Archive of ‘Feelings’ category

Picture Books as Therapy

Understanding complex emotions and life events is difficult for anyone, but especially for children. When they don’t have the proper tools to express their inner turmoil and process their surroundings, this can often lead to frustrating interactions with parents and caregivers. One tool to give your child is seeing big emotions and hard situations played out in a book.

Books are a great way to help children understand their feelings, learn about differences, and begin to understand the world around them. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. These can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.

With that in mind, here are eight suggestions for picture books that can help engage your little one in some of life’s biggest questions:

Big Bear Was Not the Same

By Joanna Rowland

(Beaming Books, 2021)

Joanna Rowland is a fantastic author whose books tackle real-life issues. Big Bear was Not the Same discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects that trauma can have on individuals who experience it and those close to them. In addition to Big Bear was Not the Same, her other books focus on tough topics such as grief, friendship when times are tough, and hope.

Ruby Finds a Worry

By Tom Percival

(2018, Bloomsbury)

Tom Percival is another picture book author that takes big feelings and makes them relatable to children. In Ruby Finds a Worry, Ruby experiences anxiety and thinks she is the only child with this issue. Eventually she realizes everyone gets Worries and the best way to deal with them is not to ignore them, but talk about them. Not only will the story interest your little readers, but the art depictions of the Worry are fun and engaging. Tom has many other books focusing on social emotional learning in his Big Bright Feelings series, including Perfectly Norman, Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends.

My Shadow is Pink

By Scott Stuart

(Larrikin House, 2021)

This was one of my favorite picture books of 2021 (and apparently one of my daughter’s also, since she made it read it 3 times on the drive home from the bookstore alone)! A young boy who loves pink and dresses and “things that aren’t for boys” struggles to be himself when he doesn’t fit in with his family and friends. Stuart’s beautiful illustrations and lyrical prose open the door for inclusivity, diversity, self love, and acceptance. This book gives children the permission to “be themselves, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

The Princess and the Fog

By Anthony Lloyd Jones

(Hachette, 2015)

The princess has everything she ever needs to make her happy until one day a fog settles over her and she can’t seem to feel happy anymore. The Princess and the Fog provides a fun, relatable look at childhood depression. An included guide in the back matter helps parents dig deeper on the topic. With realistic explanations of depression symptoms, Jones does a beautiful job of helping open up a conversation and foster understanding.

Don’t Hug Doug

By Carrie Finison

(Penguin Random House, 2021)

Bodily autonomy and consent are tricky topics to discuss with kids, but important nonetheless. Don’t Hug Doug approaches bodily autonomy in a way kids can relate to– with the concept of hugs. Doug doesn’t like hugs, but his friends and family often insist on hugging him! This book encourages children to ask before touching someone and to voice their own desires about how they are touched. Instead of a hug, why not a high five?

It Will Be Okay

By Lisa Katzenberger

(Sourcebooks Explore, 2021)

Katzenberger creates a kid friendly approach to anxiety through her story about Giraffe and Zebra. When going about his usual routine Giraffe experiences something that makes him so worried and anxious he just wants to hide. Zebra’s empathy and friendship help him overcome his anxiety and get back to enjoying his day. Katzenberger includes excellent educational back matter that can help parents and teachers engage deeper with the topic of anxiety. 

The Struggle Bus

By Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing, 2022)

Each of us have experienced days where we felt like we were on the “struggle bus”. Nothing is going our way, we can’t seem to make things work out, and we have no idea how we’re going to get things done. In her book, Koon takes this to the next level by presenting children with images of an actual school bus as “the struggle bus”. Her lovely rhyme walks children through times of frustration, hardship, and ultimately perseverance. 

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

(Roaring Brook Press, 2018)

This year especially has seen lots of heartbreaking and stressful things in the news. From war, to pandemic, to school shootings, children may have been exposed to or have seen their caregivers’ reactions to media coverage of difficult situations. Sarah Lynne Reul tackles this in “The Breaking News” and helps show children and adults alike that while they may not be able to do BIG things to combat these issues, even small things can make a big difference. 

Each of these books are excellent ways to not only dig deeper into big topics with your children, but to encourage their love of reading and their imagination. 

For more resources on handling tough topics with kids, or to look into therapeutic interventions for yourself, your child, or family email [email protected].


Y’all, Please Stop Judging Your Emotions!

I want to first say that the title of this post might be slightly misleading. I don’t believe it’s actually possible to STOP judging all of your emotions. But you (and I) can work towards doing it less often.

What does “judging emotions” mean?

