Using Books to Calm Anxiety

7118768Using books as a therapeutic tool, bibliotherapy, can be a powerful experience. As children face new situations and demands, they typically will experience some degree of anxiety, which is normal. In fact, learning to feel distress in certain situations can help prevent children from dangerous situations. But there are also everyday worries, where children need some guidance from parents and caregivers in order to fully process their feelings. Books can help children address routine worries and fears. However, if you suspect that your child is experiencing anxiety that is excessive and uncontrollable, please contact a mental health professional. Now let’s take a look at the two stages of childhood development that children who read middle grade books are going through and the sorts of books that might ease worry during each phase.

Children (ages 6-10). During this period, kids may fear outside dangers, especially, but not limited to, natural disasters, robberies and accidents. Often, these fears stem from what they’ve heard about on the news. Transitions may be difficult, especially during the beginning of school when they must adopt new routines.

If your child is feeling powerless in the wake of a natural disaster, you might want to give them books that empower. Also look up news stories about children who have raised money for hurricane Sandy, for example, or kids who have come up with creative fundraisers for non-profits. You can also look for books that focus on small victories that help the environment. For example, you can read about a character who recycles, or works on a way to save the rain forest. The Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a wonderful book about a 12 year-old confronting hurricane Katrina. To calm going-to-school fears, you can guide them to some funny school stories such as the classic Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar.

Children (Middle School age and up). During this life phase, it’s normal to worry about social status and acceptance, as well as academic and athletic performance. Additionally, older teenagers may worry about their future.

For tweens (and teens), consider looking up the early years of people whom they admire and sharing these stories. You may discover that a rock star, athlete, actor or author was shy, or overcame adversities to get where they are today. Check out Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary about the brave children who marched along Martin Luther King and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Kids on Strike!6522296

Stories are very powerful. You can pick a book that speaks to a given situation and present it to a child so they can understand their world, and feel soothed and calmed.

Hillary Homzie‘s second tween novel for girls,The Hot List, was published last year. She parents three boys and is always looking for ways to soothe and heal.

Hillary Homzie
  1. You always share the best Hillary. Of these I have read & given as a gift, Jewell Parker Rhodes THE NINTH WARD. It is so uplifting, which is not what you would expect if you remember the images after the hurricane. Yet it is also speaks truth, while presenting it in page-turning fiction.
    If I can add another uplifting title. For children whose parents may be experiencing mental health counseling & related issues, A PIECE OF HEAVEN by Sharon Dennis Wyeth is an uplifting look at how one girl is sorting out abandonment by a loving mother.

  2. The poet Lucille Clifton said that literature is both a window and a door. I think that in different times in our lives we need different things. When we read books to see ourselves (the mirror) it is reassuring to see that we are not alone. That there are others like us struggling with similar situations. And then when we feel a need to escape or to go outside our experience to cope as well as understand the world, we seek out books that may be fantastical or set in places far from our experience (window literature). Yet even I read wonderful escapist literature the emotions of the characters will feel real, which is oh so reassuring!

  3. Great post. I think for me personally books can calm anxiety by taking you to a magical place (reading a light, magical middle grade can be a reliever in times of stress).

    There are certainly a great many books that can help kids to ease into school also. There’s always a relatable situation or character.