From fears about coronavirus to not being able to go to school for months on end, 2020 has been a difficult year for children.
Parents and carers of children aged four to 10 told the Co-SPACE study that they’d seen increases in youngsters’ emotional difficulties during lockdown, including feeling unhappy, worried, and clingy.
Those with children at secondary school reported a reduction in their emotional difficulties but an increase in their feelings of restlessness and difficulties in concentrating.
It probably isn’t surprising that the number of motivational books designed to boost children’s wellbeing and help, motivate and inspire them is growing.
From titles by well-known names like Matthew Syed and Chris Hoy to guides by psychotherapists, teachers and specialists, there’s a wealth of guidance and advice for children – and lots of fun activities too.
We’ve taken a look at some of the most inspiring self-help guides for children published over the last few months.
Some are aimed at teenagers while others are for younger children but they all aim to enhance kids’ self-esteem and confidence and help them feel good about themselves.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
‘Dare To Be You: Defy Self-Doubt, Fearlessly Follow Your Own Path And Be Confidently You!’ by Matthew Syed, published by Wren & Rook. 9+
Matthew Syed’s first book for children, You Are Awesome, was a massive hit, encouraging children to have confidence in their abilities and achieve their potential. This is the sequel and we reckon it’s just as good, if not better. The basic premise is that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. With lively text, stylish illustrations and real-life examples from the likes of Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, it sets out to encourage young readers to build their confidence and resilience and follow their own path in life. As Syed writes: “Make it happen. Don’t wait. Get out there. It is down to YOU.” We can’t argue with that.
‘Big Words For Little People: Kindness’ by Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese, published by Oxford University Press. 3+
It’s never too young to talk to children about their emotions and the Big Words For Little People series introduces big ideas in a straightforward way. The first two books in the series are Bravery and Kindness and they will be followed next year by four more – Calmness, Friendship, Happiness and Doing Your Best.
Written by Helen Mortimer and illustrated by Cristina Trapanese, Kindness is a colourful picture book that teaches young children about everything from understanding how other people feel to helping them “out of a pickle”. Compassionate and entertaining, it’s perfect for reading aloud together and is never preachy.
‘Dyslexia and Me’ by Amy Rainbow, published by Studio Press. 7+
Amy Rainbow is a qualified teacher and dyslexia specialist so she’s well placed to write a guide for children and young people with dyslexia. Her book is divided into three sections, with pages to colour in, games to play and ideas to try. The first section encourages youngsters to think about what they like doing and what they’re good at.
The second looks at what dyslexia is and offers expert guidance to help children work out how they learn best (everything from reading and writing tips to mind maps) and the third gives advice on taking care of yourself, such as making a ‘”jar of joy”, yoga and healthy eating. Around one in 10 people has dyslexia and this guide, complete with pages for parents and caregivers too, is engaging and fun.
‘Be Amazing: An Inspiring Guide To Being Your Own Champion’ by Chris Hoy, published by Walker Books. 9+
“How did I go from being a scrawny kid in Edinburgh who loved mucking around on his BMX, to an athlete representing his country at the biggest sporting event on the planet?” That’s the question superstar cyclist Chris Hoy, the winner of six Olympic gold medals, asks at the start of this upbeat and empowering guide.
The answer, it turns out, is determination, hard work and a passion for the activity you love. Hoy includes lots of personal stories and is brilliant at urging youngsters to believe in themselves, have the confidence to take on new challenges and learn from their mistakes.
‘You Got This: A Fabulously Fearless Guide To Being You’ by Bryony Gordon, published by Wren & Rook. 12+
Journalist Bryony Gordon has inspired millions of readers with her refreshing honesty and frankness about her struggles with mental health. You Got This is her first book for teenage girls and includes some of the life lessons she wishes she’d been taught when she was younger.
Empathetic and confidence-boosting, she tackles everything from social media and friendship to body image and periods and tells teens: “The most powerful thing you can be when you grow up is yourself.”
‘The Body Image Book For Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless’ by Charlotte Markey, published by Cambridge University Press. 12+
Being a teenage girl can be tough these days, especially with the pressures of social media. But this accessible handbook by US psychologist Charlotte Markey aims to help girls understand, accept and appreciate their changing bodies. She covers everything that girls need to know, such as puberty, periods, coping with social media, staying positive about your body and the importance of taking care of their mental and physical health.
With first-hand accounts from teenage girls and a glossary of useful terms, this is a sensible, reassuring guide to growing up and developing a healthy body image.
‘I Really Want To Shout’ by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti, published by Templar Books. 3+
A little girl bursts with fury at being called in for dinner when she wants to play and at having to eat “green and yucky” things she hates. But what should children do when they really want to shout? Let it out or hold it in? This rhyming picture book teaches children that everyone gets angry sometimes and it can be hard to know what to do. The answer, it turns out, is “breathing slow and deep”, talking and even bouncing like a kangaroo “while playing songs on a kazoo”. An entertaining and imaginative book that teaches young children about managing anger.
‘Choose You!: Become The Unique, Incredible & Happy Teenager You Choose To Be’ by Dr Sharie Coombes, published by Studio Press. 12+
This self-help guide, written by a teacher turned psychotherapist, aims to help young people understand the neuroscience of the teenage brain. Chatty and user-friendly, it focuses on helping teens to decide who they want to be and how they can handle things in their lives. “It’s a book to help you to be happy with who you truly are, now and in the future,” explains Sharie Coombes. With lots of motivational quotes, activities, ideas and a list of useful organisations, Choose You! Is ideal for teenagers who want to be challenged by thought-provoking ideas.
‘Be Yourself: Why It’s Great To Be You’ by Poppy O’Neill, published by VIE Books. 7+
Billed as “a tool for children who are showing signs of lacking in self-belief”, Be Yourself can either be read by children on their own or with parents and adults. It features a friendly monster called Glow who explains how to spot low self-worth, why it’s great to be unique and how children can look after their bodies, minds and emotions. We particularly liked an activity called “Collect Be-Yourself Boosts”, where they are encouraged to collect compliments, quotes, achievements and happy moments, write them down and keep them in a jar or scrapbook to look at when they are feeling down.
‘An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A-Z’ by The School Of Life, published by The School of Life. 6+
The School of Life is a global organisation that helps people to lead more fulfilled lives. An Emotional Menagerie is one of its latest books and aims to give young children the words to communicate how they are feeling. It features 26 rhyming poems, arranged alphabetically and bringing a host of emotions to life.
The first, A is for anger, says that if anger was an animal it would have “A mangy mane, a bristly tail, and growling, gaping jaws”, while N is for naughtiness declares that if naughtiness was an animal “It would gibber and shout, making faces, throwing food, and monkeying about”. At a time of huge uncertainty, this is an engaging way to get young children to talk about their emotions.
The verdict: Kids’ motivational books
Our top choice is Matthew Syed’s engaging Dare To Be You: Defy Self-Doubt, Fearlessly Follow Your Own Path And Be Confidently You! It’s lively, eye-catching and full of great anecdotes and stories. I Really Want To Shout!, written by Simon Philip and illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti, is a close runner-up, a gorgeous picture book about a little girl who learns anger management skills.
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