Helpful Books for Anxious Kids

Coming out on the other side of a life-threatening medical diagnosis and the ensuing treatment takes a lot of ingenuity and resources. We’ve run the gamete looking for ways to help Jack deal with anxiety and depression during and after his bout with cancer, including various types of therapy and a whole lot of books.

While there is no substitute for a good therapist (particularly if you are a worried parent who is also trying to deal), books are enormously helpful on a day-to-day basis. For the other parents out there dealing with anxious kids, I thought I would share some of the books that our family found helpful. Please note that the below photos contain Amazon affiliate links.

Story Books for Kids with Medical Challenges

Little Tree

Age Range: 4-8

Franklin Goes to the Hospital

Age Range: 3-8


Story Books to Help Children Deal with Emotions

Is a Worry Worrying You?

Age Range: 4-8

When I Feel… Series

Age Range: 4-8


Workbooks for Kids with Anxiety or Medical Challenges

My Feeling Better Workbook

Age Range: 6-12

What To Do When You Worry Too Much

Age Range: 7-12

Digging Deep Journal

Age Range: 12+ (Artistic kids and mature kids as young as 8-9 could do great with this, in my opinion)

Do you have recommendations to add? I would love to hear about more, particularly any books specifically for tweens and teens!


These books are helpful for anxious kids between the ages of 4-12 who are dealing with big emotions and medical-related anxiety.

Doors

It happens at bedtime. Wild-eyed and almost vibrating with anxious energy, Jack zooms through the house. He sweeps down the hall and into his bedroom, from which I hear frantic murmurs. Moments later he zooms out again and I catch him up in my arms to steady him. I feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest.

I ask him what’s wrong.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel right. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a dream? Do you ever look in the mirror and feel like it’s not you looking back?”

Yes, I say. Many times.

He doesn’t really hear me. He disengages from my arms and zooms around the room again, first toward the kitchen, next toward the door. “Doors,” he mutters and reaches for the knob. I say no and he turns on his heel and makes a beeline for his bedroom again.

I follow. He sits in his desk chair and taps his fingers on the desk. His brown eyes fill with tears and dart around the room.

“My brain doesn’t feel right. I think I’m broken.”

He goes on to tell me that everything is boring. He says that fairytales are lies that are written to cope with the fact that there is no real magic in the world. He reads them and he feels hope and then reality returns: there is no magic, there are only lies. He will never have adventures. He will get up in the morning and eat his boring toast at the boring table and then go to boring school…it is all so awful.

His eyes meet mine and he pleads, “Is there something that can fix this?”

He says he worries about taking pills. He worries he is not meant to take pills, that he is meant for something that the pills will suppress.

Where did he get this idea, I wonder… How can a 10-year-old even possess this level of critical thinking?

“I don’t know how to fix this, Son, but I have ideas for what to do to help right now. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.”

First I give him headache medicine for the pounding in his head. Then we find a music station on his iPad, a soothing station of instrumental lullabies.

Draw, I tell him. Draw the monsters that are in your head right now. Draw and listen to the music and breathe while I make a cup of tea.

I come back with a steaming cup of minty tea and hold it under his nose, telling him to take a whiff. He does and then continues drawing.

He sketches twisted faces, pairs of eyes, a vortex, a banana tree. An instrumental version of “Hey Jude” plays while he draws. A calm settles over him.

“I’m feeling better,” he says. “I’m starting to forget the thoughts. I just need to draw this one last thing.”

He draws a door. “I kept seeing doors,” he explains as he puts his sketch pad aside.

We climb into his loft bed together, where he sips tea while I read to him. He is mostly back to his easy-going self by the time I tuck him in and say goodnight.

I breathe a deep sigh as I walk away from his bedroom door. I am bewildered. I don’t know what happened to my son this evening or why it happened, but we got through it together.

It is behind him, for now. It is my turn to cry.

Not Your Average Mother

I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I know that is not unusual in the least, but my mom takes quirky to a new level, and I learned so much from her. She is not your average mother, and thus, neither am I.

This Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some of what my mom taught me, whether directly or through her actions. Some of what I learned from my mom is pretty badass (in my opinion), but there are also unexpected twists…

mom and daughter

My mother and me, circa 1998.

If someone tries to abduct you, even at gunpoint, scream. It’s better to be killed on the spot than to go through what they have planned. And you don’t want to have to live with the memories of what they will do to you.

