“You are never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”
4-H members pledge their “health to better living” – that means mental health, too. Mental health is a very broad term referring to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s about how people think, feel, and behave. Just like the definition for overall health, mental health is not only the absence of mental illness, it also refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Ohio 4-H is promoting mental health in January by providing resources on a section of our webpage, through educational programming, and throughout our social media platforms.
Why Mental Health Matters
Mental health is important because it determines how people handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Positive mental health is important because it allows people to do the following:
- Realize their full potential
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Be productive
- Make meaningful connections to others
- Make contributions to their communities
Our mental health can change over time. It depends on many factors. Having good mental health doesn’t mean that people never go through bad times. Experiencing setbacks is inevitable – it’s part of life. It means we have the tools to cope with life’s challenges. It helps us keep problems in perspective and bounce back from those setbacks.
Mental health problems don’t only affect adults. Children, teens, and young adults can have mental health problems, too. Young children are still learning how to deal with their emotions and figure out how to regulate their behaviors in socially acceptable ways. All children can benefit from learning how to express themselves, get along with others, cope with stress, and be resilient.
Using Books to Discuss Mental, Emotional, and Social Health
Books are an ideal tool when discussing serious topics, because they can make abstract ideas more concrete through simple words and images. In her Cloverbud Connections article, Greene County 4-H Educator Rebecca Supinger reminds us about using books as a jumping-off point to start tough conversations.
Here are some general suggestions to prepare you for using books with Cloverbuds.
- Get recommendations from local educators or librarians or read reviews (e.g., Goodreads, a site for book recommendations).
- Read the book ahead to familiarize yourself with it. You can also find YouTube videos of many books.
- Consider companion activities to allow children to engage in more interactive and hands-on ways with the topic.
- Think about reflection questions to encourage discussion after reading the book.
Amanda Raines, 4-H Educator from Hardin County, has used the book When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really, Angry… by Molly Bang (Blue Sky Press, 1999) with Cloverbuds and preschool classrooms. In the book, when Sophie gets angry, she runs far, far away. “It is an easy tool to get our youngest members talking about how their body feels when they are upset,” she said. “After reading the book, we have a conversation about how to use your words to express your feelings instead of letting your body take over.” Amanda said she also usually follows this story with an activity, such as making a calm down jar or meditation bottle, which gives the participants a tool to take home and start practicing what they’ve learned. Amanda and her Cloverbud, Lily, demonstrate how to do this craft in this Cloverbud Creators video.
Reviewers of this book point out that Sophie runs away when she gets angry, and therefore it might encourage children to take this action as well. Although physical activity is a positive strategy, because of their age and where they live (e.g., an urban area), running away into the woods isn’t necessarily a good option for young children. This illustrates the importance of following the book with some discussion. For example, have the children tell what techniques they use to calm themselves when they are angry. (“When Sophie gets angry, she runs away into the woods and climbs her favorite tree. Different people handle anger in different ways. What do you do when you get angry?”) It’s important to validate the feeling (it’s okay to feel angry) but not necessarily the reaction that follows.
“My Feelings,” in the Big Book of Cloverbud Activities that is now available at Ohio 4-H Stay at Home Projects, has some great activities that can be paired with books that discuss mental health topics. For example, after discussing a book, Cloverbuds might want to draw or write about their own emotions. “Disappointment and Feelings,” an activity in Coping with COVID: Lesson Plans to Promote Mental, Emotional, and Social Health, would also work for the Cloverbud age group.
Other book suggestions:
- How Big are Your Worries Little Bear: A Book to Help Children Manage and Overcome Anxiety, Anxious Thoughts, Stress and Fearful Situations by Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (Educate2Empower Publishing, 2018)
- There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk (Candlewick Press, 2017)
To find more children’s books about mental health-related topics, here are three websites that Amanda Raines recommends.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, a grassroots advocacy group with chapters around the country) https://namimainlinepa.org/mental-health-books-for-children-and-teens-and-their-parents/
- Child Mind Institute (a national nonprofit dedicated to helping children and families dealing with mental illness) https://childmind.org/article/best-childrens-books-about-mental-health/
- Thrive Global (a company focused on dealing with stress and burnout in the workplace) https://thriveglobal.com/stories/19-must-read-books-to-help-kids-understand-their-emotional-and-mental-health/
Check out the Mental Health Month resources on the Ohio 4-H webpage. Mental health-related topics are also featured in the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living blog. Although targeted to a teen audience, volunteers can benefit from the resources shared on this platform.