We might be living in a time when childhood anxiety is at an all-time high. And now, with society partially shut down due to COVID-19, school closures, and news of deaths and job losses, kids are dealing with more than a normal share of fear these days.
What can we do to help children process their worries, whether large or small?
These picture books about anxiety are a start. My kids appreciated the following books during our nightly read-aloud time. I found it gave them a way to name and understand fear, both the little fears and the big ones. Some books provided the emotional release of laughter, while others provided some child-sized tips for managing anxiety.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna
One of my favorite picture books on fear, written and illustrated by “a very anxious person.” Francesca Sanna takes readers through the journey of a little girl who comes to a new country and can’t speak the language. Her only friend at first is Fear, who grows so large that it prevents her from making friends. Then she discovers that everyone has secret fears just like her. Conceptually this picture book stands heads above the others for its carefully researched message to children on how fear is ubiquitous, can play a positive as well as negative role in our lives, and never leaves us but is a normal part of living. There is so much here to spark discussion with your little ones.
There Might be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi and Laurel Molk
This is hands down my kids’ favorite picture book on the sometimes irrational fears we have about the big world out there. A little girl takes her timid pup to the beach where we witness a set of hilarious (but understandable) scenarios. The little dog is overwhelmed by the big and sandy stairs, the big and whooshy waves, the big and beachy balls, and most especially, the fact that there might be lobsters! We are still joking about this funny read-aloud in our household and I heartily recommend it for school and home libraries.
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
I love this picture book for its twist on the beloved classic nursery rhyme. Dan Santat, inspired by a loved one's struggle with anxiety, wrote and illustrated this creative story to give a different, more triumphant and hopeful alternative to the one we all know. Instead of being famous for falling off the wall, Humpty Dumpty gets back up again, surprising us with what he is able to achieve. Inspiring and unforgettable, the book is full of richly imagined illustrations and a completely unique aesthetic.
I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong and Nidhi Chanani
Bursting with imagination and energy, a young girl takes on her school day as a brave hero. She imagines the library as a mountain to scale; friendships as new bridges to build; the school campus as undiscovered territory to chart. To instill your little ones with a sense of courage, adventure, and confidence, read them this story.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one is quite like you.” What kid hasn’t felt anxious about their first day at school? Especially when they’re from another country, look different, or are somehow a minority? It’s about time somebody wrote this picture book so that kids can see their own experiences reflected on the page and also be empowered by its message of courage: that when we are brave and share our stories, we will find others happy to make space for us. Lyrically written and beautifully illustrated, this picture book breathes courage into the lonely and scared.
Catching Thoughts by Bonnie Clark and Summer Macon
Some people are plagued by more than a fair share of negative thoughts and emotions. In this picture book, a girl is unable to get rid of her unwanted thoughts. No amount of crying, yelling or ignoring can dispel her oppressive, dark mood until she notices the buoyant power of thoughts that dwell on truth, beauty, excellence, and hope. She makes a conscious decision to fill her mind with positive thoughts, collecting ones that make her feel clear and calm.
All About Anxiety by Carrie Lewis and Sophia Touliatou
The perfect informational picture book on anxiety for older children, ages 9–13. My older child appreciated the in-depth look into the biological wiring behind anxiety. The illustrations are captivating. They make neurotransmitters, amygdalas, and limbic systems fun and approachable. Aside from providing the science behind anxiety, the book offers kids a way to self-reflect with a series of questions designed ultimately to produce self-awareness. Practical suggestions and tips empower the reader with strategies to manage their anxiety.
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
A little girl named Ruby discovers a worry. Her worry grows bigger and bigger until it becomes enormous. She finds that a great way to shrink her worries is to talk about them with someone.
For more recommendations, see 10 Picture Books About Anxiety for Children Who Worry and 25 Thoughtful Anxiety Books for Kids.