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Teaching Children About Mental Health

Over the past two years, The Wellbeing Partners have been working to fight stigma surrounding mental health challenges.  We do this by encouraging people to talk about their own challenges and the way they support others who are experiencing mental health challenges.  Our work and The What Makes Us campaign focuses on adults, but we also recognize that these are vital conversations to have with children as well—helping them to grow up knowing that all emotions are valid and acceptable, and that there is support for their emotional needs.

Books are excellent tools to help these conversations happen in ways that are natural and comfortable for both children and adults. Check out these suggestions for titles to share with the children in your own life.

Books about Positive Emotions

A great first step is to speak early and often about emotions with children.  Help them learn to name and describe their emotions and recognize emotions in others as well.

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith: This picture book is also available as a board book for the youngest readers. It shows a beautiful array of what makes people happy and features a diverse representation of families.

Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis: This picture book is a fun look into the many emotions that can happen throughout the day.

You Make Me Happy by Smriti Prasadam-Halls: This picture book explores happiness in the company of a special person and how emotions are affected by people around us.

Books about Negative Emotions

Next, get comfortable talking about negative emotions.  These books help children explore what it feels like to be angry, sad, overwhelmed, etc. Opening up a book to delve into negative emotions helps children understand that these don’t need to be hidden or minimized; that they are safe to share about these feelings just like they are safe to share about their more positive emotions.

When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang: This picture book explores anger and sadness from the perspective of a young child. It also shows what helps Sophie calm down from her anger.

My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems: This early reader book tells about how Piggie tries to help his friend through his sadness.

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes: This wordless book for older children explores how Molly perceives her social anxiety and how she overcomes her fears to pursue friendship.

Books about Grief

Finally, share about grief with your children.  If your child is experiencing grief or is spending time with an adult experiencing grief, this is vitally important.  If your child isn’t in a period of grief, it’s unfortunately something that they won’t be able to avoid forever.  You can give your child a gift by preparing them for those times of grief by establishing that it’s okay to experience the big emotions that come with grief and that they will be loved through it.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: Adults Get Big Feelings Too by Danielle Sherman-Lazar: This picture book allows children to see that adults also experience big feelings like grief and depression and what strategies they use to cope with those feelings.

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso: This picture book for older children tells the story of a polar bear coping with the illness and death of his bear friend as he learns that he will always have Ida in his memories.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas: This chapter book explores the grief—personified as a black hole–that a young girl experiences after the death of her father.