“Twintuition” And Other Twin Myths

I recently wrote an essay for The Mother Company, titled “Twindividuals” which I began like this:

“Before I had twins I had a vague concept of what I thought being one was like. In this fantasy, twins were joined at the hip, did everything together and were always each other’s best friend. Oh, and they probably also could feel each other’s pain from miles away, too. In reality, my boy/girl twins, and the twins and triplets I know well, are like any other set of siblings you might meet: sometimes they love each other and other times they can’t stand each other. I don’t think any of them have ESP.”

This idea I once had about what twins are like is actually a misconception that is held by a large part of the population. It is perpetuated by both the media and, through a lack of understanding, by people who don’t have multiples. I am often surprised to find parents of multiples who also buy into what twin expert and author, Dr. Joan Friedman, calls “The Twin Mystique”:

“What’s behind the infatuation with twins as mysterious, inseperable, and magical? There is something inherently captivating about the idea of having a double because it invokes a human longing for an intimate, lifelong companion who thoroughly understands us. With such a companion, we feel we would never be abandoned or alone. People project this longing onto twins and see them as enjoying an idealized relationship.”

twins with their hatsOf course there are twins that have an incredibly close bond and who may know each other more deeply than anyone else. But wouldn’t you know someone well who you spend nearly every waking moment with? The more important question, I think, is to ask if your twins know themselves deeply. And how easy is it to get to know yourself if you are always thought of as half of a set. I would rather they be thought of as unique individuals, completely perfect on their own. Or, as Dana, who writes the beautiful blog Feast After Famine, describes her twins: “Two completely different sorts, traveling different paths, together”.

I watched Nightline’s Beyond Belief show on “Twintuition” last night. It didn’t really make me change my stance on whether twins have some special paranormal bond. I did find it interesting that all of the twins they spoke to were identical twins. It does stand to reason that twins who were once a single embryo that split (thus, sharing DNA) might have a similar thought process and seem to be reading each other’s minds. It does make sense that twins who always dress alike, spend all of their time together and live together well into adulthood (as many of the twins seen on the show did) would be able guess what color or number the other is thinking of. None of that seems particularly psychic to me.

The funny thing is, I really do believe in psychic abilities and I do think some people do have the ability to pick up thoughts and sensations from others. I just don’t buy into the idea that twins have cornered the market on this simply based on the fact that they’re twins.

What do you think? Did you see the show? Did it make you believe twins have special abilities? Do your children exhibit “twintuition”? Leave a comment – I’d love to know your thoughts.

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

I saw this proverb recently and have been thinking about it a lot. I have been trying to keep it in mind when my children are at their worst. It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if you apply it to yourself and think about when you are miserable, grouchy, short tempered…aren’t you really in need of someone to understand you?

Isn’t what you want most that someone will just take you in their arms and hold you? And don’t you think that the simple gesture of showing love toward someone when they, themselves, must feel unloveable is all it might take to make things right?

It’s hard though, isn’t it? My kids were bananas after bath time last night: screaming, running through the house, hitting each other, not listening to a word I was saying. I was beyond frustrated. When they finally fell asleep I sat down to work and saw this proverb again. I sat, staring at it, and remembered something I read earlier in the day. I had begun a new book a few days ago by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting and underlined a passage yesterday afternoon:

“The more we are able to keep in mind the intrinsic wholeness and beauty of our children, especially when it is difficult for us to see, the more our ability to be mindful deepens. In seeing more clearly, we can respond to them more effectively and with greater generosity of heart, and parent with greater wisdom.”

Once again, I am reminded that mindfulness and attunement is what I need most in parenting. And as I sit here thinking about the evening that didn’t go even close to the way I would have liked it to go, and feeling guilty about my short temper, I think that I need to give my unloveable self some understanding. We are all trying our best. And that goes for our kids as well. As the Kabat-Zinns say:

“[Children] see us up close as no one else does, and constantly hold mirrors up for us to look into. In doing so, they give us over and over again the chance to see ourselves in new ways, and to work at consciously asking what we can learn from any and every situation that comes up with them.”

Today is another chance to do it better.

