Ministry of Education, Guyana

Five Ways Books Can Help Your Anxious Child

My 4-year-old had been excited about her cousin’s birthday party for weeks. We guessed the flavor of the birthday cake and worked together to wrap the present. Yet, as we walked up to the party, something shifted: my excited girl was now clutching my pant leg, unwilling to introduce herself to the young party-goers. She even shoved aside a slice of cake. The tears and less-than-pleasant behavior soon followed.

In an effort to keep this moment from spiraling into a full-blown meltdown, we took a break from the party. In a quiet space in the house, we spent the next few minutes reading a book that I luckily had stashed in my bag. Through an anxious child’s eyes, the gathering was a new place, with loud music and unknown faces. The calming moment reading together was enough for my daughter (and me!) to reset our emotions and return to the party.

For my family, books have been a tool to support our daughter as she identifies big emotions and sorts through stressful situations, and the research seems to back this up. Reading with your child promotes a strong parent-child bond which can help reduce childhood stress, according to studies from the American Academy for Pediatrics (AAP). Furthermore, research conducted by neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis at the University of Sussex shows that reading for six minutes a day reduces stress levels and lowers heart rates.

1 Create a “calming library”
Select some of your child’s favorite storybooks and put them in a special “calming library” in your home. You might consider adding a comforting rug, stuffed animal, or blanket to make it a cozy spot. When you sense big emotions forming, sit with your child in that space and read a favorite book together. Sometimes these few minutes allow your child to reset their emotions with the added bonus of quality time with a trusted caregiver.

Use books to ignite a conversation to help children process feelings
Young children are still learning how to process big emotions. They might not have all the tools or words yet to explain how and why they are feeling a certain way. Allow books to bridge that gap. If you suspect your child might be struggling, pick up a children’s book at your local library in which the main character is experiencing the same emotion. You might find your little one is able to talk about the story, and, in doing so, make connections to their own emotions.

Plan ahead and bring a book
The noise of a bus ride, meeting new relatives, or going to the doctor can be stress-triggering moments. Plan ahead and pack a book!

Read books to help identify and label emotions
Picture books are a great way to introduce feelings to toddlers. Ask your librarian to direct you to books that include pictures or faces that are labeled with a feeling. Parenting Minutes: Expressing Emotions shows us how picture books can help a child to recognize varying emotions. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’s “I’m Feeling” book series, “How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear?” by Jayneed Sanders, and “How Do You Feel?” by Lizzy Rockwell are just a few books my family enjoys.

Color your own story together
Encourage your child to think about a story and draw pictures on paper. As your child is calming down through coloring, you can even write simple vocabulary words or talk through their story.

Here are some reminders for reading together:

  • Read in any language. Your child will benefit from reading no matter the language so read in whichever language you are comfortable. You can also introduce your child to bilingual books, or choose books with only pictures.
  • Read anytime. Reading storybooks is not just for bedtime. Read with your child throughout the day. Consider having a family “Mealtime, Storytime” as you eat together.
  • Listen together. Download a free children’s audiobook, or borrow a book-on-tape from the library. Traveling to school is a great opportunity to listen to a story. Talk about different vocabulary words or discuss the story together.
  • Get talking. While reading together, pause to ask questions or make a prediction on how the story will end. The more kids are read to, the more vocabulary they will learn and the better they will be able to read.

Remember, spending quiet time together diving into the pages of a book could be just what you and your little one need to calm down.


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