Mental Health

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These 15 Children's Books Will Help You Talk About Depression

Because it’s a hard thing to talk about.

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Discussing mental health topics with your kids can feel intimidating. Honestly, plenty of adults are challenged by the topic, so explaining a concept like depression in kid-friendly terms can be difficult. Thankfully, there are plenty of children’s books about depression to make the conversation easier, and many child psychologists recommend using books as a way to start this conversation.

When To Discuss Mental Health Issues With Children

For the most part, it’s never too early to start the discussion about mental health care. “Parents can discuss mental health information with their kids at any age, but the way we explain and teach about it will vary by age,” Dr. Amy Nasamran, licensed child psychologist and founder of Atlas Psychology, tells Romper in an email. “It's important to explain things in age-appropriate language and consider where kids are at in their own emotional learning.” For instance, children who are preschool age will understand emotions in broad strokes (happy, sad, or afraid), while elementary-aged children can start to understand more nuanced feelings such as anxiety or depression, as Dr. Nasamran further explains. In addition, starting the conversation about depression and other mental health topics won’t cause your kid to “catch” them. “Talking about mental health issues like anxiety or depression won't cause your child to develop these conditions,” says Dr. Nasamran. “Instead, having open conversations about mental health can teach children healthy coping skills, better emotion recognition, and self-awareness.” In fact, opening this dialogue about mental health early on can help your child throughout life. “It is never too young to start teaching children coping skills! Starting them young, in this regard, can be preventative in terms of decreasing the risk for the development of certain mental health challenges including symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Toya Robertson-Moore, M.D., Associate Medical Director with Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center, tells Romper.

How Books Can Help

With this in mind, children’s books can be a great resource when you start exploring mental health topics. “Books are excellent tools for introducing mental health concepts. Using characters mitigates the weight of responsibility in the child and parent to explain or justify their reactions,” Dr. Tanye’ S. Tyler, DSW, MBA, LSW, Chief Strategy and Innovations Officer at A New Day Mental Wellness Center, tells Romper. It’s a natural way to start exploring these concepts. “While reading with their children, a daily recommended task, parents can include references to the character’s behaviors and ask the child, ‘what do you think this character was feeling?’ or ‘how would you feel if this happened to you?’” says Dr. Tyler. It’s one of the many benefits of reading with your kid, which can also build a stronger parent-child bond and develop your child’s vocabulary. Plus, the books meet kids where they are. “Reading books can help engage kids at their level. Most kids’ books already use age-appropriate language and words that make it easier for kids to grasp,” says Dr. Nasamran.

Also, it’s important to give yourself a break as a caregiver when bringing up this (sometimes difficult) topic. Maybe you’re helping the child understand their own diagnosis, or explaining why a family member with depression may not want to play with them. “I wish more parents knew that if their child has a mental illness or diagnosis that it is not their fault (even if it is hereditary) and that it does not mean that they are a bad parent,” as Janika Joyner, LCSW, CCTP, Higher Elevation Psychosocial Services, LLC, tells Romper in an email. Rather, addressing these topics in a kid-friendly way can help your child understand their own feelings, as well as the behaviors of others. With this in mind, here are some children’s books about depression that help bring light to the condition.

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1

“Balloons For Papa” by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia

This sweet story explores the relationship between Arthur and his Papa, who is living with depression. It’s ultimately a hopeful story that explains mental health and depression in a way kids can understand.

2

“Blueloon” by Julia Cook

Blueloon isn’t as playful and fun as all the other balloons. This story explores childhood depression with relatable characters and situations.

3

“Brianna and the Blue Monster” by Patience Domowski

This book imagines depression as a blue monster that follows Brianna around, making her sad easily. Written by a clinical social worker, the story shows how Brianna works with a therapist to help manage the “monster.”

4

“Can I Tell You About Depression?” by Christopher Doweick and Susan Martin

Designed for readers age 7 and up, “Can I Tell You About Depression?” has the character Julie explain what depression is and how people cope with it. The book also offers advice for people whose friends and family live with depression. The simple, straightforward text helps make the condition easier for children to understand.

5

“Charlie and the Dog Who Came to Stay” by Dr. Ruth Spence

Written by a psychologist, this book imagines depression as a dog that follows the main character Charlie around. The story also includes tips to help manage depression.

6

“The Color Thief” by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters

As his father gets lost in a world with no color, a child learns more about the condition of depression. And as his father gets treatment, the colors reappear.

7

“Danny and the Blue Cloud: Coping with Childhood Depression” by James Foley

With help from Barnaby the Rabbit, Danny learns how to cope with his big blue cloud (AKA depression). This book also contains a note to caregivers with more information about childhood depression.

8

“A Kids Book About Depression,” by Kileah McIlvain

Addressing the complex topic in an honest way, this book examines the author’s own experiences with depression. It candidly explains what depression feels like, and how it affects a person’s daily life.

9

“Meh: A Story About Depression” by Deborah Malcolm

This story helps explain the difference between depression and sadness in a picture book. Children and adults alike can learn from the character’s journey through depression.

10

“Not Today, Celeste! A Dog's Tale about Her Human's Depression” by Liza Stevens

Cleverly told from a loving dog’s point of view, this book examines the many ways depression can affect a person, in this case the dog’s owner Rupert. Celeste learns that Rupert’s low mood isn’t her fault, which is a valuable lesson for any child whose caregiver is going through depression.

11

“The Princess And The Fog” by Lloyd Jones

Designed for children around the ages 5 to 7, this book uses humor and metaphor to explain the realities of childhood depression, and it’s recommended by Dr. Nasamran. The fog makes the young princess feel a lack of interest in her formerly beloved interests.

12

“Pockets Full of Rocks: Daddy Talks About Depression” by Yair Engelberg

Great as a discussion tool, this picture book explores the sensitive topic of depression in a reassuring, age-appropriate way for kids. The series of questions from the child to her father with depression will help explain the condition to other young readers.

13

“Sadly the Owl” by Linnie von Sky

Sadly is a little owl who lives for line dancing, until a cloud appears over his head and does not leave. This gentle story explains the kind of sadness that lasts for days.

14

“The Science of Breakable Things” by Tae Keller

Recommended for readers around the ages of 8 to 12, “The Science of Breakable Things” introduces middle schooler Natalie, who wants to win an egg drop competition and use the prize money to help her mom regain happiness. However, not everything is so easy to fix. It’s a careful and sensitive depiction of depression that middle grade readers will appreciate.