A Little Brain Science Can Help Us Raise Children Who Thrive

what's going on bookDr. Tina Payne Bryson began her Whole-Brain parenting workshop last Sunday with a mention of Lise Eliot’s book “What’s Going On In There: How The Mind And Brain Develop In The First Five Years“. I haven’t yet read this book (although I do have her later one, “Pink Brain, Blue Brain”), but from what I understand, one of Eliot’s main discussion points is about the critical role that experience (and thus environment) plays in shaping the brain. This review on isi.edu gives a good synopsis:

“A baby is born with (almost) all of its neurons, but very few connections between them. The baby spends [the] first few years (especially the first two) growing these connections, called synapses – many millions A SECOND – and also busily pruning them. Only those synapses that are stimulated by experience or practice will be preserved – the rest will be eliminated. All of our experiences, knowledge and understanding are encoded in the brain by a pattern of synapse strengths….If repeated experience is not provided during the critical period of some portion of the brain’s maturation, it will forever loose its functionality”.

This explanation of the connections and pruning was made explicit by a projection Dr. Bryson showed of the neural connections in the brain at 3 different ages – newborn, age 6 and age 11. An infant has many millions less connections than a child does by age 6, which Dr. Bryson pointed out is obvious if you have ever tried to have a conversation with a 6-year old: everything is connected for them, everything leads to something else. By approximately age 11 for girls and age 12.5 for boys, their brains are in the “pruning stage” where whatever they are not using withers and dies, allowing their brain to become lean, mean and more focused.

Early brain development

What determines what gets cut and what becomes wired into our brains? Our brain is shaped by genes and experiences. Neurons that fire together are wired together. For example, if you have ever had the experience of eating (or drinking) too much of something and getting sick, you are likely no longer able to eat or drink that particular item because of the association your brain has. The same thing happens with experiences.

Parents and teachers are “brain architects”. The times we are imperfect help our children’s brains become structured for forgiveness and repair. In other words, when you have a “rupture” with your child like a fight or a loss of patience, it is so important to go immediately to repairing so that what is wired in your child’s brain is not something like “when I show my big feelings, it is dangerous for me”, but rather, “when I lose control, I am still loveable”.

Left Brain/Right Brain

For the first 3 -5 years of your child’s life, their right hemisphere is dominant. From 5 – 7.5, their left hemisphere takes over. And from 7.5 – 11 or so, the right is once again more dominant, but the shift is less dramatic. When I began studying child development one of the pieces of information that helped me the most was learning about a child’s stages of disequilibrium (most often occurring during the half years). Dr. Bryson pointed out that Dr. T. Berry Brazelton believes that these states of disequilibrium often coincide with micro growth spurts in the brain. Knowing that there is a good reason for your child’s difficult behavior can be very helpful in being more understanding of it.

The left hemisphere specializes in:

  • Logic
  • Linear
  • Language
  • Literal

The right hemisphere specializes in:

  • Autobiographical memory
  • Senses, Emotion
  • Random
  • Non-Verbal
  • Whole Picture Context

So What #1?

I loved that Dr. Bryson would periodically stop and say “So What?” as if to mean, “So, what does this mean to me? What am I supposed to do with this?”. After all of this information about early brain development she laid out the “So What”:

Connect, then redirect

When children are experiencing what Dr. Bryson referred to as an “emotional tsunami” we, as parents, tend to do a lot of talking. Too much talking disregulates the child further. Instead, connect from your right hemisphere to their right hemisphere: pull your child close, use non-verbal communication, use a soothing tone of voice, show empathy, use your facial expressions and empathetic talk to show you “get it”. This helps regulate your child so they can calm down. Once you’ve done this then begin to use your left brain to offer solutions, planning and give logical explanations.

Help them tell their story

When a child gets hurt, either physically or emotionally, they both need and want to know why, but they can’t access this information because they are in such an intense emotional state. They need you to tell the story of the trauma. This is when reflective parenting can be very helpful: “You were really having fun playing with that toy and when sister took it away you got so mad. You were so mad you were screaming and kicking and then you started to cry”. You are connecting to the left brain by putting things in order and assigning words. But you are also connecting to the right brain by giving autobiographical information, showing the whole context and detailing emotional information. This helps wire the brain to see that something happens, you talk about it and then you make sense of it. This method can be very helpful with tantrums.

Why Do Kids Misbehave?

right-brain-left-brainWhat are your biggest struggles with your kids? Do these sound familiar?

