The other day I picked my son up from school. He was about one-month into Kindergarten which meant full days, five days a week. He was grumpy that day and I was too. We spent the rest of the day being short with each other and arguing about when to turn off the TV.
I realized we had both been more grumpy since school had started. We were both having trouble adjusting to this new, full-day schedule.
I realized I missed him — spending time with him.
The next day, I told him we weren’t going to watch TV anymore after school, instead, we were going to have “connection time.” He resisted at first, but realizing he had my full attention, he followed my lead.
That first day we read a book about kindness and did a little activity.
He began asking for “connection time” every day. That first month, we often read together, maybe with a cup of tea and some snacks.
Usually, we read picture books or books we picked up at the library, but sometimes I would choose books related to something he was struggling with — like solving issues with friends, the golden rule, and so on.
But I found myself searching for books about self-regulation — ways to help him keep his impulses in check during his long days.
A LOT is expected from our kids at a very early age in school. Unfortunately, play is often on the back burner by the time they get to Kindergarten. Especially, free-play, which research shows is crucial for impulse-control development.
We’re lucky that his school believes in a lot of physical activity and “brain breaks” and that he has a teacher skilled at this. But, developmentally, many kids will still struggle to regulate all day long. Self-control skills are not fully organized until age 5- or 6-years of age and they still need a lot of practice to get it right.
One of my favorite ways to talk about regulation with my son and to give him insight into new self-regulation skills is to read books. Books are such a powerful tool for parents — they are a way to connect, a way to calm down, and a way to teach life lessons. I’ve listed some of our favorites below. The first set is books that are pretty direct in teaching children self-control strategies, the second set are some wonderful books about mindfulness, great to teach children to gain control of their bodies, and the last set are picture books that show characters in situations most kids (and adults) can relate too — times when perseverance pays off and times when. impulses get the best of us!
Best List of Books That Teach Regulation Strategies
1. What Were You Thinking? A Story about Learning to Control Impulses – This book follows a day in the life of Braden, a 3rd grader who is learning how to control his impulses. Braden wants to be funny and blurts out things he shouldn’t, reacts to things he believes to be unfair without thinking, and eats a bunch of cupcakes without thinking about who or what they might be for. Luckily, Braden has some pretty understanding adults in his life who give him some tips on how to start controlling his impulses: Stop, Think and decide if your actions will make the situation Better or Worse.
This book opens a lot of opportunities to talk about -self-regulation in the school setting. Things like when you can be funny when you should be serious, how to react to situations when you are angry, and thinking through issues.
My son especially likes the Better or Worse? question, this is something he says to himself often and I believe helps him think through the consequences of his actions before he acts. If you like this book, there are a few others by the same author which address the executive function skill of flexible thinking: Of Course, It’s a Big Deal and My Day is Ruined!
2. What Should Danny Do? – This book also goes through several choices a boy named Danny makes over the course of his week. He loves soccer, superheroes, and ninjas and he has his very own superpower –The power to choose!
Ther reader gets the power to choose in this book too. The story follows along in a “choose your own adventure” style. Your child gets to help Danny make decisions and sometimes those decisions lead to good outcomes and sometimes not.
The first time we read it, my son made the “right” decisions. It was pretty obvious which the better choices would be. Then he wanted to go back and pick some of the poor choices. This shows kids how actions and choices have consequences.
Many of the consequences are natural and encourage empathetic thinking, but some of them don’t fit perfectly with a positive/gentle parenting style. That was okay for us, my son seemed to understand that those were Danny’s consequences and his consequences wouldn’t necessarily be the same. Overall, he got the idea that your choices lead to certain outcomes.
Where the book really shines is when Danny makes good choices and is proud of his day and also when Danny doesn’t make good choices, the passages where his parents reinforce the power to choose. For example, Danny’s Dad says: “I heard your day wasn’t so good, Danny…Every superhero makes mistakes, and that’s okay. But the best superheroes learn from their mistakes and use their Power to Choose Wisely.”
I recommend this book — the concept of choosing your adventure is great and the overall tone of the message is positive. Just be aware that if you follow positive/gentle parenting, some of the consequences (going to your room, no chocolate for a week) are “punishment” consequences.
3. How to Be a Super-Hero Called Self-Control – Following along on the super-hero theme, this book features a hero called self-control who teaches children (aged 4-7 years) how to handle difficult feelings like anxiety, frustration, and anger. The back of the book has resources for parents. There is a book by the same author older children (aged 7- 14 years) too, The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses
4. Cool Down and Work Through Anger – If anger or temper is one of your child’s issues, this is a great book. It gives very concrete examples of when a child gets mads and how losing your temper doesn’t lead to good outcomes, but neither does holding anger in. I really like that this book goes through real examples of how to cool down — stop and think, deep breathing, run and play outside, talking about it and so on. The book also shows how once you do feel cooled down, then you can work through the problem in a better way.
Books That Teach Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ultimate self-regulation tool. If we can help our children become aware of how their bodies react when stressed and how to calm that stress and the chatter of the mind we are giving them a skill that will use for life. In fact, developmental psychologists have found that mindfulness training has been shown to increase attentional self-regulation in children.