Before I get to the how, let’s take a minute to see what it even means to judge our emotions. Personal story: I was sitting in my therapist’s office in front of my computer talking to my therapist via telehealth, and I told her about something that had made me experience a healthy dose of shame. I had made a small professional mistake, and I had been blaming myself. This is where it gets interesting: While sharing this with my therapist, I said, “I feel so stupid for feeling ashamed of something I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed of.” And, because my therapist is incredible, she gave me a look that had all kinds of compassion in it.

You might ask, “what’s wrong with judging my emotions?” And, because I’m a therapist, I’ll first say that nothing is “wrong” about it. BUT here’s what happens when you do: you’re telling yourself that it’s not okay to feel emotions. You’re telling yourself that, for example, you’re stupid for feeling shame, rather than realizing that you’re human for feeling shame. And we can (and probably) do this with a myriad of other emotions.

Feeling bad about yourself for getting angry? That’s judging. 

Thinking you shouldn’t cry when you’re experiencing something sad? That’s judging.

Ever tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel disappointed? Still judging. 

Here’s a nice tip: if you’re saying “should” or “shouldn’t” about your emotions, you’re probably judging them. 

And I don’t want to get too “meta” here, but it’s turtles all the way down. If you feel embarrassed about feeling super excited whenever a BTS song comes on, try not to judge the embarrassment. And then try not to judge the excitement! 

Now we can get to the how

Awareness is KEY. The biggest and best thing you can do to work on this is to recognize a) that you do it (because you’re human, and humans do this…unless, of course, you’re a robot, in which case: which squares have bicycles in it?), and b) when you do it. When you do it can be tricky to figure out. For this, you might want to talk to a close friend or therapist, or journal, or meditate. Everyone has their own way of learning about themselves, so you do you. 

Here’s some prompts to get you started: 

  • How do I feel about the last time I felt [insert emotion here]?
  • Which emotions were/are expressed in my family? Which ones weren’t/aren’t?
  • What do I think others think about me when I’m feeling [emotion]?

And just in case you’re having a hard time thinking of specific emotions, here are a few commonly judged emotions: anger, joy, guilt, shame, sadness, grief.

Now that I’m aware of some of the judgments I place on my emotions, how do I stop doing it? 

First, and this is important, you don’t have to do anything else. Just being aware will probably get you to stop judging 60% of your emotions (I just made that statistic up; please don’t quote me on that. It’s going to be different for everyone). But, if you want to continue doing the work, here are some tips:

Tip #1

Remind yourself routinely (e.g. in the mornings, when you take a shower, when you’re in your car, whatever works for you, but don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with emotions to do this) that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Tell yourself, “I’m angry, and that’s okay.” Or for bonus points, you can say, “I love my anger.” That last one might be really difficult, so be gentle with yourself if it doesn’t come easy.

Tip #2

Another way you can work on this is to make a list of a certain number (say, 5) emotions you had each day or week. And then thank your body for letting you feel these emotions. Literally, “Thank you, [your name], for letting me feel guilt this week.” Feel free to journal or meditate on this too.

Emotions are human

Remember that emotions are part of the deal you made with the world (or God, or Spirit, or Universe, etc.) when you were created. You don’t get to be human and not have emotions. ALL OF THEM. You can’t just have the “good” ones. Not only that, but the more you shove down the emotions you don’t like, the more they’re going to have control over you. You can only pretend for so long that you’re not sad, until it begins to show up somewhere else (usually as anxiety or depression, or as physical symptoms, like migraines or stomach pains). 

Once you experience your emotions without the harsh judgement you’ve been accustomed to, you might even begin to appreciate them! Your emotions all have a purpose. 

Feeling lonely? That’s a reminder to reach out to a close person. 

Feeling stressed? That’s a reminder to slow down. 

Anxious? That’s a reminder to be present where you are, rather than thinking about what might happen next. 

Shame? That’s a reminder to give yourself compassion.

Angry? That’s a reminder that you may need to put up or fortify a boundary. 

Bored? This one’s pretty simple: do something that feeds your creative soul! 

There is nothing wrong with ANY of our emotions. In fact, they will help us live a wonderful and meaningful life, if we only listen to them rather than judge them. 

If you want some help working through your emotions, book a free 15 minute consultation with me to see if I might be a good counselor for you.


Building A Better Mental Health Future for Our Children

We are living in an unprecedented time – not only are we facing a global pandemic that is having a profound effect on millions of people around the world, but we are also simultaneously navigating difficult issues like climate change, natural disaster, racial injustice, gender equality, political polarization, economic turbulence, war, etc.  All these factors have taken a toll on our mental health.  Mental health disorders can affect anyone; they do not discriminate based on gender, race, age, ethnicity, occupation, religion, economic class, or ethnic background.  It is very likely that each of us knows someone with a mental health challenge or has one ourselves. 

