Help Anxious Kids Get Emotional with Two Books by Psychologist Mary Lamia

emotion books mary lamiaWe checked out two books on the topic of emotions by psychologist and psychoanalyst Mary Lamia, Ph.D. Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings (Magination Press, 2010) is geared toward children age 9 and up while Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings (Magination Press, 2012) is meant for the slightly older audience. 

Both are available at, through the publisher at and through other outlets posted on Lamia’s website at

About the Books

How much do you know about your own emotions? Answer the following four quick questions to find out.

True or False:

  1. Emotions should be ignored if they get in the way of what you’re doing.
  2. Disgust is an annoying feeling that really serves no purpose.
  3. Emotions are either negative or positive.
  4. Anxiety is your friend.

The only “True” answer above is No. 4. Anxiety can indeed be your friend. In fact, all emotions can be your friends, or at least helpful tools, as long as you understand what they mean and where they’re coming from.

That understanding can become second-nature after checking out Lamia’s two books:

  • Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings
  • Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings

The books are similar in their content, although they differ in their organization and target audience. Understanding Myself is geared toward children and preteens while Emotions! is aimed at the adolescent and young adult crowd.

Lamia says she wrote both books for one simple reason: children needed them.

“For nearly a decade I hosted a call-in talk show for children, pre-teens, and adolescents on Radio Disney stations,” Lamia wrote in an email. “The programs covered a wide range of topics, most of which dealt with subjects that in some way pertained to emotions, such as bullies, fears, crushes, tough issues, self-esteem, teasing, embarrassment, self-conscious feelings, moods, and pride, as well as general-interest topics or subject matter specific to family, school, social, emotional, or community life.

“During those years I talked with over 5,000 child and preteen callers, and received over a thousand emails (all of which I answered myself).

“What became clear to me in hosting the radio program was the need of my young listeners to understand what they felt. I also found this need in my preteen and adolescent patients.”

This need compelled her to pen the two books, with the quotes in both books coming from actual quotes from callers to Lamia’s radio program. Understanding Myself appeals to the 9 and up crowd with colorful quotes, chapter quizzes, questions and points to ponder in the form of tidbits from actual research that children can relate to their own lives.

Emotions! goes for the slightly older set, chock full of explanations, insights and research notations. It also includes a section in each chapter that helps readers, again, relate a specific emotion to their own lives.

Both books work by pinpointing examples of emotions and then offering explanations of what purpose each emotion serves. They also offer keen insight into some of our actions that stem from emotions. One example comes from a girl who was dealing with sadness by channeling it into anger, creating a situation that could easily induce loneliness:

“I was really sad when my mom and dad got divorced,” the girl says in Understanding Myself. “But I didn’t want to cry because I didn’t want to seem like a wimp. Then I got mean to my friends. They made excuses to not hang out with me and couldn’t tell me why. I just held in my feelings and was grumpy and angry.”

Sound familiar? Understanding where all that emotion is coming from, why we have it and how it can guide us helps to keep our misdirected anger at a minimum and our healthy processing of emotions at a maximum. There’s also a good bet that readers of all ages can learn something from these books.

“Although I have been a practicing psychologist for over 35 years, as well as a graduate school professor, in writing the books I learned a great deal about emotions myself!” Lamia writes. “Interestingly, I have found that most of my colleagues are not any more familiar with emotions than I was when I began researching the subject.”

Additional Author Insight

While Lamia’s two books cover the full emotional gamut of everything from pride to guilt with shame and anger in between, we were curious about a few other specifics.

We asked: What emotion would you say is typically the toughest for kids to deal with? (Does it depend on age range and change as children get older?) 

Lamia responded: “Any of the negatively experienced self-conscious emotions are very difficult for kids: Shame, embarrassment, and guilt. But shame is the most difficult. Shame is an uncomfortably powerful emotion that can consume your entire self, because in shame the self is not separated from the action as it is with guilt. Shame informs you of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor or regret.

“Generally, people respond to their experience of shame by attacking others, attacking themselves, withdrawing, or by avoiding. The ‘attack other’ response to shame can be hurtful to a kid as well as to others. Blaming or putting down others, provoking jealousy, bullying, and controlling behavior are typical expressions.  Anger allows a person to direct blame to something on the outside, and therefore hide any inferiority or exposure that is felt on the inside. Shame-based angry responses are sometimes regarded as ‘humiliated fury.’”

What emotion would you say is typically the toughest for adults to deal with?  

“Although I am tempted to say envy, anger, or grief, I actually think adults have the most difficult time dealing with anxiety (some emotion researchers would refer to anxiety as the affect of fear/terror).  People tend to avoid anxiety by using substances or medication to get rid of it.

“However, the warning signs of anxiety can be very helpful if you respond to them appropriately, and the action potential of anxiety can sharpen your focus, help you to think on your feet, and energize you.”

What is the biggest myth that people of any age may believe regarding emotions? 

“Thirty years ago, there was very little focus or research regarding emotions. Basically, we viewed emotions as an interference to one’s thinking. Unfortunately, many still believe this to be the case. Certainly, we paid attention to symptoms that created discomfort in people, but not how they resulted from emotions that were disordered or misunderstood. As a result, people interpret their own behavior or the behavior of others as disordered, when in fact such behavior may be due to an emotion that is activated – an emotion that needs to be understood.”

What was one of the greatest epiphanies you witnessed or experienced with regard to emotions?

“Every emotion has a purpose. Your brain processes information passively and unconsciously. If something needs your attention, an emotion is activated and sends a general signal to you in the form of the feelings and thoughts it creates. Physiological changes motivate you and prepare you to take action. Thus, an emotion will provide you with information, direct your attention, motivate your behavior, protect you, and help you to reach your goals.

“Knowing how to interpret them is essential to psychological well-being. For example, if you are rejected you will be sad. Sadness directs your attention by telling you to accept reality; it motivates your behavior by informing you to realign your goals; and, sadness protects you by making you cautious, slowing you down, and directing you to observe yourself.”

Thank you, Mary Lamia. Your books can help all of us better understand ourselves.

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