The best children’s books about mental health
May 12, 2022
Talking about feelings with our children can be tricky. How do you explain these invisible, powerful emotions that they experience from such a young age? I have found books to be such a wonderful tool. Through stories and pictures, we can gently help our children to understand the feelings that play such an important role in their future health and happiness.
I’ve compiled a list of children’s books about mental illness that raise awareness for all ages. I hope you will find within it some helpful tools that build understanding, resilience and calm.
“My heart is full of feelings. Big feelings and small feelings. Loud feelings and quiet feelings. Quick feelings and slow feelings. My heart is like a house, with all these feelings living inside.” – from In My Heart: A book of feelings by Jo Witek
Why is it important to talk about mental health with children?
Helping your child learn about mental health is a really important aspect of teaching your child self-care. As much as we want them to know how to look after their bodies with healthy eating and exercise, they also need to know how to look after their minds.
It may sound obvious but it’s really important that our children understand that their minds can affect their bodies and vice-versa. When they feel nervous or scared this can make their hearts beat more quickly or they may feel pain in their stomachs. When they are happy, their bodies can feel light and full of energy. When they are sad, their bodies may hurt and feel sluggish.
In connecting body and mind, we can help our children to think about how feelings and thoughts are linked to their behaviour.
How do I tell my child about mental illness?
Statistics suggest that one in four of us will suffer with a form of mental illness in our lifetimes with many affected during the teenage years so this is not a conversation to shy away from.
However, telling your child about mental illness does not need to be a heavy, serious conversation. In fact it’s much better introduced gently, using illustrated books or films with images and characters that are easy to relate to.
Here are some top tips for mental health awareness
- Explain how your brain can get sick just like any part of your body.
- Encourage your family to talk about how their brains are feeling.
- You could use a colour system e.g. green, yellow, red. I’m in the green – all is good, yellow – things are a bit shaky, red – give me some space, I’m not having a good day.
- Give names to your emotions. Help children recognise that feeling lots of different things is normal and how they feel will change during a day. Help them describe their feelings by giving emotions words e.g. jealous, excited, embarrassed, guilty, angry.
- If someone is suffering from a mental illness, help others understand it by comparing it to having broken a limb. If you broke one of your bones you would need to rest. You would have to stop doing some of the things you normally do for a little while to let it heal. You would have to be patient and slowly build up your strength again. The same goes for the brain.
What are some good books about mental illness?
There are many wonderful books to share with your children that can support you having conversations about mental illness. Below you’ll find a list of recommended books for children by age. From picture books to journals there’s something for everyone.
‘What’s going on inside my head?’ by Molly Potter is a great place to start dealing with emotions and relationships for younger children. It is ideal for children in Key Stage 2 and includes illustrations of familiar situations such as playground disputes or arguments at home. There are simple guides for coping strategies and parent’s tips too.
For older children, try Dr Lucy Maddox’s ‘What is mental health? Where does it come from? And other big questions.’ This is a really clear, accessible guide for children aged 10 and above.
It explains what mental health is and gives helpful step by step guidance on how to manage big feelings and how to handle stressful situations.
What are the best books for anxiety for children?
“Ruby’s worry” by Tom Percival will help you to have discussions about worry and anxiety. This book conveys a really important message in the most delightfully simple way. When Ruby finds a worry, she just tries to ignore it until it almost consumes everything around her, no one else can see Ruby’s worry, not her family nor her school mates or teachers.
Then one day she finds a young boy sitting on a bench alone, but he is not really alone, he too also has a worry with him…
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Poppy O’Neill
This book is aimed at children aged 7-11. A time when exams, friendship issues, changes to their bodies and an awareness of physical attractiveness can generate a lot of worry. It uses cognitive behavioural therapy techniques developed by child psychologists to help children learn how to overcome anxious thoughts and feelings.
Feel good books for everyone
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy is a beautiful story to share with all your family. Simple messages that uplift you in any different situation. Perfect for a bedtime story or for photocopying a page and popping it in your child’s bag on a day when they might need a special message.
Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury is full of beautiful illustrations capturing friendship and hope. Take time to think about each of the pictures and their message. Try spending a couple of minutes thinking about each page and allow the thoughts to calm you.
Mental health books for younger children
When one of my daughters struggled with her big emotions we used Jo Witak’s book ‘In My Heart: A book of feelings’ to help her communicate the way she was feeling. She could say ‘my heart is feeling sad today’. It is a great tool to help children in early years find the words to start expressing themselves.
The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas helps children to gently explore their feelings of anger, happiness, calm, fear and sadness through colour. A powerful way for your children to learn to voice their emotions.
The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright is a lovely, easy to understand story about worries and how to manage them. A gentle way of introducing anxiety to young readers with a simple metaphor of ‘the butterfly in your tummy’.
Mental health books for children in KS2
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is a beautiful description of what it means to be deeply sad about something. It is personal and honest – perfect for helping children to better understand their own sadness and for anyone coping with loss.
The Happy Confident Me Journal by The Happy Confident Company for children aged 7-12 is filled with activities to help your child believe in themselves. It shows you how to understand and communicate your feelings, take pride in your achievements, be more positive and feel gratitude for everyday things.
No Worries! By Lily Murray is an interactive self-care book that children can colour, doodle and use their creativity to tackle anxiety, sadness and stress.
Mental health books for 11-year-olds +
All the things that could go wrong by Stewart Foster – This book tackles children’s mental health with honesty in an engaging story about two boys. One struggling with OCD and the other with family life and friendships. It will help children develop empathy and understanding that we should never take anyone at face value.
Ella on the outside by Cath Howe tackles the serious issues of anxiety and self-esteem in an age-appropriate way. Whilst it may seem like a sad book to start it has a wonderful positive ending. It’s a great book to use to discuss the challenging friendship dynamics of school.
Can you see me? By Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott is a unique, touching story with diary entries written by eleven-year-old Libby Scott based on her own experiences of autism. It is the story of Tally covering the few months of her life starting Year 7 at secondary school. It celebrates difference and is a wonderful inspiration for all teenage children.
Mental health books for teens
Running on the cracks by Julia Donalson is a runaway story for teenagers. It covers difficult topics with the right balance of sensitivity and humour helping readers to understand the impact of death, mental illness, homelessness and neglect.
You are awesome by Matthew Syed is a toolkit of goals, plans and challenges to support young people on their exciting journey through life. For anyone suffering with low self-esteem this book offers a positive boost of confidence.
Stuff that sucks: Accepting what you can’t change and committing to what you can by Ben Sedley. This book has a strong emphasis on helping teenagers to feel that their emotions are valid. It shows how to reconnect with the things that are most important.
How not to lose it: Mental health – sorted by Anna Williamson
This book covers a wealth of topics from exam stress to panic attacks. It gives guidance for those suffering from depression, anxiety and bereavement. It is easy to read and gives readers a checklist of what to do. This leaves them feeling that there are achievable tasks they can do to make things better.
For more reading recommendations take a look at these reading lists compiled by our educators.
Did you know that Explore Learning has a range of wellbeing resources to support you and your child? From helping your child with their anxieties about school to finding positive ways to deal with life’s challenges – we’re here to support you and your family on this journey. Because you’re not in it for the short-term and neither are we.
To find out more about our award-winning approach to learning visit us or book a free trial.
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