Kids may be little, but they have very big emotions.
Sometimes those emotions get SO big they explode into anger. Sometimes they just sizzle at grumpiness. Either way, it helps if they have the words to discuss their feelings, and actionable suggestions for helping them find their way out of a bad mood.
These are some of my favorite picture books on the subject. I love picture books for these kinds of discussions, because they give kids a great visual of the emotions they may be feeling.
Plus, these books are also just great stories – no need to read them ONLY when feeling upset. Sure, they can help kids work through big emotions, but they are also entertaining reads.
Grumpy Monkey is such a favorite – a classic from the time it was released. This charming story follows Jim Panzee who wakes up in a grumpy mood. He insists that he’s not grumpy but the other animals can see that he clearly is quite grumpy. They offer all kinds of suggestions to cheer him up – rolling like zebras or stomping like elephants – but Jim doesn’t want to do any of these things. In the end, Jim realizes he is indeed grumpy, and he also finds the best solution: quiet acceptance from his friend Norman. We all have different ways of dealing with our moods, after all, and this is one of my favorite stories for discussing emotions with young ones.
I like to describe The Bad Mood and the Stick as existential. Not sure that’s the exact correct term, but what we’re doing here is following around a stick and a bad mood, the latter of which is portrayed as a cloud. The stick seems to keep finding itself moving from place to place while the bad mood is transferred to one person after another until it circles the whole world. This is one of those great stories that opens up conversations about what emotions are without being didactic at all. There is no lesson here – no heavy-handed tale of morality. It’s just a fun story that happens to be about a stick, and a bad mood.
The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon is kind of like a How-To book. It asks, “how do you budge an unbudgeable curmudgeon?” and gives some solutions. Don’t worry – it also defines “curmudgeon” on the first page, so you won’t have to come up with your own explanation for what will probably be a new vocabulary word for your kid. This story is about two siblings who are grumpy in turns. It’s fun to see the kids transform into curmudgeons and back again. It gives some workable examples for how to feel better, like singing songs, so it offers a great way to involve the kiddos by asking things like, “how would you budge the curmudgeon?”
Allie All Along has similarieties to The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon, but with a more gradual transformation. Here, Allie is the sister of the main character and Allie becomes ANGRY. Her anger turns her into a giant red monster. As her brother helps her calm down, she gets smaller and goes through a rainbow of colors – warm to cool – until she’s back to herself again.
Grumpy Bird is another classic. Grumpy Bird is grumpy and stomps off through the forest. All the animals, one by one, want to know what he’s up to. He grumpily informs them, and to his surprise, they want to join in! Once Bird realizes he’s being copied, he tries out some new moves. Suddenly he realizes he’s having fun, and forgets all about being grumpy.
One last book I want to mention is Feeling Angry. This is a book in a series of books about emotions and it leans more towards non-fiction than the other stories that I’ve listed. In fact, it’s probably shelved in the non-fiction section of your library. This is the type of book that isn’t meant to be a bedtime story or the sort you read over and over again for entertainment. But it’s a well-written, straightforward approach to discussing feeling angry and the different ways in which you might defuse that anger. It does have an underlying story in which the kid gives advice to everyone around him – until suddenly he needs some reminders himself.
I’d love to hear about your favorite books on discussing big emotions with kids – please share in the comments!