A celebration is in order this month, as we are not only celebrating Valentine's Day, with a beautiful heart-felt book of feelings, it is my SECOND BLOG BIRTHDAY!!! To mark this momentous occasion, I am doing my first giveaway. I will be giving away a brand-new copy of this month's book, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, to a randomly selected follower on this blog. So hurry, if you're not yet a member, follow my blog immediately for a chance to win! A winner will be chosen on February 28 and you will be notified by email. (U.S. only, sorry.) The winner will also be announced on the blog, so check back! It has been a joy to provide mental health book recommendations and activity ideas to you every month for the past 2 years. Thanks for being here and for being dedicated to the mental health needs of our precious little ones. Now, moving on to our special Valentine's post . . .
A Book Review of In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings is full of heart, literally and figuratively! It is constructed with a fun, colorful die cut heart that extends throughout the pages. The reader is sent on a journey through the heart of the main character. This book is a great introduction to emotions for young children. It is appropriate for children ages 2 - 7 and presents the topic of feelings in a visual, kid-friendly manner.
Ms. Witek, the author, describes a heart "like a house with feelings living inside," which is a beautiful way to bring the abstract concept of feelings to a tangible level for kids. This also serves to normalize feelings and introduce them as simply a part of being human. The book presents a full range of emotions, alternating between the intense and the mellow that keeps the story from becoming overwhelming. The feelings are presented in an empowering way displaying to the child that they have control over them, rather than vice-versa.
The aspect of this book that I feel is most helpful is the fact that the author focuses on how these emotions feel in the body physically and how a person might express specific feelings. Developing a feeling vocabulary and connecting it to how it feels in the body is key to self-understanding. Once we're able to name the emotion we are feeling, and express it in words, the less powerful that feeling becomes and the more confidence we have in managing it. For example, if a young child is having an outburst, if you name the feeling for them and why they may be having it, they de-escalate much faster as they feel understood. With practice, the child will be able to do this on their own. Without emotional education and practice, the skill of regulating our emotions is not developed and this can haunt us through adulthood.
The illustrator, Christine Roussey, provides a clear pictorial representation of specific feelings through fun, whimsical drawings. The book captures the attention of the youngest of children, with active and colorful illustrations throughout. By looking at the page, you can actually feel the emotions the main character is experiencing.
This is a sweet, gentle book which is empowering to children and can build their confidence in recognizing and learning to regulate their own emotions. The take away is that our feelings, whether intense and ugly, or calm and beautiful, are a part of us and all are okay. The book ends with having the reader consider his/her own emotions, which is a great jump off for a discussion on the child's own feelings and how they feel in their body.
To find this book and other books by this author and illustrator, click here. Below I provide an activity idea to take a journey through the heart of your child/client/student. To help me celebrate my 2nd blog birthday, I have a special guest today helping me with the project!
Activity Idea for In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
-Cardstock or construction paper(in 4 different colors)
- glue (I used a stronger silicone glue)
-twine or ribbon
A Book Review of The Princess and the Fog
Many kids are not in school, so they are missing out on live social contacts with peers and supportive teachers. They have often been restricted from seeing grandparents and other significant family members and have been spending more time in the house and without many outlets of sports or community activities. Many may have sustained significant loss due to the death or long-term hospitalization of a family member due to Covid. Additionally, children often mirror the feelings of their parents (no pressure here!). Parents may be moody and irritable due to their balancing of responsibilities of teaching their kids while working from home, lack of social contact and family support. There also has been much political upheaval recently and in the past year(s) that affects parents, and in turn, affects their children.
Depression can be triggered in children as an understandable response to disruption in their relationships and routines. Short periods of sadness in response to difficult situations are common. However, if the depression lasts for longer periods of time and becomes severe, it is important to seek help for the child. Depression runs in families and can also come on for no apparent reason and become quite severe.
Through the text and brilliant illustrations in his book, The Princess and the Fog, Lloyd Jones approaches this tough topic in an enjoyable and child-friendly manner. He lightens up the mood with many humorous illustrations. The "fog" and "black clouds" are used as metaphors for depression, which is tangible and easier for children to understand.
The book covers symptoms of depression, such as:
-slow(low energy), tired
-trouble concentrating or doing the simplest things
-anhedonia, which is the loss of interest in the things a person loves to do
In addition to the symptoms addressed in the book, other symptoms of depression in children include:
-changes in appetite and/or sleep
-physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches.
