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.

Reconstructing The Past

Jack is starting therapy soon to address the post-traumatic stress issues that are causing us all concern. The short term goal is to address the  needle phobia associated with it, which is more accurately described as a “lab-induced panic spiral,” but ultimately he has a LOT of anxiety that controls him and if we could ease that even a little bit, I’ll consider it a WIN.

There are a lot of forms to fill out when you go to any sort of specialist, so I’ve filled out so many pages my hands have gone numb and started aching (seriously). Forms for the IEP evaluation, forms for the neuropsychological evaluation, forms for the ADHD assessment, and now forms for this new therapy.

They are all similar, but different. They all include questions about the past – and this is where I pat myself on the back for keeping records (something I’m less good about with Desmond – arg!) about Jack’s younger years. I have my blog, a baby book, the CaringBridge journal, and many, many pictures. I use all of these things to answer the endless questions and reconstruct the past because my own memory is full of emotion, which can often be difficult to explain in words.

I’ve spoken with the oncology team, the social worker, the child life specialist, several therapists, and all of Jack’s other parents (of course) about the best way to move forward and address this issue. I’m the collector of information and the main distributor. Perhaps this is because I’m a writer, or because I’m a mother, or some combination of things. It’s a little bit odd that it’s me in this role, though, because my memory in general resembles swiss cheese – some memories are perfectly in tact and others are just GONE. Still, it’s up to me and somehow I’m making it work.

This whole Leukemia business started with some general sickness and then a blood test. That blood test was traumatic – for me and Jack. He was 5 and had never had one done. He had never liked needles, but he didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them…until that day when I had to hold him down and lock my legs around him in order to keep him still for the lab tech to insert the needle (note: always ask for a pediatric phlebotomist for your child!).

I know intellectually that he screamed and cried but I don’t have a specific memory of that part – that part of my inner film is a gaping hole. Holding down my screaming child while he was being hurt was too horrible to remember clearly, so I locked it up and threw away the key.

That night, Jack had his first night terror. I’d never seen one before (in Jack or in anyone) and it scared the crap out of me! I thought it was a seizure. I didn’t connect it to the blood draw at all, even though I knew the blood draw had been traumatizing. I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time, after all.

But I’m thinking clearly now (mostly). And after filling out a ton of questionnaires and recounting all of the methods we’ve tried and reading over various records of that time when Jack was diagnosed and having witnessed several night terrors (that are pretty much always the same – screaming, thrashing, pleading “No no no no no! Mom! No!”) – all the dots finally connected enough for me to wrap my brain around it.

That initial blood draw, and then the wave of awfulness that followed (more blood draws, an IV, surgery, an MRI, x-rays, platelet infusion, cancer diagnosis – all within the span of 4 days), was the catalyst for this ‘needle phobia.’

Knowing all I know about mental health and having lived with PTSD for decades myself, it still took me this long to wrap my head around what happened to get us to a point where Jack can NOT STAND a blood draw. Stopping to think about it makes it clear to me – OF COURSE he is terrified of blood draws. Every time he sits down and holds his arm out to a white-coated person, he is transported back to that time 3 years ago. The emotions and blurred memories of a terrified 5 year old rush back to him and suddenly he is reliving the collection of medical traumas he’s endured since he first got sick.

Even though he’s 8 now, he is still not much more equipped to handle all of that now than he was then. To him, a needle is not just a needle – it is so much more terrifying that a sharp piece of metal. To Jack, a needle represents a 3-year battle for his life. And that battle has ended, but the winner is still unclear. The cancer is gone, but we don’t know for sure that’s it gone for good and that uncertainty leads to anxiety.

With cancer out of the way, the emotions that were pushed to the background over the last few years have resurfaced and they’re kind of taking over. Jack’s had two night terrors in the last week. His anxiety is at a high again and he has a weird, nervous energy about him that he seems unable to control. He has complained several times of “feeling like he’s going under anesthesia,” which I’ve gleaned is likely some sort of dissociation, and it comes upon him at random times.

Jack brain is reconstructing the past whether he wants it to or not. And my job as his parent is to help him get the tools to understand and resolve it.