Be assertive. Something is wrong with your order? Talk to the manager. If someone is sitting in the booth you want? Ask them to move.

Learn to type. If you can type, you can get a job. And having a job is very, very important so that you never have to rely on anyone.

Don’t trust anyone with your money. Your husband might very well drain the bank account and charge up the credit cards buying a fur coat (in Sacramento!) for his mistress. It’s best to have separate bank accounts. And make sure your paycheck can cover the bills entirely because your boyfriend may up and go to prison.

Keep calm and carry on. If you find out your boyfriend has committed atrocious crimes, stay calm and don’t let him know you’re onto him. Instead go immediately to the courthouse to get a restraining order and have your 6’4″ brother deliver it. Don’t tell said boyfriend why he is being kicked out. Later, work with police to get his confession to the crime recorded over the phone.

Okay, you can break down but only in the shower when you think your kids can’t hear you.

Plan ahead. Get your will and life insurance and safety deposit boxes in order, and then tell your kids all about it, even if they are preteens. “I added you to my bank account. If I die, you need to go withdraw all the money right away because otherwise it can get caught up in legal proceedings and it will take forever to get the money and it might even disappear.”

Pay attention to your maternal instincts! When your spidey sense starts telling you something isn’t right with your kids, listen. You might just show up in the middle of your kids getting a lesson about their dad’s drug use.

I think about these lessons from time to time and the depth of experience that comes with them. My mom has survived so much in her life and I can honestly say I look up to her a lot. At the same time, I hope to never have to share most of these lessons with my own kids.

With that said, I have my own history and quirks. Time will tell what kind of lessons my children will glean from me.

What about you? What life lessons have you learned from your mother that she may not have intended to teach you?

Trying to Figure it Out

Recently my doctor said he thinks I have ADHD. He said I could get a full assessment to be sure, but that the first treatment he would suggest to treat some of the depression and anxiety symptoms I’ve been struggling with would also address ADHD issues.

I was taken by surprise. At this point in my life, I hadn’t expected to add yet another thing to the list of labels and acronyms assigned to my mental health. The implications of this felt a bit overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it.

I don’t like surprises.

I did some reading to try to process it all. Processing takes a while for me, even for things that seem simple. I have to gather tons of info, jumble it all around, chew it up, poke at it, and look at it again and again. That’s how I work and at this point in my life I’m mostly used to it. My first answer to a lot of things is often not the true one; it’s the reflexive one. I’m still working on my reflexes. I’m still trying to integrate my emotions and my intellect, two seemingly opposing forces.

The more reading I did, the more it all made sense to me. I reviewed the symptoms of ADHD and wondered how in the world I hadn’t seen it sooner (and why my prior doctors hadn’t suggested it). I talked to a friend who was surprised I hadn’t already been diagnosed – she had assumed I had because it was clear to her.

I have always thought I was a pretty self-aware person but this new information made me doubt that.

As I started looking at my struggles in a new light, I though about Jack and his struggles. And I felt guilt.

I should have found this out earlier. I should have known this about myself. And why didn’t I take it more seriously when Jack was diagnosed? Why didn’t I do more reading then? Why have I let him deal with this all on his own?

Intellectually I know why I didn’t do more reading and why I didn’t take it more seriously when Jack got the diagnosis a year and a half ago. I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed and wrung out after getting him through 3+ years of cancer treatment. Not to mention, I had a newish baby to take care of and was looking for a job. I couldn’t handle another thing at that point in time. I needed to take a breath.

That breath has lasted a lot longer than I anticipated.

As I said, my intellect and my emotions don’t always get along. They seem to each have their own separate timelines. So this may take a bit more time to process, but I will get there…I hope. In the mean time Jack and I will talk about our challenges and our strengths and maybe we’ll figure a few things out together. I’m sure he’ll teach me a few things along the way, as well.

Sometimes the challenges your kid faces are the very things that give you the kick in the pants to get your own shit together.

Reconsidering Our Bedtime Approach

When I got pregnant with Dez, I expected that it’d be easier than it had been the first time around because of all that I learned. And truly, I have experienced very few disadvantages in having my second child eight years after my first. Aside from the pregnancy being tougher due to being older, it has been easier for the most part.

There are some unique challenges to having kids so far apart, though. The biggest being that all the things I learned about being a parent were geared toward being a parent to Jack.

toddler

Jack, age 2.

