6 Picture Books for Toddlers That Will Help Them Understand & Express Feelings
Studies show that emotional intelligence is a great predictor of an individual’s future success in relationships, health, and quality of life. Being able to identify and express emotions is an important first developmental milestone towards greater emotional intelligence. Kids need to be able to understand their feelings – whether those emotions feel comfortable or intense – and to express and manage them without judgement, rash responses, or meltdowns.
We’ve rounded up our favorite picture books that help younger children, from toddlers to preschoolers, understand their feelings and cope with them in a healthy and mindful way.
By Jo Witek
Our hearts house so many feelings. Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. This book is a great introduction to feelings for toddlers, exploring the full range of emotions and describing how they feel physically as well. The language is lyrical and the imagery evocative but it’s also direct enough to really give toddlers a grasp of all the different emotions so that they can better identify and communicate what they themselves are feeling. The text is paired with fun and whimsical illustrations and die-cut hearts that appear on each spread, as the heroine comes to understand her own feelings and emotions. This book helps young children understand that it’s ok to have feelings and it’s even better to celebrate them.
By Jamie Lee Curtis
So many emotions can happen in a single day. Through fast-paced, silly verse and sweet watercolor illustrations, this book helps children explore, identify, and understand their ever-shifting moods. Children will love following along as a boisterous and bold little girl explores her 13 different moods and how they change from day to day. Beginning with silly: "Today I feel silly. / Mom says it's the heat. I put rouge on the cat / and gloves on my feet," the book is an adventure in emotions that allows young children to recognize their own moods, and their mood swings – an important developmental milestone. The book does a great job of breaking down emotions to a kid level with wildly expressive and energetic illustrations to go along with the text. A clever mood wheel on the last page allows young readers to rearrange the little girl's expression to express their own feelings.
By Lauren Rubenstein
Descriptive prose and beautiful illustrations come together in this book to promote a message of mindfulness and emotional awareness, letting kids know it’s okay to experience a variety of emotions and to lean into those emotions. Rather than labeling feelings as either good or bad, the story teaches children that welcoming their feelings in and making friends with them is a wonderful way to learn more about themselves. The book encourages kids to explore and accept their feelings, rather than judge or suppress them.
By Claire Messer
We all wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes but we don’t all have a cure for our own bad attitude. This sweet story with its simple text and lively linoleum print illustrations is the perfect remedy for even the grumpiest of days. Kids will totally relate to Penguin, who is having a tremendously grumpy day. But with a bit of self-care – a nice, cold bath, his favorite pajamas, and his treasured book and teddy – Penguin washes away the grumpiness and starts to notice the little things that make him feel better. It’s a charming story about handling negative emotions; a life lesson that’s important for everyone.
By Anna Llenas
The Color Monster is feeling completely mixed up. With the help of a little girl, he learns to distinguish between his five colorful emotions (happiness, anger, sadness, fear, and calm) and to express what he’s feeling more effectively. The book helps young children identify a range of emotions by equating each one with a particular color. A final emotion is left unnamed for readers or listeners to identify, but the pink hearts give it away. The illustrations in this book are adorable and the pop-up items very durable. Unique, engaging, and appropriate, it feels like a lovely coffee table book.
By Shelly Becker
All kids have trouble getting a grip on their emotions. But it’s important for them to learn not to lash out when they're angry, hurt, or frustrated. The bold and colorful illustrations and action-packed rhyming text reveal the many ways superheroes (and ordinary children, too) can resist the temptation to throw a tantrum when they’re feeling intense emotions: When “Superheroes don’t get their way, when they’re sad, when they’re mad, when they’ve had a bad day...they COULD super-tantrum, they COULD but they DON'T, because REAL Superheroes just WOULDN'T—they WON'T!” This book not only helps kids acknowledge their strong feelings, but also introduces them to a variety of coping mechanisms. Kids will learn how to redirect their feelings into doing good deeds and helping others as a way to uplift themselves and others.
What are some of your favorite books and resources to teach young kids to understand and manage their emotions?
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