My son Jacob is four and a half years old. Right now, he’s learning a lot of tricky lessons about handling his feelings. This is all pretty normal stuff, and I know that. I’ve been through it before with my daughter Hannah. Knowing it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Learning to handle strong emotions is challenging for my son, and for the people who live with him, too.
This is why, when I was offered a review copy of Happy, Sad, & Everything in Between, written by Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., S.S.P. and illustrated by Alex McVey, I jumped at it. Aimed at kids four through eight years old, the book aims to increase emotional literacy.
The main character is named Kai, and with ambiguous features my son swears that Kai is a boy and my daughter swears that Kai is a girl. This made the book easy for both of them to relate to. Kai is very obviously white, however, so I’m not sure if that would impact things for children with other racial backgrounds. I appreciated the gender neutrality nonetheless, because it also underscores that feelings are universal.
The book itself is more of a resource book than a story book. We did read it cover-to-cover, but it took us several nights to cover the whole thing. There’s an introduction, and then each page addresses one of 15 different emotions: happy, loving, scared, anxious, worried, tired, jealous, excited, sad, shy, embarrassed, lonely, calm, frustrated, angry and silly. There’s an explanation of what the motion feels like and some questions to consider (What embarrasses you? What do you look like when you’re feeling lonely? What thoughts do you have when you’re feeling angry?). Then, a box offers suggestions for how to help yourself handle the emotion.
The book covers mindfulness in an easy-to-understand way, talking about sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. There’s an emphasis on how to feel calm, which appears throughout the book, especially when dealing with very strong emotions. Frankly, I can always use a refresher on that stuff myself.
I’m mostly using this book as a situational aid. For instance, sometimes when Jacob is upset now he’ll bring me the book and search out the page to describe how he’s feeling. Seeing Kai looking frustrated, and then reading through the suggestions for how to deal with frustration, is actually helpful for both of us. It lets him know that it’s okay to feel this way, and it gives me ideas for how to help my son when he’s overwhelmed by feelings.
While the age guideline is four to eight, I found it was more helpful for my four-year-old than my eight-year-old. My daughter Hannah has better vocabulary, more self-control and greater emotional literacy. While she enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say that she got as much out of it as Jacob. I would suggest this book primarily to parents who can see that their children are having a hard time dealing with some of their feelings.
How did you help your kids learn to deal with strong feelings? I could always use more tips!