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29 Board Books about Emotion to Foster Empathy & Emotional Intelligence

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One of the best skills you can encourage in your toddler is emotional intelligence. Reading books that will encourage your little one to consider their own feelings, as well as the feelings of others, is a fantastic way to begin developing emotional intelligence and emotional regulation.

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A key developmental milestone in children is theory of mind. Theory of mind is the understanding that other people have their own thoughts and feelings, aside from our own.  This is an understanding that is developed throughout toddlerhood and childhood, typically around age 4 or 5.

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However, the skill of understanding the emotions of others–or empathy–is something that parents can certainly work on with their toddlers at any point in time, and this is a key aspect of theory of mind. Reading books that will help your tot understand: what emotions are, their own emotions, recognizing and understanding emotions in others, and ways to calm their own emotions, is so incredibly beneficial to your child’s development.

Check out this list of 29 books about emotions in order to help foster emotional intelligence and emotional regulation within your toddler, along with empathy and theory of mind.

1. Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions by Abrams Appleseed

This is a WONDERFUL book to teach tots how to recognize different emotions via facial expressions, and practice making those facial expressions themselves. Paired together, these are fantastic soft skills to help your tot develop a sense of empathy.

Each page introduces your tot to a photograph of a child depicting a different emotion. On the opposite page, your child is instructed to choose the same emotion from a handful of others, and to practice making the face themselves (my daughter loved this part!).

The last page shows all the emotions together, and a mirror for your tot to see their own facial expression!

2. Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl

Help teach your little one how to regulate their emotions with this book about Little Monkey learning to calm himself down. After dropping his ice cream cone, he is very upset. But, he does things to calm himself down after he lets himself cry, such as cuddling his blankie, singing a quiet song, and more, until he feels better and is ready to play.

3. Mad, Mad, MAD by Leslie Patricelli

Being mad, mad, MAD is something all toddlers can relate to.

Leslie Patricelli’s signature illustrations and short, simple rhymes depict the feelings of a little boy as he is having a temper tantrum. His parents help him through the mad feelings with his comfort blankie, taking a walk, taking deep breaths, until eventually he feels better.

A fantastic read to teach tots about emotional regulation, that they can learn to take control over their emotions and make their “mad” go away.

4. How Do You Feel? By Lizzy Rockwell

Illustrations of children playing together in the park perfectly capture various emotions. We see children spilling their lunch, playing silly games, cuddling animals, bravely doing the monkey bars, and more.

In each picture, the opposite page highlights the emotion the child is feeling, along with a close-up of their facial expression. So, not only do we see their emotions labeled, but we also see the context of their emotions and why they feel the way they do.

Toddlers will be able to relate to these common playground situations, and how they make the children feel.

5. Alphabreaths: The ABCs of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing exercises are a great way to teach your toddler how to calm themselves down, and to show them that they can be in control over their emotions.

This is something that takes practice, but is so worth it! Practice the alphabet while learning all sorts of ways to practice mindful breathing, such as pretending to blow out birthday cake candles, diving into the ocean, smelling a flower, blowing dandelion seeds, etc.

6. How Does Baby Feel? By Karen Katz

The perfect book to introduce babies to feelings. A Karen Katz lift-a-flap book with the author’s signature brilliant illustrations that babies and toddlers just love.

Simple emotions and feelings that babies often feel, such as sleepy, hungry, and tired are depicted on each page, depending on the baby’s situation. Baby wants milk and crackers, so she is hungry. Baby is yawning, so she is tired, etc.

Even the littlest of readers will enjoy and learn from this one.

7. Kindness Makes Us Strong by Sophie Beer

A colorful book about kindness that is one of my daughter’s favorite books ever. As a baby, we had fun pointing out dogs, birds, and flowers for object recognition.

Now, we use the children engaging in specific situations to understand the emotions they are experiencing, and why. Context clues tell us that a little boy broke his drum, and his tears show us it made him sad. His friend gave him a hug to cheer him up, which explains the smile on his face, and why he looks happy now.

