The Way I Feel by Janan Cain - the illustrations in this book are absolutely fantastic - colorful and bold - they catch the attention of young children right away. The expressions are exaggerated to really show children the way emotions play out on a person's face - and help them get in touch with the idea that what we're feeling on the inside can show on the outside too. Each page highlights a different emotion - and then there is a short poem about what such an emotion feels and looks like. Ben's favorite page for a long time was for "Scared" which portrayed a child in bed on a dark night looking at thunder and cowering under the bedsheets. When Ben started sleeping in his own bed and experiencing his own fear of the dark, it was comforting for him to reference this book and know that he wasn't the only one who had those kind of fears.
When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry... by Molly Bang - This book about a little girl named Sophie who kicks and screams and wants to smash the world to smithereens really resonated with my girls. Sophie experiences her anger, bubbling up like a volcano and exploding. She then runs and in the silence she is able to hear peaceful sounds around herself, find space for herself, and eventually breathe her way to comfort so that she can better deal with her anger. I like that there isn't judgment about Sophie's anger. It is presented as an emotion that is to be experienced instead of squashed. Of course, we all hope that our (and our children's) angry episodes don't last for long periods of time, or don't result in violent outbursts - I think this story helps kids know that it's okay to have these feelings - and the important thing is that we are figure out the best way to deal with our emotions in a way that doesn't hurt others or ourselves.
Calm-Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick - This book doesn't help with identifying feelings, but it has been a huge help in our house for figuring out how to deal with being sad and angry. The main exercise the book suggests is to take a deep breath and say the phrase "1, 2, 3...I'm taking care of me." There were countless times when Ben was in his terrible two phase that I held him kicking and thrashing and simply breathed deeply and repeated this phrase over and over until he started to say it for himself. I remember being in high school and being overwhelmed and stressed in certain situations - my basketball coach used to just yell out - "Breathe!" At first it seemed so ridiculous - who could forget to breathe?, but the truth is, I forgot all the time and having someone say it to me was a reminder to slow down, re-focus, and take a step back. I realized that once in awhile I just needed that reminder. This also came in handy when I was preparing to go into labor with my first child. My husband wasn't quite sure how to help me, so I told him, "it sounds weird, but just tell me to breathe. That's all I need." Well, I needed a lot more than that to get through childbirth, but remembering to breathe was a big deal. I think our kids often need the same thing. This book also has a picture of a boy in his "calm-down place" which is a reading corner that looks very similar to the one we have in our house. So my kids like to read this book - and then run over to their reading corner (if we aren't already there) and recognize that the reading corner is a quiet space where we can re-collect our composure and work it all out.
Feelings are complicated - even as adults, I think many of us don't always recognize what we're feeling, but talking about feelings and recognizing with our children that we all have them and that's perfectly fine - is, I think, a powerful step toward self-care and healthy interactions.