  • Impulsive
  • Unpredictable
  • Defiant
  • Selfish
  • Takes foolish risks
  • Never know what will set them off
  • Mood swings
  • Wants to do things his/her own way

I’ve written a lot about my own triggers. Dr. Bryson suggests giving some thought to your children’s triggers for misbehavior:

  • Low blood sugar causes stress hormones to be released
  • The need for stimulation. This can cause discomfort in the brain and a child can appear anxious and have the need to move vigorously. This movement actually releases serotonin which calms the brain.
  • They are communicating a need.
  • Your stress and frustration. Kids will pick up on this so quickly.
  • Growth spurts
  • Experimentation/testing boundaries
  • Releasing/expressing big feelings
  • Brain development

So What #2? Rethink Discipline.

Discipline is not about consequences. The point of discipline is to teach. Every time your child does something wrong it is an opportunity to teach them how to do it right. Every time your child misbehaves:

  • They are communicating: “I need to build skills in this area!”
  • Think about what skills are lagging
  • Think about what the triggers are for the problem that is occurring
  • Think about what needs to be developed
  • Remember that their brain is still developing
  • Use the phrase “you’re showing me you still need practice doing ___”

In working with our children this way, we are helping our children develop the skills we hope them to have: sound decision making, rational problem solving, being able to regulate their emotions, having personal insight and reflection, and being able to face their fears.

My Amygdala Made Me Do it!

Dr. Bryson discussed the “downstairs” or “primitive” brain which is made up of the brain stem and limbic system, and the “upstairs” brain which is made up of the frontal lobe and mid prefrontal cortex which is where more reasoned thinking takes place. This is the part of the brain that does not develop fully until age 23 in girls and age 25 in boys.

When fear and/or anger happens, the downstairs brain hijacks the upstairs brain. Because this area is still developing in our children, it is easily taken over by the more primitive and reactive part of the brain.

Upstairs Tantrums, Downstairs Tantrums


There are different types of tantrums, which are controlled by the different parts of our brains. These two types call for different styles of response from us. Here, Dr. Bryson separates the two:


  • Manipulative and controlling
  • Child can be reasoned with
  • Child can still make choices and is still in control
  • Parent should respond with an emphasis on authority (with warmth)
  • Set boundaries and limits with emotional responsiveness


  • Loss of control, in distress/miserable
  • Reasoning doesn’t work
  • Stress hormones are raging
  • Can’t make choices
  • Parent should respond with comfort
  • Emphasize warmth with authority

So What #3?

Give your child practice using their “upstairs” brain. Here are some suggestions on how to develop it:

  • Offer choices or negotiate
  • Emphasize empathy (Ask: “how can you make it right” if they have hurt someone else or misbehaved – this gets them thinking from another’s perspective)
  • Emphasize personal insight and reflection
  • Give them practice doing it the right way
  • Allow them to struggle and face natural consequences
  • Allow them to make their argument, listen to them, sometimes make a concession
  • Be present and intentional. Reflecting the situation gives your child language for the future. For example: “It’s
  • OK if you want to be upset. I’m with you while you’re upset. Let me know when you want to be a problem solver”. Later, once they’ve calmed down, you can say “You were pretty mad. Do you really hate mommy? You just didn’t have the words to tell me how you felt, huh? What could you do next time?”

Do Time Outs Work?

There are 2 questions to ask yourself when your child is having a tough time:

  1. What is the lesson I want my child to learn right now?
  2. What is the most effective way to teach that lesson?

When you operate from this frame of mind you are being emotionally responsive, yet setting limits. Time outs don’t work because they are just a punishment. Your child is not getting any practice doing things the right way. Conversation, not time outs, is often the most effective way to teach your children.

The question to ask yourself is what do you want to be wired in your child? For me it is: “When you go through big emotions, I will be with you”. Dr. Bryson suggests that punishing a child with methods like time outs only lead them to see rejection, isolation and that when things are emotionally hard, mom or dad isn’t going to be here for me.

the whole-brain child

The workshop ended with a short session of questions and answers about developing empathy, how to handle breakdowns in public and getting out of power struggles. I left Dr. Bryson’s presentation with a much better sense of what was going on for my children when they’re being “difficult” and I believe this understanding has made me more attuned and more respectful.