These books capture the essence of paying attention to the inside and living in the moment. We often focus on teaching our children to pay attention to what’s going on around them, but really first they must be able to tune in to themselves. This is the first step in mindfulness.
5. A Quiet Place – This book is a relaxing one to read at the end of a hectic day. It is about finding your own quiet place — by the shore, by the pond, on a mountain, in the snow — or maybe the one just inside of you. This is a great book for showing your child how that everyone has a quiet place inside themselves. Teaching your child that they can go to that quiet place is a giving them the gift of peacefulness.
6. My Incredible Talking Body – This book teaches children the first step in being mindful — awareness of the body and how emotions feel physically. “It tells me I am sleepy when my eyes are droopy and I just can’t stop yawning.” The book goes through the feelings of hungry, thirsty, sleepy, angry, sad, scared and calm. “When I am calm, my muscles feel relaxed like my arms and legs have turned into spaghetti noodles. My breathing is slow and deep like when I blow up a balloon.” The book also discussed how to return to calm after feeling anger or sadness and give strategies for calming down. Learning to listen to the body is a good first step in mindful awareness and emotion regulation.
7. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems – This is also a wonderful book to read when you and your child need calmness and relaxation, “What am I thinking? What comes and goes in my mind? I watch my thoughts. They swim by like little fish. They shine blue, green, red, yellow… there is a quiet place inside my head like an egg hidden in a nest. A place I go when the world is loud.” This book teaches the steps of mindfulness, breathing, being aware of thoughts and letting them go by, refocusing on the breath, and finding your own quiet place. This is true for emotions as well.
8. Mind Bubbles: Exploring mindfulness with kids – I love books that give kids a concrete example of how to deal with abstract thoughts and feelings. This book teaches children how to focus on their breath while letting thoughts, feelings, and worries pop away like bubbles. This is a great book to introduce mindfulness meditation to children.
9. I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness – This is a sweet book that teaches children the steps of mindfulness and the beauty of living in the here and the now in a gentle story-book fashion. In the back, there is also a guided meditation for kids that is a nice before bed activity, especially for children with stress or worries. It is a good one to have on the bookshelf that you can pull out when your child has had a trying or stressful day,“There are times when I worry about what might happen next and what happened before. The thoughts in my head are like rushing water and I feel like a boat with no anchor being carried away…I give myself a moment and take a breath. And then I tell myself: It’s alright.”
10. Mindfulness for Vikings: Inspirational Quotes and Pictures Encouraging a Happy Stress-Free Life for Adults and Kids – This one is a little different, but I love it. These are more things and inspirational sayings to think about during mindful moments. It encourages living in the moment — being mindful and appreciating the little things. Being able to be quiet enough to appreciate those things. “Even the little moments are big moments.”
A Quiet PlaceMy Incredible Talking BodyBreathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness PoemsMind Bubbles: Exploring mindfulness with kidsI Am Peace: A Book of MindfulnessMindfulness for Vikings: Inspirational quotes and pictures encouraging a happy stress free life for adults and kids
Stories About Self-Control and Regulation
These last books are all stories — pictures books with stories that illustrate how regulation happens (or doesn’t happen) in many kinds of situations. Your child will be able to identify with the characters as they overcome frustration, problem-solve, wait for something worth waiting for, and try to resist impulses.
11. Nanette’s Baguette – This Mo Willem’s rhyming book follows Nanette on her first time being responsible to “get the baguette.” But will she be able to resist the baguette? It is warm, it smells wonderful!!! You will love the twist ending of this book that shows that sometimes it’s okay to give in to our impulses and enjoy. Learning to regulate is not just about suppressing, but also about being able to enhance emotions, savor life — to know when to be able to let go a little.
12. Waiting is Not Easy – Another great Mo Willems books, this time with Piggy and Gerald. Waiting is not easy and your kids will be able to relate to Gerald’s discomfort while waiting. But, they will also learn that some things are worth waiting for…
13. The Most Magnificent Thing – Oh to know what you want to do, to be able to picture it exactly how you want it in your head and not be able to build it. This is a feeling our kids are all too familiar with as they are gaining coordination and skills. The main character in this book gets frustrated when her invention doesn’t come out– she fumes!! But then, she goes for a walk. She begins to feel different, she calms down. Then she is able to think more clearly again. Will she be able to go back and look at her work with fresh eyes?
What a life-skill! To be able to take a break and go back and try again. This book teaches kids that things don’t always happen on the first try, that you can get emotional, but you can regulate that, take a break and persevere.
14. Argle Fox – This is a great book about overcoming the big feelings of frustration and trying again and again. The story is captivating to young children, written with a sense of anticipation. The story highlights big emotions, critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance. Kids will be able to relate very well to Argyle fox’s frustration and rejoice when he comes up with a solution at last.
15. Remy the Rhino Learns Patience – Remy is a grumpy Rhino and is irritated by all of the other animals. He angrily tries to get his own way and one day makes a mistake. Will anyone come to his aid? Children will see that anger makes Remy’s predicament worse and if he can relax, he might discover a way to solve his problem and make a friend!