Understanding why others feel the way they do is key to developing a sense of empathy and theory of mind.

8. Touch and Feelings Angry Bear by Dr. Naira Wilson

Written by a child psychologist, this touch-and-feel book with textures introduces little ones to emotions.

It teaches babies and tots how sometimes we all feel angry, and it’s okay to sit with that feeling, and that it helps to engage in activities that make us happy. Little side notes at the bottom of each page offer talking points about emotions that you can use to go into more detail with your child.

9. Little Miss Austen: Emma, an Emotions Primer by Jennifer Adams

Jane Austen mommas will adore this. Simple and colorful illustrations of characters from Emma depict emotions to introduce babies and tots to basic emotions and how they are presented with facial expressions.

(You don’t actually need to be a Jane Austen fan for your little one to benefit from this colorful book of facial expressions).

10. A Little Spot: My First Emotions by Diane Alber

“I’m a scribble, a scribble spot. I’m a rainbow of colors all in one dot! When I get tangled, I know what to do. I spot my feelings and name them too!”

A tabbed color book aimed at identifying our emotions in order for kids to manage them in a healthy way.

This has developed into a popular series to help kids identify and manage their emotions. There are even box sets with plush toys to represent each emotion!

11. My first book of feelings by The Montessori Method

Learn about different emotions with this book: how they feel physically, what they mean, when children feel them, etc.

For each emotion, we see a child’s face expressing the emotion, an explanation of the emotion, and situations that cause the child to feel those emotions.

Toddlers will find this book relatable, and will ponder the scenarios described and ways they feel themselves in similar situations.

12. Grumpy Monkey Says No by Suzanne Lang

This morning, Jim Panzee woke up determined to be grumpy.

His friends all try to cheer him up with bananas and invitations to play and swim, but Jim is having none of it. Eventually, a friend points out how much work it is to stay grumpy all day, and how it’s much more fun to join in with his friends.

Jim eventually gives in, and sees that it is indeed much more fun to play with friends than to stay grumpy all day!

13. Belly Breathe by Leslie Kimmelman and Lindsey Dale-Scott

This fantastic book about learning to calm yourself down is the perfect way to teach your tot about emotional regulation. It’s also an excellent introduction to meditation and breathing exercises, which are very useful in calming yourself down.

14. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

This rhyming book is an amazing read aloud book to teach tots all about emotions.

Each page offers a new emotion, and the context of why a child is feeling the emotion, with cute rhymes to keep you child engaged.

This book goes into more detail about feelings and emotions and their context, past just recognizing facial expressions. Children will also enjoy the lively illustrations.

15. Fishy Feelings by Little Hippo Books

A mirror book that’s a great introduction to feelings for babies and toddlers.

Each page explains the situation of a different fish, and why the are experiencing a particular emotion. On the opposite page, the child is asked to express that same emotion in the mirror.

This mimicking of emotions in a mirror is a creative and effective way for tots to understand emotions and how to recognize them.

16. Guess the Emotions: A Lift-The-Flap Book By Clever Publishing

A lift-the-flap book that will engage your toddler as they peek behind the 35 flaps and guess what emotions the children are feeling.

Your toddler will explore what makes people feel certain emotions, what can cause them, and how to handle them. It’s a fantastic book to teach older tots about feelings and develop their emotional intelligence.

17. Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton

A great book to introduce babies and tots to the idea of having a mood, understanding your mood, and talking about it.

Silly Sandra Boynton rhymes and goofy illustrations of animals of different moods will charm little ones throughout.

18. The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

Colorful, simple illustrations characteristic of Todd Parr books keep this book about feelings easy to understand for little ones.

It teaches that it’s good to understand your feelings and talk about your feelings by depicting relatable situations for kiddos.

Being aware and able to discuss our feelings is a great start to developing emotional intelligence.

19. Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

A beautifully told story of a child who ponders what it means to truly be kind, and how her actions can affect the feelings of others.

