian Psychological Association, and the BC Psychological Association.