By Rachel Wagner-Cantine, LCPC, BC-DMT
It's never too early to start teaching Social-Emotional skills to children! Books are an excellent way to learn and talk about emotions, empathy and other "big" concepts. In this Arts Playschool blog, Dance-Movement Therapist Rachel Wagner-Cantine shares with us her top 5 children's books that tackle Social-Emotional Intelligence and gives a Creative Expansion Tip for each lesson so the learning can continue even after the book has ended!
1. Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton
Why I like It: This is a great introductory book to emotions using simple words and relatable animals. It helps kids to name feelings and develop the ability to read social cues (facial expressions, body language).
Creative Expansion Tip: Embody each animal and its feelings (how would an angry duck move? would they stomp their feet and flap their wings?). You can take this one step further and reflect on what animal you and your child relate to when feeling certain emotions.
2. Little Blue Truck by Alice Shertle
Why I like It: In addition to the beautiful illustrations and wonderful rhythm of this book, it teaches the concept of social reciprocity and drives home the importance of kindness and compassion. A great lesson on the give and take of relationships.
Creative Expansion Tip: Guide your child to reflect on how the story might change if Little Blue hadn’t helped the Dump Truck. How might the Dump Truck feel? How might Little Blue feel if he had left the Dump Truck stuck in the mud?
3. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae
Why I Like It: Another great rhyming/rhythmic book about being different and coping with being labeled “weird” because of it. Focuses on self empowerment to own your differences and find your strengths in your own way even if it doesn’t go with the norm.
Creative Expansion Tip: Create a personal coat of arms about what makes you and/or your family special or different. Need a coat of arms template? Here's One!
4. The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Why I like it: This book teaches children (and tweens!) that they have choice in how they manage their emotions. We can choose to stay stuck in our glum or we can take a different perspective and shift our mood (today I will have a good day!). This can also be a great introduction to identity for older kids. Do you always have to be a pout pout fish or can you be a variety of different kinds of fish?
Creative Expansion Tip: Have your child create their own types of fish for how they feel/who they are. For example, sometimes I'm a Mommy fish, sometimes I'm a silly fish, and sometimes I'm working helping other fish.
5. After the Fall by Dan Santant
Why I like It: As a therapist I was so excited to discover this book focusing on fear, anxiety, and trauma. It is written in a way children can relate to and understand these very “big” feelings and concepts. It also teaches ways to cope with fear and anxiety as well as the importance of facing our fears versus allowing our fears to control and limit us.
Creative Expansion Tip: Work with your child to create their/your own story of how you overcame a fear. You can create your own book/illustrations or put on a play reenacting the story.
It is helpful for children when adults share their personal experiences with emotions as it creates a feeling of universality for children that everyone feels fear and anxiety regardless of age.
About the Author
In addition to being a mom, Rachel Wagner-Cantine is a licensed clinical counselor (LCPC) and board certified dance/movement therapist (BC-DMT). Rachel has been in the field of psychotherapy for 12 years working in a variety of treatment settings including outpatient, inpatient and residential. In addition to working with clients, Rachel is also the Clinical Director at the Center for Creative Arts Therapy in Downers Grove, IL.