To therapy we go.

Too Many Things

Yesterday involved a lot of things. Too many things, which ended up overwhelming me.

These things included:

  • Cleaning up the bloody nose Jack had when he awoke. And then worrying if this was a sign of low platelets (it wasn’t).
  • Drawing blood to determine ANC (not related to the bloody nose) and running the vials to the lab.
  • Getting Jack out the door on time to make it to school (put your shoes on, take your meds, brush your teeth, do you need a jacket, don’t forget your backpack). It was dicey for a bit because he couldn’t put two words together and walked around like a drunk man.
  • Calling the vet to make an appointment for my cat who has a skin issue that just won’t go away, likely due to a thyroid problem.
  • Trying to remove the nail polish from Halloween and being left with blue-stained nails.
  • Calling the Department of Child Support Services to determine the status of my account, which has seen no activity since July. Apparently the DCSS has requested that the DMV suspend Jack’s dad’s driver’s license.
  • Notifying Jack’s dad and step-mom about the license suspension. In case they missed the memo. And worrying about the (almost for certain) blow-back that will likely occur.
  • Worrying about leaving the country (and Jack) in a couple of weeks.
  • Calling and leaving a message for Jack’s oncology case manager to ask about the results of the labs, which showed that the acidosis had gotten WORSE despite the changes in medication that happened two weeks ago. The case manager was not working today.
  • Contacting Jack’s pediatrician in an attempt to understand why Jack’s acidosis has gotten worse instead of better and find out next steps. Apparently the next step may be consulting with a nephrologist.
  • Letting the home tutor know we might not need him but, hey, it’s early in the week so ask us again in a day or two because Jack hasn’t made it to school more than two days in any given week over the last three months.
  • My day job, but from home.
  • Setting out the rest of Jack’s pills for the week and, then, ordering more.

That was all capped off by a full blown anxiety attack. ‘Cause this was all too much for one person to handle on any day and there will just be more tomorrow.

Delayed Reactions

Jack’s out of the hospital. Thank goodness. Today he is at his first Cancer Clinic appointment getting an infusion of chemo. I’m looking forward to him coming home, and hope he isn’t too sick afterward.

I keep trying to tell myself the worst has past – that the prognosis is good, that so many cancer cells have already been zapped by the chemo, that the disease won’t progress. I know these things in my head. Still, my heart aches. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning, to eat, to do anything to take care of myself. When Jack isn’t here I don’t know what to do. What was life like before this diagnosis? What did I think about when cancer didn’t fill my every waking moment? What if Jack isn’t one of the 90% of kids cured?

I keep thinking about how all of this almost went undetected. I almost didn’t take Jack to the doctor. We almost didn’t opt for a blood test to “confirm” anemia. It would have been so easy to dismiss all of his symptoms as a combination of fighting off a cold and returning to school after a long break. It serves no purpose to think about these things but they are invading my mind nonetheless.

I am very much shell shocked. I got through the crisis period without completely freaking out, but I didn’t escape the freak-out – it’s just happening after the fact. My brain and body are not cooperating. I can’t think straight and I feel tired and/or sick to my stomach all the time. I started getting angry at the piles of boxes in our house – not that I don’t appreciate everyone’s thoughts and generosity but I just want to go BACK. I want to NOT need any of this stuff. I’d much rather have someone take this nightmare away. So when I look at the boxes and think about what they are for, I have this irrational anger…and then I get angry at myself. 😛

I can keep myself busy some of the time. My friend Kurstan ventured out to Target with me this weekend and I bought storage for medical supplies and cleaning products. I came home and organized a bunch of the house, put away the laundry my friend Katie graciously washed while we were away, and started washing items we brought home from the hospital. I’m back to work this week, as well, but I’m having trouble focusing on the simplest of tasks. Maybe I need more coffee.

All of our friends and family (and even strangers!) are being so awesome and loving and kind to us. I really do appreciate it, despite this cloud over my head. I haven’t once felt alone since this all started – I feel a community of support behind our family. I just wish the occasion hadn’t arrived where we need this support…