Picture Books for Developing Social/Emotional Growth

shelved under Parenting and Children's Books

Years ago, as a young mother, I realized that I did not properly prepare my toddler for his baby brother’s hospitalization and came to learn that he mistakenly believed that I had punished his brother for being “bad.” This was the result of my explanation, “your brother has to be in the hospital until he is better.” To my toddler, “better” was the opposite of “bad” and I had sent the baby away for crying too much! My once-happy toddler became fearful and angry.  I realized then that I should have used picture books to help him understand what was about to happen to his brother, prior to the hospitalization of his brother. I have since made bibliotherapy, using books for working through difficult situations, my professional focus in order to assist parents and teachers with addressing challenging situations through literature. (For more information, see http://www.anniemousebooks.com.) 

All children will experience adversity of one kind or another at some point in their lives. If they have been presented with literature that addresses a variety of difficulties prior to having a crisis, they will be better equipped to cope when the need arises. Social and emotional development of young children can be enhanced if we carefully choose the books we share with them and allow ample opportunity for them to ask questions and relate the situations to their own feelings. Following is a brief list of some of my personal favorites.


Hands Are Not for Hitting (Board Book)

by Martine Agassi, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

This book is written in a very positive tone, letting children know all of the wonderful things we CAN do with our hands. It is the perfect tool for teaching young children that it is not acceptable to hit others or to be hit by others. I’ve chosen this book because the simple text opens the door to discussion of a complex topic: anger management. The brief guide for parents and caregivers at the end of the book is an excellent resource for understanding the source of young children’s anger and frustration and provides sound strategies for guiding children, while reminding caregivers that hitting children is not an appropriate strategy to stop children from hitting.


The Kissing Hand

by Audrey Penn

Most young children will experience separation anxiety at some point and this is the perfect book for providing both adults and young children with a coping strategy. While this book deals specifically with the main character being afraid to leave his mother in order to start school, it can also be used for the more traumatic situation of an impending death of a loved one. I would highly recommend this book for parents and grandparents with a terminal illness. While it is not comfortable to think about leaving a child permanently, if you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, this book provides a gentle message of lasting love that can lessen the burden of your final goodbye.


Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry

by Bebe Moore Campbell, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Young children naturally believe that they are responsible for everything that occurs; they are developmentally egocentric. When a parent is unable to cope effectively as a parent, whether it is due to illness or stress in general, young children can believe that it is their fault. This is a wonderful book for helping children understand that they are not responsible for an adult’s displaced anger. This book should be shared with all children since it can help them develop coping skills and empathy for others, even if they are not faced with the same situation in the book. I chose this book because all children will witness an adult’s inappropriate expression of anger at some point in their lives and will become frightened by what they see. (Malls, amusement parks and grocery stores are prime examples of exasperated adults behaving badly for all to see!) This book can open the conversation for discussing what children should do if they become frightened by an angry adult.


Puppies For Sale

by Dan Clark, illustrated by Jerry Dillingham

This is a very simple story about a boy who purchases a dog with a limp. With his purchase, the young boy teaches that the value of one’s life should not be minimized just because one has a physical disability. It is a wonderful story for teaching all children to look beyond disabilities and focus on the abilities that everyone possesses.



by Dan Yaccarino

This is a wonderful book for teaching the meaning of friendship, building self-esteem and letting children know they should never try to be someone other than who they are. It is a VERY lovable story!


The Tenth Good Thing About Barney

by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Erik Blegvad

This classic deals with the death of a pet. It is perfect for introducing children to the natural cycle of life. I’ve included this book because I actually had a parent ask if she should have the family’s dog put to sleep while her young daughter was at school, then tell the child that the dog must have run away from home, rather than address the topic of death! I suggested that was a wonderful strategy if she wanted her child to be angry with her for the rest of her life! After all, if the dog was lost, wouldn’t the expectation be for the parent to search for the dog until it was found? I then recommended using this book as a means of opening the conversation to what was about to happen with their own pet.


There is a picture book available for every situation imaginable — death, divorce, bullying, gay parents, etc. Whatever situation you are facing, you can find a picture book to break the ice and help with opening up communication about that topic. As a caregiver, you will gain valuable insight into what the children are thinking and feeling and can often avoid or get to the root of behavior problems in the process.