Many coping mechanisms are also presented in the book, which include:
-Talking to others
-Setting daily challenges
-doing things that make you happy
-possible medication -in severe cases
The most important coping strategy prevalent throughout the book is the accessing of your support system, or as I call them, The Crown Jewels of Your Kingdom.
This book is appropriate for children ages 4-9 who are suffering from short periods of sadness or a more long-term issue with depression. The content would be helpful for kids who have a family member who experiences depression as a way to gain insight. The Princess and the Fog is also appropriate for all children to learn and recognize the signs and how to cope as "the fog" might enter their kingdom at some point. It provides insights for parents into the symptoms of depression in children and how to help them cope. Additionally, there is a guide for parents at the end of the book written by a psychologist with helpful information.
This book is available for purchase on Amazon here. I have provided a related activity idea below to help children further explore this issue.
Activity Idea for The Princess and the Fog
After reading the book, discuss the symptoms of depression and inquire whether the child has ever felt that way. Talk about sad times they may have had in the past or present. Discuss what the princess did to feel better and who helped her. Name the support people or crown jewels in the princess' life.
In this month's activity, we are going to explore THE CROWN JEWELS OF OUR KINGDOM. What do I mean by crown jewels? Crown jewels are those very special people in your life(or kingdom) that you know you can depend on. The people who are there for you when you need something. They are people that will listen when you talk to them and take what you say seriously. Who are the crown jewels of your kingdom?
For the project today, we are going to make a crown with the jewels from our own kingdom!
-Crown template - click here to access
-cardstock or heavier paper
-small pictures of support people-if available (optional)
-glue (I mostly used silicone glue for faster and stronger hold)
-jewels, buttons or stickers
A Book Review of Catching Thoughts
Catching Thoughts is an empowering picture book for children ages 4 - 8. The author, Bonnie Clark, introduces thoughts using a balloon analogy, which helps children think more tangibly about this abstract concept. The main character starts out with "just a teeny, tiny, little thought" that grew into a bigger and more bothersome thought that took over her mind.
"It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought."
After many attempts, she was unable to get this big, negative thought out of her mind. When she acknowledged the thought, she was able to see that it wasn't as powerful as it appeared. Only then was she able to catch other thoughts that were more positive. When the negative thought started to come back, she simply acknowledged it and "gently pushed it to the side." This is an important insight in dealing with negative thoughts. They can't be forced out, but if they are acknowledged and consciously set aside, one is able to make room for accepting more positive thoughts.
Through her empowering language, Ms. Clark demonstrates to children that they have a choice to change their negative self-talk. The illustrator, Summer Macon, does a wonderful job with the pictorial representation of the change in mood and behavior using color, facial expressions and actions that corresponds to pulling in positive thoughts.
I strongly recommend this book to help children learn, and adults remember, the power they have over their thoughts. To reinforce the concept of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, I have included an activity below.
To purchase the book or find fun activities, check out the author's website here.
Activity Idea for Catching Thoughts
-Balloons (various colors)
-Black permanent marker
A Book Review of Mama's Waves
These severe ups and downs that affect an adult's ability to parent their children are often caused by severe depression, bipolar disorder, other serious mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many of these difficulties may be due to the parent's own trauma experienced when they were a child. Ms. Ippen describes this well through a quote from Ellie's uncle about her mother, as follows:
"When we were growing up, things were pretty stormy. Her boat got tossed around
by waves until the waves became a part of her."
I have worked extensively with children living in these situations. Through this experience, I have learned that there are very few, if any, parents in this situation that don't love and yearn for their children. However, in many circumstances the children are not safe with them, so they are often removed and placed in a safe environment. In these instances, it is crucial for the child to get the message that the parent is not a bad person, but a person with problems that needs help. It is equally crucial for them to know that their parent loves them and will always love them, whether they are living with them or not. But, that they are unable to care for them due to their problems. One of my favorite quotes from the book explains this beautifully:
"Your mama's dealing with big waves, but we won't let those waves wash away
her magic and love."
It is important to encourage the child to talk about their parent and express their feelings. Ellie's uncle plays a crucial role in this discussion by remembering together the "stormy days" and the "smooth sailing" days. Positive memories are something that the child can treasure forever, so remembering them is very therapeutic. In the book, Ellie remembers the "rainbow cookies" that she made with her mom. This also can provide a hint for the caregiver on activities that they can continue that will promote positive memories and comfort within the child.
