Books to Help Kids Handle All Kinds of Uncomfortable Emotions

by Melissa Taylor

Some feelings are more difficult to handle than others. Feelings like anger, frustration, loneliness, worry, sadness, grief, and fear can be uncomfortable for kids. Yet it’s important for kids to be able to accept all their feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Feeling the uncomfortable emotions is an important part of our overall emotional health and an important part of feeling the more pleasant emotions too.

We can help kids accept their uncomfortable emotions by using the language of comfortable and uncomfortable — as opposed to good or bad. The reason is that children are programmed to avoid “bad,” and we don’t want them to avoid feeling any of the feelings that are part of the human experience.

Books can be a great tool for connecting and empathizing with all kinds of different emotions. As you read these stories, both picture books and chapter books, talk about the feelings of the characters. Model curiosity. Listen. See what new emotional intelligence lessons these books can teach you and your children.

  • Books About Anger

  • Anger, according to Merriam-Webster, is a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism. This includes the feelings of furious, upset, mad, frustrated, and annoyed. Anger is not a bad emotion. In fact, it can be a way of noticing when something is wrong. When kids get angry, we can show them how to feel their anger and remain in control of their behavior.

  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama

    by Anna Dewdney

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    Llama Llama becomes more and more irritated about shopping with Mama until he finally erupts in a tantrum. His patient mama agrees that shopping is not fun but they are together and can make it fun. Her words defuse Llama Llama’s anger. The two pick up the mess he made, finish shopping, and return home peacefully.
    (Ages 2 – 5)

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  • Grumpy Monkey

    by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang

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    It’s a beautiful day in the jungle, but Jim Panzee is in a terrible mood. His friends want Jim to cheer up, but it’s all too much for him and he stomps off. Later Jim realizes it’s okay to be grumpy sometimes. Use this hilarious book to show the importance of accepting our emotions and allowing them to pass.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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  • When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry...

    by Molly Bang

    Sophie’s anger feels big and red. She runs until she feels differently and cries before feeling calm. This picture book shows that feelings, when felt, do not last forever but often flow into other feelings. Sophie also models ways to feel anger and stay within socially acceptable behavior.
    (Ages 4 – 6)

  • The Great Gilly Hopkins

    by Katherine Paterson

    Gilly is one angry foster kid. And she shows it with her behavior — swearing, name-calling, and stealing. But in this story, the adults in Gilly’s life love her no matter what, something that Gilly doesn’t realize until it’s too late. This fabulous book will give you rich discussions about her anger and how in that anger, she reacts without thinking.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan

    by Patricia Bailey

    In a 1905 Nevada mining town, life is not easy for 13-year-old Kit Donovan. And she’s angry about everything — her mom dying, her classmates and teachers bullying her, and her dad getting murdered by the mine boss. She turns her anger into dogged determination to find justice for her father, showing how anger can be channeled into something productive.
    (Ages 9 – 12)

  • Books About Sadness and Grief

  • Grief happens in all sorts of situations that involve loss or change, from moving schools to the death of a loved one. Depressed, hurt, unhappy, and disappointment are all subsets of grief. We don’t do grief very well in our culture but we can get better. Hopefully these books and the conversations you have with your kids will help.

  • The Rabbit Listened

    by Cori Doerrfeld

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    Birds knock down the block tower Taylor just worked hard to build. His animal friends offer all kinds of suggestions for how to cope but none resonate with Taylor. When his rabbit friend simply listens, it’s the opportunity Taylor needs to feel all his feelings about the experience — grief, anger, and acceptance. A great book to help young kids process feelings around losses big and small.
    (Ages 3 – 5)

