We’ve all had bad days. As parents, we’ve watched our kids have bad days, too. A new picture book from L.A.-based author-illustrator Ruby Roth, called “Bad Day,” aims to help children cope with whatever comes their way. The book’s hero is Hennie, a boy who has just arrived home at the end of a day that started with a bumpy ride and a lumpy sock and didn’t get much better. He takes refuge in the quiet of his room, with a paper bag over his head, and slowly begins to process his feelings. As he thinks his way through his day, he discovers his resilience in the face of many bad turns.
Roth drew on her own childhood coping skills – she wore a back brace for scoliosis starting at age 6 and started having panic attacks very young – in creating and empowering Hennie. “Very early, I was dealing with pain and needing to figure out how to be happy and be comfortable while being physically confined in a brace,” she says. “We all have overwhelming feelings stemming from whatever happens in our day. It doesn’t matter what the source is. Dealing with the overwhelming feelings has to come from the same place.”
Roth calls that place the “observer mind,” and encourages parents to help their kids learn to pause and reflect. “One of the most important things to me is that parents give kids a little bit of breathing room to figure out their feelings on their own,” she says. “I often hear parents say to kids, ‘Use your words.’ But before you have the skills to identify the feelings inside yourself, you’re not going to be able to articulate your feelings.”
To get in touch with their feelings, kids can follow the example of Hennie, who retreats into the quiet of his paper bag. “In real life, it could be simply closing your eyes, it could be going under the covers, it could be closing the door of your room,” says Roth. “I want kids to learn that no matter what goes on in the outside world, they have the safe space inside themselves to process feelings instead of avoiding, ignoring or shutting them down.”