Two awesome Australian picture books for helping children with worries
Stories are powerful. They can inspire, entertain, reassure, and teach us. In therapy with children, stories can provide a different perspective on a problem, normalise experiences, educate and provide ideas and metaphors to continue to reflect on.
Most children are familiar with picture books, so reading a story together can provide a non-threatening and enjoyable context to open up a conversation with an anxious child. We sometimes find it helpful to read a short book together in a therapy session, or to send the book home for a family to read together. There are many lovely picture books available that may be helpful for worried children. Here are two recently published Australian books that we love…
I Have a Worry – by Tanya Balcke
I Have a Worry is a short and very simple story about having a worry, so even young children are likely to enjoy and understand it. In the book, the child’s worry is depicted visually as external to the child, and the author does a lovely job of exploring and normalising the experience of worrying and encouraging children to share their worries with others.
Why do we like this book? The accompanying colouring-in book is fantastic! It allows children to actively engage with the book through colouring and activities, and in doing so they can explore and personalise the messages. For example, they can draw their own worry, consider what they’d like to say to their worry, and consider who can help them carry their worry. These activities and the metaphor of a worry as being like a creature sitting on the child’s shoulder effectively externalise the worry – the worry is not the child and not part of the child, but is instead separate from the child. This is a powerful therapeutic technique. The therapeutic approach of scaling a worry is also gently introduced (sometimes it is small and sometimes it is big), and the messages of it being normal to have worries and helpful to share worries are very clear.
Hey Warrior – by Karen Young (author) and Norville Dovidonyte (illustrator)
Hey Warrior aims to educate children about anxiety in order to empower them to better manage this strong emotion. It has a lot of content and because of this may be best suited to children aged over about five or six years old. It provides accurate and thorough psycho-education which allows children and their parents to understand the function of anxiety and why it feels the way it does in the body, mixed with powerful, positive messages.
Why do we like this book? We love its friendly depiction of our amygdalas as powerful warriors who protect us by preparing our bodies for action! Warriors who are protectors and doers not thinkers, who sometimes work too hard and prepare us for action unnecessarily. Anxiety as a helpful, functional response, not something to be avoided or feared. It helps children and their parents to understand and accept – even value – their amygdalas and the role they play related to anxiety. At the same time, it empowers children to be in charge, and teaches them how to relax their amygdalas through calm words or breathing.
These are now two of our favourite children’s books! We’d love to hear about your favourite books for helping children with emotions.
Dr Suzanne Barrett and Dr Fiona Zandt are authors of ‘Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings: A Therapists’ Guide for Working with Preschool and Primary Children‘ and founders of Creative Child Therapy Workshops.
For further articles and free resources for therapists working with children and families please visit their website: www.childpsychologyworkshops.com.au