The child witnesses a classmate embarrass herself, and wants to help her feel better. But how does one make an embarrassed classmate feel better? How will the child’s own actions affect the way her classmate feels?

This book definitely encourages a higher level of emotional intelligence.

20. Ollie Feels Fine by Toni Yuly

Ollie the octopus experiences a whirlwind of emotions one day in this colorful book.

His friend Stella the starfish sees what emotional day he has had, and offers a hug. This makes Ollie feel much better.

It teaches children that it is okay to not be okay, and that helping our friends feel better makes us all happier

21. The Big Scream by Kirsti Call

A fantastic book about learning emotional regulation. A boy is angry because he ate the last cookie, but he wanted more. “All gone, want more. Big “no,” tears pour. Oh-oh! Big cry. Can’t stop, toys fly.”  The boy is visibly angry and frustrated and even ends up in time out.

But, he slows down, takes deep breaths, and counts. Slowly he begins to feel calm and happy.

This book is a great way to show tots that they can have control over their big emotions, and learn to calm themselves down.

22. The ABCs of Calm: Discover Mindfulness from A-Z by Rose Rossner

Practice the alphabet with your toddler while also learning about mindfulness, kindness, and emotions.

Little nuggets of wisdom on each page show your tot that they can be resilient, strong, present, and kind, all while teaching them ways to do so.

23. Lift-The-Flap First Questions and Answers What Are Feelings? By Katie Daynes

A detailed, educational lift-the-flap book about emotions from Usborne/PaperPie. Tots are asked to guess how different animals are feeling today, based on the way they look or their situation. There’s a whole page dedicated to things that make us sad, angry, scared, etc.

This is great for teaching older tots and children all about emotions, as it is very detailed and educational. The adorable illustrations and flaps will keep them interested throughout.

24. I’m the Boss by Elsie Gravel

During a game of “I’m the boss” between parent and child, child monster demands all sorts of totally unreasonable things, like a dump truck he can drive himself, a real baby dinosaur, and more. The child gets frustrated that the parent always says no.

However, when the parent offers a big hug instead, they teach their child that even though we can’t always get what we want, we can ALWAYS count on a big hug, and unconditional love, from our parents.

25. I Feel Sad by DK

A cloud is used to describe different feelings in this DK book. An excellent book to foster emotional intelligence, this book dives into different feelings, and ways you can help feel better when you’re down.

Older tots and children will especially get a lot out of this book in terms of developing their emotional intelligence and learning to regulate those emotions.

Check out the rest of the First Emotions Series here.

26. Funny Face by Anna Walker

Children demonstrate different facial expressions on each page, with an illustration to give subtle context about why they are feeling the emotion.

A great book to help with recognizing facial expressions to represent emotions in others, a key milestone in developing empathy.

27. Baby’s Feelings – A First Book of Emotions by Little Hippo Books

Introduce the idea of emotions and recognizing those emotions through facial expressions to babies and tots.

Photographs of babies making facial expressions depict a different emotion on each page, and your little one is prompted to make the same face. Have fun learning all about emotions with even the youngest of readers.

28. Find Out About Feelings: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Emotions by Pat-a-Cake

A wonderful lift-the-flap book to foster emotional intelligence and empathy!

Toddlers are introduced to different characters who experience different situations that make them experience various emotions. Your tot is asked, “how did this make them feel? Happy or sad?”

So, your child is tasked with putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, and trying to understand how a particular situation made them feel.

29. When I Feel Angry: A Book About Feelings by Dr. Sharie Coombes and Jo Fernihough

All tots experience anger, but they don’t always recognize those feelings. This book teaches them to recognize and understand those feelings of anger by relating them to a hot volcano.

It is written by a child psychotherapist, and offers tips for both parent and child to deal with anger and tips for feeling better.

Older tots will especially get something out of this, as it dives deeper than other books for tots on emotion do.

See also: When I Feel Sad and When I Feel Scared by the same author.

I hope you’ve found some amazing reads that your toddler will love and benefit from.

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