Parenting with a PhD: Resources

featured, to live, To Read — By on July 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm

By Kristen Berthiaume

Books to Use When Talking to Kids About Feelings and Stuff

This month, instead of a regular article, I’m highlighting some of the best children’s books I’ve found to start conversations about expressing feelings and handling problems. These are all books I’ve used in my practice and with my own kids. Be sure to check books out ahead of time to make sure they’re right for your child and that you’re prepared to address any questions your child may have. Here we go!


How Full Is Your Bucket for Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. This is probably my absolute favorite resource – I use it constantly in my practice and with my kids. This book provides a very concrete and memorable way to talk about emotional reserves – or how much mental and emotional energy you have left to deal with life. The book follows a boy named Felix who is encouraged by his grandfather to imagine that he has an imaginary bucket of water hanging over his head. When things are going badly, water drips out of his bucket. At one point, his water gets so low that he starts wishing the other kids at school would trip and fall. But, then some good things happen and big drops of water begin filling up his bucket. He finds that his bucket fills up more quickly when he helps others and, even better, they get drops in their buckets, too. Read this book with your child and then discuss her own imaginary bucket. Talk about how she feels when her water level is low and ways to fill the bucket back up like taking deep breaths, having quiet time, talking to a friend, or helping someone out. When you run out of patience and say something you don’t mean, you can explain that you didn’t have enough water in your bucket to handle the situation very well. Decide on something the two of you can do together to fill up both of your buckets.

The Feelings Book by Todd Park. This is a cute, simple book that describes a number of ways you can feel from “silly” to “lonely” to “brave.” My favorite is: “I feel like eating pizza for breakfast.” The illustrations are great – colorful and silly. Talk about times when you have felt these ways and encourage your child to do the same. Comment on how all of these feelings are O.K. but we have to be careful to express them the right ways. This is a particularly great book to read when your child is feeling moody and can’t explain why.

ABC Look at Me! By Roberta Intrater. This is a book that’s really great for younger kids, ages 2 to 5. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by an emotion – from Angry to Zany – and a picture of a baby making the accompanying facial expression. The littlest ones will like the pictures of babies and older ones can talk about what makes them feel Grumpy, Joyful, and Yucky. Encourage your child to make each facial expression as you read them.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle and Sleepy Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway. These books are fun because they provide a number of different physical activities for your child to try to mimic different animals. Can you raise your shoulders like a buffalo? Curl up like a hedgehog? The movements provide a fun way for your child to relax his body when tense, upset, or angry. Read the book when things are calm and use reminders to try the animal moves when your child needs to relax.

Why Do My Feet Say Yes When My Head Says No? by Eileen Cooley. Full disclosure: this book was written by my college mentor; however, she doesn’t know I’m writing about it and I picked it because it’s a great and not for extra credit. Plus, it has won a Mom’s Choice Award so I’m not the only one who thinks it’s fantastic! This book works for a variety of ages because information is presented simply and clearly. It deals with making good choices, even when we’re conflicted, and this is a topic all children can relate to. The book touches on topics related to social skills, self-control, and fears. It’s particularly helpful for teaching your child how to think ahead about what she wants to do and consider the potential consequences. As you read, talk about times your child has wanted to make a particular choice and why that might or might not be the best option. Discuss what she ended up doing and anything that she wishes had gone differently.

Talking About Anger:

Sometimes I’m Bombaloo – by Rachel Vail. Katie Honors is a “really good kid” who says she smiles a lot “because usually I’m happy.” But, sometimes things don’t go well and Katie becomes BOMBALOO! When she’s Bombaloo, she shows her teeth and makes fierce noises, she uses her feet and her fists instead of her words. This kid gets MAD! Fortunately, with a little quiet time and a bit of silly distraction, she is soon Katie Honors again and all is well. Chances are, this story will feel quite familiar if you have a little Bombaloo at home!

Llama Llama Mad at Mama – by Anna Dewdney. If you’re familiar with the Llama, Llama series, you’ll know how much fun these stories are. This one also deals with the dreaded Saturday shopping trip and how overwhelming it can be. Llama Llama gets so frustrated with all the people, sounds, smells and lines, he completely loses it, throwing things out of the basket and making a huge mess. Luckily, Mama Llama has a lot of patience (way more than I do) and she responds to the tantrum firmly but kindly. After Llama Llama calms down, he and his mother clean up together and make a plan to get the rest of the shopping done. This story is a good jumping off point for talking about situations that are overwhelming or frustrating. It also serves as a good reminder that it’s o.k. to be angry at people, even when we love them very much. Besides, I know I could learn a thing or two from Mama Llama about patience. For a similar story that’s holiday-focused, check out Llama, Llama, Holiday Drama.

Talking About Worry:

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney – You’ve probably read this but just in case you haven’t, it’s a great one for dealing with bedtime drama. Llama Llama starts to get worried when left in his room at night. He calls for Mama but she takes a while to get there and, once again, he has a come apart. Mama Llama runs up in a panic and, upon seeing that all is fine, she reminds Llama Llama that he’s safe and that his Mama is near. Use this book if your child has nighttime fears and needs a lot check-ins at night. After reading, come up with a list of reassuring statements like, “I am safe in my room” or “My family is nearby.” Choose no more than 4 or 5 of them to write on an index card or poster and hang it in your child’s room so it’s close at bedtime. For extra fun, consider using glow-in-the-dark ink or paint to make the list so your child can read it when the lights are off!

Here are a few other books to consider: Do Unto Otters (for teaching consideration and manners), Llama Llama Misses Mama (Llama feels shy and misses his Mama on his first day of school), Llama, Llama, Learns to Share (I guess you can tell I like this series, huh?), and All Kinds of Families (for talking about families that may or may not be typical).

Do you have suggestions for books you’ve read with your kids that have helped with some kind of problem? Please share them!

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates ( She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her five-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

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