Our children have been hit particularly hard during this challenging time, with us seeing a mental health crisis in children like never before.  Mental health is just as important as physical health, which is an essential part of children’s overall health and well-being. As a therapist, I am seeing an increasing number of parents reaching out for help with their children’s mental health.  Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harming, internet addictions and truancy are just some of the conditions that are prevailing in young people during this mental health crisis.  Putting the well-being of our children as top priority is paramount now.  Whether you are a parent, caregiver, educator, coach, counselor or anyone who interacts with children and is genuinely interested in their overall wellness, you have the ability to influence them in a positive way. You can make a difference in their lives.

I would like to share with you five things with the acronym, “CARES”, that I believe our children really need.  With those, we can help nurture their mental health:

1. Connection with compassion

We are all social beings that have the innate need to connect.  The social distancing/isolation during the pandemic has made it very hard for us to connect with each other.  Most of our kids today connect with their phones and computers more than they connect with human beings. Research shows that this disconnection has detrimental effects on the mental health of our children.  Dr. Bruce Perry believes that connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity:

“Human beings are social creatures, and because of that, we are neurologically designed to be in relationships with other people. When you see another person and they send a signal that you belong, or they smile and give you a gentle touch, that literally changes the physiology of your brain and body in ways that lead to a more regulated stress response system, healthier heart, healthier lungs, and literally it will influence your physical and mental health.” 

Let’s focus on building true connections with our children.  When was the last time you sat down with them to have a deep conversation that made them feel seen and heard?  When was the last time you played or created something together?  Giving our children undivided attention and being attuned is connecting with them.  Being curious and asking questions to genuinely get inside your child’s world is connecting with them.  When we connect through compassion, we begin to see things from their perspective without judgement.  Dr. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 

2. Acceptance and authenticity

Dr. Alfred Adler teaches us that a human being has an instinctive need to belong and feel significant.  Dr. Abraham Maslow places belongingness as the next most important need just above the physiological and safety needs in his hierarchy of needs model.  Many kids nowadays are not getting this basic need met.  As a result, they become people pleasers and do things to please others to seek approval.  They rely on external factors to define themselves.  They also act out and become defiant to get adult attention. 

So why do kids do these things?  Because they are not being accepted for who they are.  Their most important need is not being met – the need to belong.  Children need to know that they are accepted for who they are.  When children are accepted, they will have a sense of belonging which will allow them to be their authentic self.  They will see their self-worth, which then leads them to a more meaningful and fulfilled life.  Truly accepting a child means to let go of our own expectations of who we want the child to be and embrace who the child really is. 

3. Resilience and responsibility

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks or failures.  It is a skill that can be learned and practiced.  Many parents like to teach their kids how to win, but I think it is more important to teach them how to fail and get back up.  Allowing our kids to accept failure as part of learning and growing is one way to teach them resilience.  Do not rush to rescue them from moments of struggle or you will deprive them of opportunity to build their resilience muscles.  Another way to help kids develop resilience is by teaching them responsibility and allowing them to contribute to the family and society.  This not only allows them to have a sense of significance, but also allows them to see how capable they are.  

4. Encouragement and empathy

Oftentimes, we tend to criticize our children and focus on the negatives rather than the positives.  When all our children hear from us is how incapable they are and how much they are doing things incorrectly, they will feel discouraged.  It is important for children to know that we all make mistakes.  Let’s model self-acceptance and self-love even when we make mistakes.  Being encouraged and supported builds self-worth and self-confidence.  Alongside encouragement is empathy. Children need to hear encouraging words that come from a place of empathy. 

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”

– Dr. Alfred Adler.

5. Safety and support

Providing a secure environment for children to grow and develop is very important for both their physical and mental health.   According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is one of the most basic human needs for motivation.  Safety does not only refer to physical safety but emotional safety as well.  We want to provide a safe environment for our children to freely express their emotions.  It is important for parents to talk to their children about feelings.  Dr. Daniel Seigel said:

“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.”  

Our goal is to be their anchor so that they feel safe to come to us when the outside world appears to be scary and unsafe to them.  When children have a secure base, they will be more likely to have the courage to explore the world. 

Life is full of unpredictable challenges.  Let’s prepare our kids for whatever lies ahead by fostering their mental health and well-being.  Now more than ever, our children need our support.  Let’s focus on building a better mental health future for our children. 

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

– C.S. Lewis

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