Anxiety is on the rise in school-age children, and more and more students are coming to their school counselor for anxiety support. To help kids manage these big feelings, storybooks are my go-to therapeutic tool. They help children feel “not-so alone” in their experiences, teach practical skills, and relate to them on their level like nothing else can.
Read on to learn more about anxiety in children, why books are an effective resource, and 4 MUST-HAVE books to add to your school counselor library!
Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a mental health condition that impacts the way children learn, interact with others, and make choices in life.
What Anxiety Looks Like
Anxiety often presents as worry or fear, but may result in a child showing irritability or anger.
Other Common Symptoms:
Keep in mind that symptoms of anxiety can look different in different age groups, genders, cultures, etc. and even within the same child on different days (or moments)!
Prevalence of Anxiety in Kids
According to the CDC, nearly 10% of children have been diagnosed with anxiety at some point in their lifetime.
This number has increased significantly from only 6% in 2011.
Using Story Books to Help Kids Cope with Anxiety
Why are storybooks my go-to resource to help children cope with anxiety?
- Books are relatable. They help children realize that other children experience anxious thoughts and feelings, too.
- Books are engaging. They hook and maintain students’ attention.
- Books take the pressure off students. They allow children to learn, process, and reflect on the book characters’ experiences, without the pressure to open up right away about their own personal situations. Children can share at their own pace, when they’re ready, in a more natural flow.
- Books are memorable. The impactful lessons learned in stories really stick with students for years to come.
Understanding why story books are beneficial to help students cope with anxiety is great, but it doesn’t get you far unless you confidently know specific books to use!
4 MUST-HAVE Books about Anxiety
- “Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine” by Julia Cook
- “When Harley Has Anxiety” by Regine Galanti
- “I Am Peace” by Susan Verde
- “Worry Says What?” by Allison Edwards
- “Transforming Anxiety” by Lauren Mosback
- “Anxious Ninja” by Mary Nhin
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“Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine” by Julia Cook is one of my top favorites for discussing anxiety with elementary-aged children. Poor Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine! Whether it’s a spelling test, math class, the weather, school lunch, recess, or everything in between, she worried about all of the “what if’s.” Until one day, when her teacher taught her how to manage her “in control” worries, and give her “out of control” worries to the “Worry Hat!” With this humorous and lighthearted story, children learn that they CAN control their anxious thoughts and feelings!
Use this companion lesson with the story book for a comprehensive approach to addressing the “why” behind worries and ways to manage them. Students learn what “worry” and “calm” feel like in their bodies, how to use the CBT technique of “reality testing”, 15 coping skills, and more!
This lesson includes digital presentation options, two interactive activities, posters to hang in your office or classroom, and an assortment of worksheets and coloring pages for students to reflect on the topic learned.
It includes everything you need to address anxiety in a clear and engaging way!
[This resource was posted with permission from Julia Cook].
“Worry Says What” by Allison Edwards is my new go-to book for helping students cope with anxiety! It tells the story of a Worry Monster who likes to “set up camp” inside of a little girl’s brain. He tells her things like, “You can’t do it!” “That’s too hard!” and “You’ll never get it right!” He makes her feel too afraid to try new things and lose confidence in herself. Until one day, when she decides to make a change and not let Worry be the boss of her any longer. She flips her thinking, and as she grows stronger and braver, the Worry Monster’s voice gets quieter and quieter…until he starts to pack up his tent and leave! And don’t worry, the little girl is ready with a new mindset and set of skills for the next time he decides to set up camp!
This story is relatable and meaningful for all students, and would be a perfect read aloud in both counseling and classroom settings. It would be a great compliment to CBT work to help students challenge their negative thoughts and reframe their thinking. It reminds me of my favorite story for helping kids cope with anger, “When Miles Got Mad,” and is one you should definitely add to your school counselor library!
This companion lesson teaches students to cope with anxiety and worry. Students learn how “worry” and “calm” look and feel in their bodies, reflect and identify what worries them the most in their lives, and discuss positive self-talk. Kids also learn about 15 different coping skills they can use when feeling anxious.
Use this resource digitally for ease and instant engagement. Hands-on activities are available for children to work through and make connections with. Posters and activity pages are also a bonus piece to this book activity!
[This resource was posted with permission from author Allison Edwards and NCYI representative Jennifer Deshler].
Kids learn how to be mindful and fully present through this beautifully illustrated story book. Making good choices, managing emotions, and balancing a busy life are all also addressed in age-appropriate and relatable ways. Susan Verde encourages children to pay attention to their feelings and surroundings and be kind to themselves to manage anxiety in a positive and wholesome way.
Introduce mindfulness strategies with your students. Take a few moments of each session to practice some of these together:
- Deep breathing
- Taking a brief brain break
- Listen to calming music
- Focus attention on soothing focal points
Dr. Galanti created this engaging workbook that teaches children aged 5 – 9 skills to confidently manage anxiety. This complete resource offers 45 meaningful exercises that encourage children to take control and be brave. Crafts, writing, drawing, and mindfulness activities help children quiet their nervous thoughts and create a proactive plan to cope with their worries. Harley the Hedgehog is such a lovable character, and teaches us that we can handle any fears and worries that come our way!
This resource would be perfect for individual and small group counseling, as well as to send home with children to work on with their families.
Use any of the activities and CBT-informed exercises in this book to help kids have all the tools they need to cope with anxiety and truly learn to thrive!
Other Ways to Manage Anxiety in Children
- Healthy diets
- Bullying prevention programs
- Consistent physical activity
- Adequate amount of sleep each night
Read about more ways to help kids cope with anxiety here.
As a school counselor, you are in a powerful position to provide essential support to teachers and services for children as they deal with anxiety in elementary school. Be confident in yourself! You’ve got this!
Do you have other favorite books to help children manage anxiety? Let me know in the comments below!