I realize there is a ton of information in both this post and the previous one I wrote about Dr. Dan Siegel’s lecture, but I just didn’t want to leave anything out. Dr. Bryson is a witty, inspiring and insightful speaker, I would highly recommend hearing her lecture if you get the chance. And again, her book with Dr. Siegel, The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive, is due to be out October 4th. Based on early reviews, I think this is going to be a must read!

So, what do you think? Does this information about how the brain develops and works seem like it could be helpful to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you might use it or what questions it brings up for you.

What I Learned From My Father

I’ve written about my dad on this blog from time to time. I have a very complex and rich relationship with him. In many ways we are very, very similar. It is, perhaps, these similarities that give us the ability to understand each other and allow us to find common ground so often. It is also these similarities that cause us to hurt each other deeply and quickly. Even now, knowing each other for more than 40 years, we can wound each other with an offhand remark, an interruption, a stilted phone call.

joel-profile - beardBut there is no one I admire more than my father. No one I would turn to but him when it comes to a question about my writing or a book I read that I want to discuss. He is the first one I go to when it come to a desire to understand or delve deeper into something metaphysical, spiritual or just plain “alternative”.

I often joke that the reason I am so completely un-athletic (to the point of not even knowing how to ride a bike) is because my father was only interested in taking me to museums and art-house films when I was a kid. In some ways, this is true. Those are things he loves. And I wanted to be with him, I wanted him to love me and share with me.

My father delved deeply into hallucinogenic drugs in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This was partly because of the culture of the time and partly an attempt to reach his schizophrenic brother on an even playing field. He struggled with brief, but intense, anxiety attacks which he was able to keep from everyone, including my mother. At one point, while we were living in England, my mother took me back to New York to visit my grandparents and my father entered a meditation retreat. There his attacks intensified. On a subsequent trip to London, where he intended to sell our car and then return to New York, he experienced a terrifying mental breakdown that went on for two weeks, until he was arrested and put in jail with some Irish hippies who had taken him in. By the time my mother and I returned to London, he was back to normal. I was just about the age my children are now when all of this happened. I don’t remember this period, yet when I write about it, it makes me cry. Perhaps because I have no real memories of my own, the jumbled stories and bits of information I’ve put together over the years have colored this time for me. I know he was careful to not take acid when I was around, and even my mother didn’t know he was having these panic attacks, but I wonder if my 4-year old self sensed the trouble and it laid some groundwork for our later struggles to connect.

As a young girl, my father taught me to love books. By that I mean not just the words, but the books themselves. I remember him showing me, with great care, how books were bound, how some paper was more beautiful to the touch than others, how each type of font gave a different feel to the words we read. Every wall in our apartment was lined, floor to ceiling, with books. He read voraciously, always collecting more; from used book stores, from piles of “freebies” left on the curb, and later, from online booksellers. Parting with them (at my mother’s insistence) was like asking him to give away a piece of himself.

joel & gina-laugh077He also taught me to do something that I feel passionate about, and to do it to the very best of my ability, whether or not I get rich doing it. Late into the night I could hear my father type, type, typing as he worked on translating pieces of literature from German to English, writing his own articles, essays, and novels. I watched as he considered every single word he put on paper, knowing that each made a subtle difference to what he was trying to say. I wondered if being the son of a Pultizer prize winning author was a double-edged sword sometimes. And with all these great writers in my family, for many years I channeled my creativity into anything but writing.

As I grew older I think my natural need to push him away, my confusion about how he felt about me and his super sensitivity to feeling dismissed led us to go through a long period of emotional separation. Living away from home during college helped me see my parents in a different light. As a kid, my father’s long hair and hippie style embarrassed me. Meeting other people who had “straight” parents helped me see how cool my dad actually was. Growing older, going through a divorce, therapy and intense soul-searching led me to understand my father and my relationship to him much better. And I can’t take all the credit. My father has spent years figuring himself out as well.

papa jah & kidsThe best thing my father has taught me is to look inside myself, to try to understand why I do things, to not shy away from the uncomfortable or ugly. We still hurt each other now and then, we still have times of not understanding each other; but now we know how to talk about it and how to see both sides. Best of all, now I see my dad as a wonderful grandfather that my kids adore. The silly letters full of fanciful drawings he sends them are met with yelps of joy. Not being able to say his name, Joel, they called him “Papa Jah” which suited my dad perfectly – it sounds like some Indian guru.

