If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands” goes a popular English rhyme. But what if you are feeling angry or annoyed? Or just plain grumpy at having been disallowed another bar of chocolate or another few minutes of watching the telly? In a country where mental health is not quite on top of the agenda of families, talking about one’s emotions right from one’s childhood might have better fallouts than ignoring the warning signs or simply telling a child to “get over it”. Here are a few books that help children understand the depth of their emotions and how they can cope with them:
It seems like Alexander has woken up on the wrong side of the bed when his day starts going downhill from the time he wakes up. By the time he gets into the car pool to school and is squashed in the middle despite wanting a window seat, he’s convinced that it’s going to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. And, true to his thoughts, it turns out to be a profoundly forgettable day, aggravating his mood and making him feel grumpier to the extent that he considers relocating to Australia. There’s a reason why Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1972, Simon and Schuster, appropriate for 6-9 years) is a timeless classic. It puts into context a child’s self-righteous feeling of being wronged when everything that is not to his or her liking is someone else’s fault. Is Alexander correct in his assumptions and should he truly move to Australia? You will have to read this to find out how he comes to terms with his feelings and a child’s often circuitous route to equanimity.
Eric Carle might be known for his A Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), but a book that is also appropriate for the very young to cope with their emotions of anger and beleaguerment is Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug (1977, Wayland Books, appropriate for 4+ years). A belligerent ladybug is spoiling for a fight one fine morning. It comes across another ladybug whom it challenges to a duel, only to withdraw the offer when it realises that his opponent is bigger and stronger (and calmer) than him. It then travels to different parts of the world, challenging animals progressively bigger to duels only to realise how ill-equipped he is for each of them. If your child is ever in need of perspective, as he or she often will be, it’s always good to go back to basics and explain why intimidation and bullying are never good combat techniques because nature has a unique way of putting everyone in their place.
A series of picture books from Wayland Books (1993, appropriate for 4+ years) very ambiguously titled “Your Emotions” helps young children understand the range of their negative, and often, confusing, feelings. What does anger feel like? Is it a stab of jealousy at the attention the new baby is garnering? Or an irrational annoyance at having been bettered by a peer at a game? Does it make you feel mean and petty? Is it similar to a volcano on the brink of eruption? Perhaps, closer to a bull in a china shop? Do our actions make other people angry or unhappy? One of the finest series in recent times on the many reasons our mood — and that of others is spoiled — and what we can do to help us cope with them better.