In the story, the foster parent made contact with the uncle to visit the child, as her mother missed their scheduled visit. It is not always possible to meet with other family members, but when it is, it can preserve those important family connections. It is extremely comforting for the child to meet with an appropriate relative that likely may feel the same love, pain and worry that the child does toward their parent. Ellie and her uncle share mutual worry for Ellie's mother and share a hope that she will get help. Kids often worry about their parent when separated, especially if they played a caregiver role to that parent when they were living with them.
The illustrator, Erich Ippen Jr., portrays strong emotions through the facial expressions of the characters. The colorful sprinkles and rainbows throughout the book give a feeling of hope for the future.
There are few books available on this all-too-common topic of parental mental illness/substance abuse and separation of the child. This book was published recently and is one of the best ones I have read on the topic. I strongly recommend this book for therapists, case workers, family caregivers and foster parents to provide insight and comfort to young children in this difficult situation. It is a great book to spark conversation regarding the child's specific experience. I have provided an art activity below to help get this conversation started.
If you are interested in this book or other books by this author, please visit her website here.
Activity Idea for Mama's Waves
Large piece of paper (I cut mine from a roll)
Blue watercolor paint
Dark color Markers
A Book Review of My Quiet Ship
Quinn becomes the commander of his Space Ship, directs his crew (stuffed animals), which gives him a sense of control in a situation in which he feels helpless and scared. Quinn's scary situation is his parent's loud arguing. This book can be helpful to kids in a variety of difficult situations, even if it is coping with their baby brother crying or sensory overload.
The Space Ship is a peaceful place where Quinn can go into his mind to help calm himself and to identify his feelings. The Space Ship is Quinn's haven. This book can encourage readers to use their own imaginations and create their own havens to help them cope. It is helpful for children and adults to pull themselves away from the source of their big feelings temporarily and try to find peace within themselves. It is similar to the concept of a Safe Space in schools where a child goes to a quieter part of the classroom with comforting objects in order to re-group, ponder and get in touch with their feelings. Quinn also tries to draw, which is another great coping mechanism to model to the reader.
In the story, the arguing became so loud and Quinn's feelings became so big, that his coping strategies no longer worked. Eventually, he gathered the strength to confront his parents and express himself about how their yelling was making him feel. This is important as others may not be aware of how their behavior is making you feel unless you tell them. Through the story, the author acknowledges the strength and bravery it takes to confront a situation and express your feelings.
Expressing feelings is the most important part of this process. When Quinn expressed his feelings, it had the positive effect of making his parents aware and most importantly, getting his needs met. Quinn describes how his feelings are affecting his body, which is a great way for kid's to start to identify their own emotions. For example, "...from the sounds that hurt my ears and make my heart ache." and "...the sounds that make my stomach sick." Identification of feelings based on how it feels in your body is crucial.
Through her illustrations, Sonia Sánchez gives the reader a sense of turmoil that is experienced through Quinn. By the end of the story, Ms. Sánchez uses her illustrations to create a sense of calm in the reader. She captures the feelings of the characters very well, which pulls the reader in to the emotion of the story.
I highly recommend this book for teaching coping skills and the importance of expressing feelings, especially with kids in difficult situations. It can lead to deeper conversations about what the reader experiences in their life, how they can cope and how they can use their skills to gain control over their situations.
I would like to caution readers on a couple of points in the story. Escaping through imagination excessively, without confronting and addressing the feelings, can become a maladaptive strategy to respond to trauma and lead to dissociative symptoms later in life. Additionally, there are trauma situations in which it would not be safe for the child to confront the adults about how they are feeling and could lead to further abuse. In this situation, help the child develop a list of other safe adults they can access for help, if the situation is out of hand and safety issues are prevalent.
You can access Hallee Adelman's website to purchase her book or check out other books by this author here.
Activity Idea for My Quiet Ship
Construct a Space Ship with the child as a means to explore events that make them want to escape and to help them identify related feelings.
These questions may help get the exercise started.
1. What is Quinn trying to escape from when he takes off in his Space Ship?
2. What feelings does it give him when his parents argue?
3. Do you ever feel a need to escape from something that gives you big feelings like Quinn?
4. What big feelings do you have when that happens?
5. What would be your best way to escape in your imagination?
6. What could you do to make others aware of how you feel and to get what you need from them?
Empty toilet paper roll
cardstock or construction paper
red/orange tissue paper or construction paper
silicone or other strong glue
markers or crayons
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