When children’s mental or emotional health is challenged, parents are usually the first responders. And long waits for specialist services mean parents can sometimes be left providing support for considerable periods of time. Faced with a distressed child or a depressed teenager, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. Self-help books for supporting children’s mental health can be really useful – both as a tool for working through issues together with your child and just for helping parents to be better informed.
So, whether you are intervening early to prevent ill-health or coping with more serious problems, here are my recommendations of the best books for supporting children’s mental health. Specifically for parents tackling issues like anxiety, low mood and self-harming behaviours.
The Huge Bag of Worries
When it comes to books for supporting children’s mental health, The Huge Bag of Worries (by Virginia Ironside) is a must-have for all home bookshelves. All kids worry sometimes – whether it’s concrete concerns like school tests or vaguer fears about death and separation. Having a storybook on hand to talk about how we manage those worries is a great idea. Through a simple story and familiar-style illustrations, this book offers concrete strategies to help children manage their anxiety. By having a designated ‘worry time’, children are encouraged to let go of their worries for the rest of the day. It’s a great book to help children to identify and give a name to their worried feelings. And reading the book together will help parents and children talk about those difficult feelings in a constructive way. (Age 7-11yrs)
Overcoming Your Child’s Fears and Worries
Overcoming Your Child’s Fears and Worries: a self-help guide using cognitive behavioural techniques (by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willetts) aims to teach parents to use simple cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) to help children overcome both specific fears and anxiety in general. Despite the rather imposing cover, this is a simple-to-read introduction to CBT techniques. It’s also highly practical, with worksheets and step-by-step guides.
If you are unfamiliar with CBT principles, I would definitely recommend reading through the whole book before starting to implement it with your own child. And, although this is designed as a self-help guide, if your child has more severe anxiety, don’t be tempted to rely on self-treatment alone (see Anxious children: where to find help). Great as a holding strategy while you are waiting for specialist support. (For children with extreme shyness or social anxiety, see Overcoming Your Child’s Shyness and Social Anxiety by the same authors.)
Sitting Still Like a Frog
Sitting Still Like a Frog: mindfulness exercises for kids (by Eline Snel) is a cracking book. It comes with a 60 minute CD of guided meditations on specific age-appropriate themes. So you can take it off the shelf and jump straight in! There is also a brief introduction to the theories and practice of mindfulness for children. Regardless of whether you believe in the wider healing powers of meditation, these are wonderfully relaxing exercises to help you and your child de-stress. Guaranteed to prompt interesting conversations about feelings and managing emotions and thoughts. (Age 5-12yrs)
Overcoming Teenage Low Mood and Depression
Overcoming Teenage Low Mood and Depression: a five areas approach (by Nicky Dummett and Chris Williams) is aimed at teenagers but is actually a really useful read for parents too. The illustrated worksheets and exercises in teen-friendly typeface position the book as an engaging self-help ‘course’ for teens. However, given how hard it can be to get a depressed teenager to read a book, I suspect it is more likely to be read by their parents…
There is some useful advice for friends and family on how to support depressed teenagers. The aim is to boost teenagers’ motivation, help them become more active (to lift their mood) and challenge negative thinking. Even if your teenager won’t read the book, parents will get value from looking through the exercises and using these to structure conversations. Teens experiencing depression will need professional help, but the information in here will help parents to understand the experience of depression. And the approaches outlined can be used to connect with teens and shift them towards more positive thinking and behaviour.
The Parent’s Guide to Self-Harm
Finding out your child is self-harming is a devastating blow for a parent. In the shock that follows, it’s hard to know what it means, what to do, what not to do and who to talk to. The Parent’s Guide to Self-Harm: what parents need to know (by Jane Smith) is a lifeline. The honest and empathetic text brings calm to a distressing subject. There is insight and practical advice, plus answers to all the questions that will be buzzing around your head. Full of the experiences of parents who have found themselves in the same situation, it is a book to make you feel less alone and give you hope that others have got through this.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health, don’t rely on self-diagnosis or books for supporting children’s mental health alone. Seek help via your GP or contact Young Minds for advice. You will also find more resources on this resource list and lots of advice on these parenting websites.
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This is not a sponsored post – these are all books I personally recommend. However, it does contain affiliate links. I receive a small fee if you click through to Amazon and buy the books (see Disclosure Notice).