Father’s Day is on Sunday. My dad was never one for “Hallmark Holidays”, but it’s a perfect chance for me to tell him that I know I chose him to be my dad for a reason and I know whatever struggles we have had (together and separately) have served to make us better people. And most of all, it’s a chance to tell him thank you for teaching me that being a good parent means sticking with it, even when it’s hard.

I’d love to hear what your fathers have taught you. Leave a message in the comments below so we can celebrate your dads, too. And happy Father’s Day to you all!

Compassionate, Resilient Children Begin In The Mind

I left Sunday’s Skirball Center seminars on compassion, resilience and emotional intelligence with my mind buzzing. Not surprising, because I had spent most of the day talking about the mind. Yes, we discussed brain structure, making sense of our own childhoods, mindfulness and much more…and it was fascinating!

Dr. Dan Siegel was the keynote speaker at the seminar and began by relating a tragic story of a family who had come to him for help after the mother sustained severe brain trauma in a car accident. After a coma, brain surgery and successful plastic surgery the mother looked the same as she had before, but she was no longer able to connect and attune to her family. She was irritable, short tempered, disconnected and seemed as if she no longer cared about even the smallest of details. Not surprisingly, the children were devastated.

In trying to help this family, what Dr. Siegel realized is that the part of the brain that had been destroyed in this woman (the Middle Prefrontal Cortex) was the part of the brain that regulated these 9 functions:

  • Bodily Regulation – such as heart rate, breathing, sweating
  • Attuned Communication – where you’re receptive and regulated
  • Emotional Balance – your emotions have vitality, but they are not too much or too little
  • Fear Extinction – the ability to stay present
  • Flexibility – allowing you to pause before you act
  • Insight – your ability to connect where you’ve been to where you’re going. This allows you to make a mental map of yourself, as opposed to just being on autopilot. You can look to the past, connect to where you are, decide where you need to go.
  • Empathy – feel the feelings of others, make a mental map of others which is making a map of what you think others may be feeling
  • Morality – the ability to understand that we are all interdependent
    Intuition – signals come from heart/gut and influence reasoning.

It was no wonder this mother couldn’t attune or connect to her children anymore. After understanding this, Dr. Siegel began to put together a fascinating discovery:

  • These 9 areas are the very ones we all lose when we “flip our lids” with our children. In other words, we lose the ability to coordinate brain function.
  • It has been scientifically proven that the first 8 of these brain functions are present in a child who has secure attachments.
  • Later, mindfulness meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, pointed out to Dr. Siegel that when you are in a state of complete mindfulness, all 9 of these functions are integrated.
  • Furthermore, Dr. Siegel came to learn that the major world religions and ancient peoples, such as the Inuit, taught that all 9 are what one needs to live a wise and kind life.

If we want children who are kind, connected, resilient, compassionate and emotionally healthy, it stands to reason that we need to help them grow and integrate this part of the brain. Dr. Siegel began to develop the idea of Mindsight which he defines as “our ability to look within and perceive the mind”. It is an awareness of thoughts, intentions and mental life and he believes that it is every bit as essential to our well-being as any of our other senses. Every disorder is due to not being integrated, Mindsight promotes neural integration.

Flipping Your Lid!

Many people worry that if they had a terrible childhood, they will not be a good parent. But Dr. Siegel pointed out that the best predictor of how you will relate to your child is how you make sense of your own attachment history. When you are flipping your lid, you now see that it is your brain not connecting as it should. So, as one of Dr Siegel’s patients put it, “it may not be my fault, but it is my responsibility”. If you can, keep in mind that when you can’t tolerate an emotion in yourself, you can’t tolerate it in someone else. So if someone evokes that emotion in you, it makes you furious. For example, if you can’t tolerate vulnerability in yourself, and your child acts vulnerable, you will get irrationally angry with your child. But you won’t understand this unless you begin to make sense of your past.

What Do I Do After I Lose it?

The mind is always emerging. If you have a rupture with your child, repair it. Be present, don’t be defensive, explain yourself. As Dr. Siegel said “If you know the truth, you can overcome anything”. In other words, if your child knows why you yelled, slammed a door, gave a too-harsh consequence, they can make sense of the situation in their own brain and let it go.