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  • Ida, Always

    by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso

    Polar bears, Gus and Ida, are best friends who spend their days together. Until Ida gets very sick. Sadly, they must say goodbye to each other. Their story celebrates their beautiful friendship as well as the grief Gus feels when Ida’s gone. But Gus realizes that even after Ida’s death, she will always be in his heart. Use this book to show how cherished memories remain even after a loss.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • The Goodbye Book

    by Todd Parr

    Todd Parr gives readers permission to feel however they’re feeling about saying goodbye — sad, mad, up, or down. Because all these uncomfortable emotions are normal and okay. We need more books like this that remind kids of this truth.
    (Ages 5 – 6)

  • When Friendship Followed Me Home

    by Paul Griffin

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    Intense and emotional, you feel everything in this story of Ben who loves his recently rescued dog, grieves the loss of his adopted mom, survives a horrible new living situation, and enjoys his growing friendship with the librarian’s daughter, Rainbow Girl. When Rainbow Girl is diagnosed with cancer and dies, you’ll feel Ben’s agonizing grief acutely. Then, Ben finds support for his sorrow with Rainbow Girl’s parents who embrace Ben as their own. Talk about what lessons and insights you can glean from Ben’s emotional journey.
    (Ages 10+)

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  • The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price

    by Jennifer Maschari

    After Charlie’s mom dies, his sister, Imogene, begins acting weird. Charlie follows his sister to finds that she’s escaping into a shadow world where their mother is still “alive”. It seems too good to be true … because it is. Every time Charlie’s sister goes to shadow world, she feeds the fake mom memories, especially the sad ones, forgetting them forever in the real world. Soon Charlie realizes that if he doesn’t stop Imogene, he’ll lose her to the shadow world for good. It’s a tangible allegory of grief through the eyes of a struggling 12-year-old boy who has already lost his best friend and his mom but hopefully not his sister.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • Books About Fear

  • Fear includes the emotions worry and anxiety, two feelings that many kids experience daily. These stories can be touchstones when your kids are feeling fearful or anxious. Remind your kids of the ideas: What did Jabari’s dad do when Jabari felt scared? Or remember when Humpty felt scared and climbed the wall anyway, one step at a time?

  • Jabari Jumps

    by Gaia Cornwall

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    Jabari wants to jump off the diving board but he’s scared. His dad helps Jabari with a strategy that makes things feel less scary — to take a deep breath and tell yourself you’re ready — and it works! Jabari eventually jumps. I love how Jabari’s father allows Jabari to feel his fear, gives him support, and waits for Jabari to dive when he feels ready.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • After the Fall

    by Dan Santat

    In the wake of his big fall, Humpty Dumpty is afraid of heights. Which limits his everyday life. When his paper airplane goes over the wall, Humpty decides to climb the wall again — one step at a time, even though he is scared. His bravery exemplifies how we all can take small steps of courage even when we feel fear.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • Fish Are Not Afraid of Doctors

    by J.E. Morris

    Like most kids, Maud is anxious about getting a checkup. She stares at the aquarium in the waiting room, jealous of the fish inside that don’t need doctors. When she’s told she needs a shot, she closes her eyes and pretends she is a fish. Swimming along in her head, she never even feels the needle. This installment in the Maud the Koala series is a wonderful example of the power of the mind to overcome anxiety and fear.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • Ghosts

    by Raina Telgemeier

    Cat is worried for her little sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis that comes with bouts of sickness and a shorter lifespan. When their neighbor invites the sisters to a Day of the Dead celebration, Maya’s too sick to go but encourages Cat to go despite Cat’s nervousness. There, Cat experiences the beauty of the celebration, changing her perception of both death and dying.
    (Ages 8 – 13)

  • Nightmares!

    by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny

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    Imagine horrible nightmares that can come to life and kidnap your little brother. That’s what happens to Charlie when his dad moves him and his brother to their stepmom’s spooky purple mansion. Charlie must travel to the nightmare world where he and his friends face all their fears in order to rescue Charlie’s brother and stop the nightmares from entering the real world. This manifested-fears story begs the questions: What are our biggest fears? How much do our minds affect those fears?
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2018.