I had eight years to get to know Jack very, very well. And over the years, I have gotten used to him and the way he works. And after all those years, it’s probably not much of a surprise that I went into parenting my second kid with what I will call “Jack-colored glasses.”

From the moment Dez was born, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast him to Jack. I wasn’t thinking in terms of better or worse; I simply made conclusions about Dez based on how his actions differed from Jack’s. And somewhere in those early days I got caught up in how different they seemed and couldn’t see beyond that.

On a recent night David and I had some time to talk before bed, which is very rare (Dave and I don’t see much of each other after 8pm, as you’ll read). We talked about Dez and the various things we’ve tried to make bedtime easier and reviewed how many things have totally failed. It was during this talk that it really hit me just how ALIKE my two kids really are. I’ve spent so much time thinking over the last two years about how different they seem, and not realizing that it’s only that they express the same issues differently. Ultimately they are both very sensitive little creatures with more emotion and personality than they know what to do with! Their behavior may look different, but it often comes from the same place.

With Jack, I was able to figure out by about 5 months that he needed a solid nighttime routine plus a dark, fairly quiet house. The bedtime routine became getting dressed for the next day, brushing teeth, reading three books, and cuddling a bit before saying goodnight. (For a while that happened in my bed, then he transitioned to his own bed around 2.5 years.)

Bedtime with Dez has been a mess from the start, though. Partly, I think, because instead of trying things that might work best for him, we tried things that we felt worked best for us. It seemed like a simple thing to have the new baby fit into our routine instead of rework how we did things. This was somewhat out of necessity, as Jack was still going through chemo when Dez was born, but we all had trouble adjusting to “normal life” even after the chemo stopped.

As time went by and a routine did not suddenly implement itself, David and I both started tearing our hair out over bedtime. We had many dark nights where we each just lasted as long as we could trying to get Dez to sleep.

At some point I finally went and did some re-reading of all kinds of parenting and bedtime advice. I thought about what I had done with Jack and what our parenting philosophy and goals are now, and I threw some ideas out at Dave. And somewhere in that mishmash of reading and talking and trying various things, we landed upon a couple of things that turned into some semblance a routine.

Thing 1: We must factor in time to wind down. It takes Dez a lot longer than Jack to wind down, which can mean 8 books instead of Jack’s 3. And that means Desmond’s bedtime routine can easily take 2+ hours. There is nothing we can do to make it go faster and if we try, it only makes the situation worse. (He’s stubborn just like the two of us!)

Thing 2: Both kids are noise-sensitive. Jack is unnerved by loud, unexpected noises (like garbage trucks) and avoids them, while Dez gets amped up. We tried a sound machine for a while, but it ended up just keeping him awake. Other noises in the house will also keep him awake, though! So, unfortunately, the rest of the house has to shut down at bedtime. All screens and lights go off at 8pm. The only “excitement” will be in Dez’s room.

Thing 3: Consistency is KEY. I put Jack to bed and David puts Dez to bed. EVERY NIGHT. Because if we don’t do the same thing every night, Dez will stretch things out waiting for the other parent to come in and “save” him, and that will just drag the whole thing out even longer.

These three things may not seem like game changers, but knowing them and acknowledging them has made things go more smoothly. Bedtime is still hard for us because, frankly, those 3 things kind of suck! Our evening (and any chance at couple time) is over by 8:30. No fun!

BUT so far there is less screaming from an overtired Dez, and that improvement alone is pretty awesome. It also makes a big difference for us to know that the bedtime routine will take a big chunk of time no matter what we do. I think once we stopped agonizing over how long it took and just went with it, we all felt calmer.

Hopefully things will improve even more as Dez gets more sleep, gets older, and has even more consistency from two clued-in parents.

We just need to remember that we are not perfect parents, and this surely will not be a linear process of improvement. But at least we can say we tried some things and they worked and this child isn’t a complete little troll who is trying to bend us to his will at every opportunity (probably).

In fact, he is quite sweet when he is well rested. He gives the best little kisses and loves to chant “click clack moo” and gives us pep talks complete with pats on the leg while we get him some grapes to eat! And he is full of great big belly laughs.

Toddler belly laughs

Little toddler, big belly laughs

Dez is full on adorable when he’s not screaming and refusing to sleep. And he absolutely deserves a bedtime routine that works for him, just like the rest of us.

And with that, I bid you all goodnight. I need to get some shut eye before he drags me into his bed before dawn and wraps his arms around my neck while breathing hot toddler breath in my face…