  1. Tell your child why: I was frustrated, I was stressed because of work, I was reminded of something that happened when I was a child etc. It’s never too late to do this type of repair – no matter how old your children are, connect and take responsibility.
  2. Remember that children thrive on structure so set up a predictable sequence of action for situations that stress you.
  3. Model that you’re monitoring and bring yourself from reactive to receptive.

Healthy Mind Platter For Optimal Brain Matter

healthy mind platterDr. Siegel believes that there are 7 activities we need on a daily basis in order to develop a healthy mind.

Sleep Time

Kids need sleep to solidify learning. Lack of sleep leads to a change in metabolism which can lead to obesity.

Physical Time

Aerobic exercise grows the brain. Remember: the body isn’t just to transport the head around. Girls involved in sports have a lower rate of eating disorders.

Focus Time

Focused attention creates new connections in the brain for both adults and children. We can actually prevent dementia by having a routine of focused attention.

Connecting Time

Children need face to face social time. Among other things, this helps them build the part of the brain that allows them to regulate their emotions. This is also about connecting to nature.

Play Time

Not structured athletics. Pure play. This time helps us learn to be spontaneous, have the courage to try new things, innovate, collaborate.

Down Time

Not playing, just in neutral.

Time in

Dr. Siegel presented a model of The Wheel Of Awareness in which he showed our connection to our 8 senses. The first 5 we are familiar with. The sixth sense allows us to perceive our internal bodily states (a quickly beating heart, butterflies in the stomach etc.). The seventh sense, is Mindsight (as defined above). Our eighth sense is our sense of relationship to other people. “Time in” is a chance each day to connect to all of these senses.

Dr. Siegel has written a new book called Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation which I am reading and really liking so far. He has another book coming out this Fall which he co-authored with Tina Payne Bryson titled, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive. You can pre-order that one on Amazon now. I can’t wait to check that out!

After Dr. Siegel’s lecture I took a workshop with Ms. Bryson on Whole-Brain parenting which was a terrific follow up to what I had just learned. She really took these theories and broke it down into understandable ways to use it in every day parenting. I plan to put what I learned into a blog post later this week as well.

One of the things I love about Dan Siegel is his ability to take very complex subjects and make them understandable to the layman. I hope I was able to do his fascinating, funny and insightful lecture some justice. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I highly, highly recommend it. In fact, if you can, he’s speaking about this same subject on a webinar June 14th at noon (Pacific time). You can register by clicking here. And what about this idea of the 9 brain functions and the Healthy Mind Platter? Do you relate to Dr. Siegel’s statement that you lose connection to all 9 when you “flip your lid”? Do you think your kids incorporate the entire platter every day? I’d love to know your thoughts.

8 Books That Teach Your Kids Emotional Intelligence

The term “Emotional Intelligence” has always resonated with me. It just makes sense to me that teaching my children to recognize, assess and control their own emotions and those of others, would help them grow up to be confident, resilient, self-assured people. There are many methods that help children develop this skill, one way is to share books that teach about understanding your feelings.

I’ve been wanting to write a post for some time about this idea for a number of reasons. The main one being that nothing helps cement an idea better for my children than hearing it read aloud from a picture book. As I began to think about which titles to include, I realized that I had put together a bookshelf of books that taught not just about emotional intelligence, but also other life skills and values that we think are important in our family.

Updated: February 01, 2018

Our Top Eight


ahns angerAnh’s Anger

It is about a boy who gets furious when his grandfather interrupts his play time, comes face to face with his own anger and eventually learns how to express and control his feelings. I love this book because it gives kids concrete ideas of what to do when they “meet” their anger (mindful breathing, moving their bodies to dispel the energy etc.), allows you to have conversations with your children about what they think their anger might look like or what they would do when their anger shows up, and provides a great model for parents on how to be calm and compassionate when children are experiencing such strong emotions.

today i feel sillyToday I Feel Silly

And Other Moods That Make My Day. I think the best thing about this book is that it covers a wide range of emotions. Reading it gives you a chance to point out that moods change from day to day (or moment to moment) and gives your child an increased vocabulary because we all know that we feel more than just mad and sad. Sometimes we also feel discouraged, grumpy, lonely and more. Laura Cornell’s watercolor illustrations are also very evocative and a great accompaniment to Jamie Lee Curtis’ rhyming verse.

