One research-based anxiety activity for kids is modeling, which means demonstrating for children how to handly anxiety. There’s lots of ways to do this! One is through bibliotherapy. There are lots of books about anxiety for kids out there, but this post is highlighting our absolute favorites – and sharing why we think they’re helpful. Some books don’t include a problem solving or coping element at all and instead are
Quick note: There are some books I really love that are about thoughts or about coping skills that aren’t included here. This list is specific to books that focus on worry, anxiety, and shyness!
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All Kinds of Worries
How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear?
I used this book for the first time with a kinder group awhile ago and it’s wonderful! Not surprising, because Jayneen Sanders wrote it and her books are great.
I used it as a model for how talking about (or drawing about) our worries can make them smaller. It felt spot on developmentally for the kinders, though I’d use preK and 1st also. After my group read it, we drew pictures of different things that make us worry (specifically, “The worry monster visits me when…” because we used the Monsters Feelings group).
Worry Says What
Self-talk and metacognition can be tough for younger students. What I’ve seen work well for them is understanding and discussing what their “worry monsters” say to them (and what we can say back to them)! The book “Worry Says What” is awesome for scaffolding this, and in my experience, it’s a book kids really connect with. I recommend this story for K-2nd.
When I Feel Worried
Young children can understand and express fear or feeling scared pretty well. Understanding and sharing worries is a little trickier for some. This book is great for making the concept really clear and relatable. It gives MANY examples (you can ask the child you’re reading it with to give a thumbs up/down/sideways to share if they have the same worry) and then also provides several strategies for handling the feeling. It ends with one of my favorite concepts: that you won’t feel worried forever!
What If, Pig?
While most of the books in this post are recommended more for individual and group counseling, this is one I can absolutely see using in class lessons (I’m Stretched, I Can Say No, and The Whatifs as well).
Here are the messages in this story: what ifs can be positive, lots of people have self-doubt, sometimes our brains lie to us (we can have what ifs that contradict the evidence around us), sharing our worries is helpful, and you can support friends who worry. I’d say it’s a great fit for 1st-3rd.
One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it provides specific worry thought examples. Lots of students are anxious without knowing it and this helps them to recognize their own worries when they are exposed to specific examples! It’s also great because it shares that our “what if” thoughts can also be helpful and positive – that there is another perspective we can bring to things. And, the illustrations are really wonderful.
I can see students in all elementary grades connecting with this. While it’s not testing specific, I think this would be a great one to pull out during the standardized testing season.
I didn’t love this the first time I read it but with each read after I’ve come to LOVE it in a big way. Michael Ian Black’s books are GREAT. Like his others, the greatness of I’m Worried is in the simplicity and the humor! It’s one of those books that kids enjoy just as much (if not more) than counselors, which isn’t always the case. Key messages: Bad things might happen, you’ll be ok. You can’t prevent bad things from happening. It’s better to just live in the now. Worrying doesn’t help or change anything.
I didn’t love this the first time I read it but with each read after I’ve come to LOVE it in a big way. Michael Ian Black’s books are GREAT. Like his others, the greatness of I’m Worried is in the simplicity and the humor! It’s one of those books that kids enjoy just as much (if not more) than counselors, which isn’t always the case.
Key messages: Bad things might happen, you’ll be ok. You can’t prevent bad things from happening. It’s better to just live in the now. Worrying doesn’t help or change anything.
Brave Every Day
What makes this a winner for me:
- Gives some specific examples of what if, I can’t, and I’m scared thoughts
- Has a supportive and validating friend
- Instead of focusing on coping skills (which is also a great thing to do sometimes), it focuses on doing things even of they make us nervous/not letting nerves get in the way
To me, this book is a great fit for kids whose anxiety causes them to miss out on fun stuff, important opportunities, etc. It also would be helpful for kids who have anxiety with new situations and large groups of people!
There aren’t enough books about perfectionism so I am thankful this one exists. It’s actually a short chapter book but it’s short enough for you to read in sessions or to let a student borrow. It captures some of the common parts of perfectionism: comparison, procrastination, and avoidance.
I think because it is a chapter book, kids really get the opportunity to connect and relate to the main character Sally. This means when, at the end, she’s able to overcome her perfectionism and move forward, kids connect with and can internalize this as well!
Being stressed is not the same thing as being anxious but they’re absolutely connected and overlapping for many of the children we serve. This book both normalizes stress and provides ideas for not letting it get to you. I often feel like books about kids being stressed focus too much on extracurricular activities (which my students were rarely involved in) but this book felt very relatable for lots of different kiddos. I also love that it included family conflict as one of the stressors. Recommended for 3rd-5th graders!
Something Might Happen
I love this book so much have an entire blog post about how to use in a CBT thought detective activity! The main character in this (very funny and silly) story has several unfounded worries that he eventually gets over. His worries are unfounded and catastrophic but to Twitchly, they are very real. His Aunt helps him to stop avoiding everyday things in his life and when he does, he sees that they are safe and his worries don’t come true. This book is great for both the thought detective activity and for working with students whose specific worries are really unrealistic.
Social Anxiety and Shyness
I’ve been seeing social anxiety more and more in children over the past few years. Sometimes this presents as shyness and other times it doesn’t – it’s just pervasive worries about what others will think of them.
When No One is Watching
This one is often out of print/hard to find, but I wanted to still mention it because I loved using it in a shyness group. It isn’t about strategies and it doesn’t have an ending where the character overcomes their shyness. Instead, it’s focused on validating the experience of being amazing and still feeling shy in different situations. I think it’s great for early in the counseling process when you’re building rapport and helping the child explore and become more aware of their shyness. I say it’s best for 2nd-4th.
Pilar is worried about a dance audition, plus some other worries about what others will think of her in school. In the story, we see her pausing to take a breath, using positive self-talk, and finding something that feels so good that when she does it, her worries melt away.
While Pilar uses coping tools throughout the story, I think there’s also an opportunity to ask the children you’re reading it with for their suggestions on what else she could say to herself! I recommend this for 1st-3rd grades.
Too Shy for Show and Tell
The best part about this book (whose plot you can figure out from the title) is that it sets the stage for doing a mock “show and tell” activity with the student(s) you’re working with! It also has great details: avoidance behaviors, noting when someone else makes a mistake (and no one cares), and bravely speaking up (plus noting that none of the bad outcomes he worried about happened). It feels like a K-2 book but the last time I used it, it was with 3rd and 4th graders in a small group!
Way Past Worried
I really liked this book (and immediately placed her others on hold after I read it)! I loved the “what if” worry thought examples and I appreciated its focus on expressing your worry to someone else.
It’s very much a story and not lecture-y at all, but it does show deep breathing, talking about your feelings, and being with someone as helpful coping skills. I would recommend this one for K-2nd!
Willow Finds a Way
Willow is shy and struggles with standing up for herself (especially to her bossy friend), but she is finally able to do so in this story. Recommended for K-3rd!