Tom Percival is the author of picture books that explore children’s emotions and wellbeing. Ruby’s Worry, Ravi’s Roar, Perfectly Norman and the forthcoming Meesha Makes Friends are well-loved by teachers. Now Tom has written the first in a new colour illustrated fiction series aimed at children aged from 6+ Attack of the Heebie Jeebies.

In our guest blog, Tom offers some personal thoughts about dealing with anxiety

“Alright mate, how’s it going?”

“All good thanks, mate. How about you?”

“Yeah, good.”

I’ve had this conversation, or a very similar version of it more times than I can remember. I’m sure that we all have! There’s a good reason too. A chance encounter in the street with someone that goes to your gym probably isn’t the right time to divulge your innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams.

Still, even though we don’t necessarily share all of our feelings all of the time, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be aware of them. There’s a phrase called ‘emotional intelligence’, which basically means being aware of our feelings and crucially, of other people’s feelings too. You could call it emotional understanding. 

This is something that I’ve been exploring in my books for the last few years as I think that it’s something that we can ALL work on, children and adults alike! It’s really important that we are able to recognise our emotions. It’s only by recognising our emotions that we are able to put in place a plan of action to rebalance our mood.

It helps if you start off by thinking of emotions as valuable feedback on the world around you. So, just as seeing a sheer cliff edge in front of you is valuable feedback that you shouldn’t practice your blindfolded BMX tricks in that particular spot, feelings of anger, frustration and sadness are ALSO providing feedback about the world around you. 

For example, you might wake up feeling sad one day, for no apparent reason. That’s certainly happened to me before! But then, if you really explore that feeling of sadness, there’s nearly always a reason for it. I’ll wonder if perhaps I haven’t spoken to any of my friends for a while? Perhaps I haven’t spent as much time outdoors as I need to? Perhaps I’ve had too much work on and I’m feeling a bit stressed? Try to think about ALL the possible reasons you might have for feeling the way that you do. You could even write a list if you like.

Having worked out what’s been causing your troubling emotions, you’re then in a position to start trying to do something about it. You know, if you’re feeling sad because you haven’t seen your friends enough, then you can Skype someone or call them.

You can summarise this process in three simple questions you can ask yourself when you’re not feeling good. How? Why? What?

1: How do I feel?

2: Why do I feel that way?

3: What can I do to change that situation?

If you think about it this way, ALL emotions are valid and useful. It might not be fun to feel angry or frustrated but if you use these emotions as feedback tools to help you work out WHAT is causing you a problem, then in a funny sort of way, feeling sad can actually be the first step towards feeling happy again!

However, you do need to actively work through these feelings and ask all of these questions. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of being immediately led by our emotions. When that happens, we end up feeling angry and acting in an angry way BECAUSE we feel angry, without trying to work out WHY we feel angry and seeing if there is anything we can do to stop that angry feeling. This very rarely ends well!

As with anything, it’s nearly always easier to work through your feelings with a bit of help. So, if YOU’RE feeling angry or frustrated or worried or sad, then find someone that you trust to talk to about it.

My new illustrated fiction series, The Dream Team, explores the idea of emotional understanding in a fun, fast-paced and exciting way. The Dream Team are a group of supernatural characters who live in the Dreamscape, the strange and mysterious world that our consciousness goes to when we dream.

In the first book, Attack of the Heebie Jeebies, we meet Erika, who has anger issues. Severe anger issues! So the Dream Team is sent in to help. Erika meets Wade, a very big, very strong and very grumpy stone man and Silas, a hyper-enthusiastic shadow boy who is fond of doing ‘thumbs-up’ gestures and embarrassing winks. She also meets the leader of the Dream Team, Madam Hettyforth and Sim, a shapeshifter who is sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, sometimes a table lamp but ALWAYS kind and thoughtful. Not to mention, the Heebie Jeebies who can only talk in pictures. So far, so impossible… but I also wanted to ground the series in relatable, everyday emotions. The Dream Team’s job is to help children who are experiencing emotional challenges and help them work through their problems in their dreams so that when they wake up, they are better equipped to deal with whatever it was that was troubling them. Over the course of her adventures in this magical dreamworld, Erika is able to get to the bottom of WHY she has been feeling so angry, and as a result, she is able to start changing the way that she behaves and as a result, starts to feel better about her life.

To my mind, this is the key to improving our emotional well being. We need to understand how and why we feel the way that we do. Of course, I’m not saying that nobody should ever feel angry, or ever feel sad. It’s vital that we openly explore and express the feelings that we have, but we need to be able to READ these feelings too.

So it’s OKAY to feel angry, it’s OKAY to feel confused, or sad, or worried or anything else that you might be feeling right now. But please try to get to the bottom of why you feel that way. After all, the more in tune we are with our feelings, the happier we will all be!