my mouth is a volcanoMy Mouth Is A Volcano

While not technically about understanding one’s emotions, this is a great book to help your kids pay attention to their thoughts. The boy with the volcanic mouth is Louis and when he thinks of something he wants to say, the words wiggle and jiggle their way out and he ends up interrupting everyone around him. His mother finally teaches a fun method that helps him respect others and wait his turn. I can’t say my kids have perfected this technique, but the book has given them the language to discuss being interrupted, what it means to be patient and how it feels when you are desperate to say what you want to say. Plus, now my daughter says “you’re erupting me!” at least once a day, which is just too cute to correct. I don’t like that time outs are used in this book as a way to correct Louis’ behavior at first, but when we read it together I use that as a way to talk with our children about how we don’t do that in our family and why!

no matter whatNo Matter What

This is a sweet book that explores a child’s anxiety about whether his parent would still love him “no matter what”. The little fox (“small”) is very grumpy at bedtime and questions the parent (“large”): “If I were a grumpy grizzly bear,/would you still love me?/Would you still care?” or “…if I turned into a squishy bug,/would you still love me and give me a hug?” While similar to books like “Mama Do You Love Me” and “Guess How Much I Love You”, this one is still a lovely bedtime addition, especially for little ones, and it gives parents a chance to soothe this common childhood anxiety.

have you filled a bucket todayHave You Filled A Bucket Today?

This is another of my favorites and it has really helped give my kids language to discuss how being kind to someone else makes them feel. The concept of the book is simple: everyone has an invisible bucket that is filled up or emptied depending on how they interact with others. Being kind to someone fills up not only their bucket, but yours as well. After reading this book my children now often ask if they have filled their buckets when I compliment them for being kind and we can then talk about the emotions it brings up to have an empty bucket or a full one.

angry octopusAngry Octopus: A Relaxation Story

This funny story about an octopus that doesn’t know how to control his anger until a “sea child” teaches him to calm his mind and body using progressive muscle relaxation has been a hit with my kids since I bought it a few weeks ago. They love to pretend that they are the octopus and practice tightening and releasing all the muscles in their bodies. I haven’t tried it yet when my kids are angry, but it has worked wonders at bed time when they are over-stimulated and need help relaxing. I include it in the emotional intelligence list because it does such a good job of helping kids tune in and quiet their minds and bodies. With that skill mastered, they would surely learn how to recognize and control their emotions. If you like this book, be sure to check out the author’s site Stress Free Kids she’s got some terrific ideas to help with all aspects of parenting.

the grouchiesThe Grouchies

I downloaded this as a free iPad app, but it is also available as a paperback book. A 5-year old boy wakes up with grey, grouchy clouds which follow him all day through a fight with his sister, being mean to friends at the playground and an emotional meltdown at the end of the day. His parents are calm and understanding throughout and eventually give him the advice: “the grouchies could be strong and make their way sound good. But rude and grumpy actions are never understood.” Mom and Dad give him a handful of suggestions about how to ward off the bad mood next time. In the morning, he wakes again with the grouchies tempting him, but manages to head off with happy smiles using a plan to be kind to everyone. My children both were very interested in everything the boy was experiencing as it was all very relatable. The drawings are crisp, colorful and pleasant to look at. Best of all, for parents, is a terrific couple of pages at the end of the book with tips and advice on how to help our kids through grouchy moods.

feelings showRuby’s Studio: The Feelings Show

Although not a book, I would be remiss to not mention The Mother Company’s terrific DVD, Ruby’s Studio: The Feelings Show. This is a very cool show that helps young children understand, appropriately express, and move through their feelings. The show’s host, Ruby, guides children to learn about their emotions through art projects, music, animations and a puppet show. My kids absolutely adore this video and even had a chance to meet Ruby recently and make a “feelings book” with her which was a highlight for my daughter, especially. There are segments in the show that focus on anger, frustration, sadness and more. This is the first episode of what will hopefully be many more to come.

This is just a short list of some of the books we really like that have helped our kids explore their emotions. I’m always on the lookout for more. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about these or suggest some others your family likes!