Children’s Book Teaches an Integrative Approach to Mental Health Basics

Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Children’s Book Teaches an Integrative Approach to Mental Health Basics


Children book for mental health

Stress is at an all-time high. Increasingly, the general public and healthcare system are acknowledging ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), and the negative effects early-life traumas have on health.

Sadly, children’s exposure to ACEs are compounded by unavoidable universal traumas. The negative effects of universal traumas such as the pandemic, war, climate change and school/community shootings break all boundaries.  None of us are immune from trauma.

Now more than ever we need to teach kids how to build their mental immunity to help buffer them from their stressful environment.

The solution is multi-layered. It starts with prioritizing professional resources for children that teach them about feelings, inner and outer resources, body signals, thoughts, and how to feel empowered even in the most difficult social and personal challenges. The solution also rests with adults to join children and heal the gaps in their own mental health foundation.

Mind-Body Balance: The Importance of Healthy Outlets

Humans need outlets to purge toxic stress and maintain mind-body balance. When stress levels exceed our outlets for releasing stress, our body sends us signals that we are out of balance.


These signals often present with mood changes such as feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed — accompanied by physical symptoms ranging from intermittent headaches and nausea to chronic disease.

When children spend too much time in front of screens, consequently, they spend less time pausing, reflecting and processing information in their own language. Children need to move their bodies and use their imaginations through play in order to learn, process conflict, and make sense of their feelings and environment.

These natural ways kids release stress and find relief are essential to their long-term growth, yet over time these resources have been given less priority. We must shift our focus toward offering kids playful resources with guided treatment frameworks to help them gain confidence and feel in control of a world that often feels out of their control.

A Therapist’s Discovery and Intervention

As a mental health therapist, I immerse myself in thoughts, feelings and behaviors. However, also an adult, I find myself overwhelmed in our stressful world and often forgetting my own mental health self-care and basic foundation.

When I sat down to write my mental health–focused children’s book, I Am Pawso, about a cat who teaches kids ways to turn around difficult situations, I quickly recognized that I wasn’t just writing a book for kids.

I had a lot to learn from Pawso, the cat. I needed refreshers and more practice on my own resources to help me shake off bad feelings and situations and turn them around into something positive and manageable. Like so many adults, I was spinning in a circle of stress, illness (Crohn’s disease) and disconnection.

I had forgotten how to play, discover, and imagine! Immersing myself back into the world of kids reminded me of fundamentals that we all need. Without targeted interventions, adults will continue to consume a diet of stress, which feeds a cycle of inflammation. Meanwhile, adults unintentionally continue modeling to kids that there aren’t any healthy alternatives to this vicious cycle.

Early interventions are key to teaching kids coping skills and building resilience. However, it’s not enough to solely focus on kids. We should not assume that adults already know how to identify and regulate their feelings.

Many adults did not receive healthy modeling in their childhoods for how to express feelings, notice thoughts, self-advocate, and prioritize self-care. Instead, like many other adults, I learned how to overreact, stress out, and hide my pain and low self-esteem in my work and other avoidant strategies.

It wasn’t until I had a raging disease process, complicated by my childhood trauma, that I started to get a picture of the importance of laying a foundation early in childhood. Now, middle aged, I focus on how to nurture that child in me who missed crucial social emotional learning. I have a lot to gain from mental health resources that break down concepts into child friendly basics. After all, adults and children have very similar needs in order to thrive.

Play: Our Natural Re-Calibrator

Adults, like children, need ways to escape from their day-to-day lives and recharge their overworked bodies and nervous systems. Play ignites our imaginations and curiosities — and naturally reconnects us to ourselves and others.

Guided by this important information, I focused on how Pawso, the cat, identifies numerous outlets that help him build resilience, thereby opening the door to helping adults play and interact with their kids through discussion, imagination, exploration, and discovery of their own “shake and turn” tools!

When was the last time you played an instrument, listened to music, danced, used art to create, climbed a tree? When was the last time you sat down and read a story to a child and tried something new together?

An Introduction to Feelings and Thoughts

It is common to feel at the mercy of our feelings rather than in charge of them. When kids and adults don’t have the resources to recognize their feelings or body cues, they cannot access healthy ways to express themselves.

Instead, they find ways to avoid or “stuff” their feelings inside and/or express their feelings through behaviors that are often undesirable at home and school. Adults, similarly, find themselves exhausted, and yelling at others who challenge their viewpoints. We all suffer when we don’t know where our feelings come from, and what to do with this normal emotion explosion.


The crucial role our brain plays in our whole-body processes is at the forefront of wellness. Our thoughts and perceptions have a direct effect on our feelings and behaviors. How we perceive situations and other’s intentions and the meaning we make of our own experiences dramatically affects our thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behaviors.

Too often, these brain-body mental health essentials are missing in our children’s education. Too often, adults, responsible for modeling to kids, also lack an understanding of their own self-talk, triggers or how to calm down.  

How a Children’s Book Is for Adults, Too

When I wrote I Am Pawso, numerous incidents flashed through my mind of times I felt worthless or upset because of something someone said to me or because I thought someone was intentionally being mean to me. Some of my interpretations were true, but often I overreacted and didn’t realize I was in charge of how things made me feel.

Our feelings and thoughts belong to us! That makes us in charge!

If I react so strongly, then kids must experience the same tenfold. Daily kids face bullying, conflict, confusion and peer pressure.  Similarly, when Pawso goes to school, he deals with situations that anger him and cause him to question his self-worth.

Through lessons and activities, he realizes he can react with anger and strike his claws, or he can take charge of this thoughts and shift his perspective. I considered the profound effect this kid friendly I Am Pawso philosophy could have on children throughout their lifetime.

For many years, I did not realize my thoughts affected my mood and symptoms. I focused on trying to “will” myself to think positively without using my body to help me. As I Am Pawso culminated into an integrative treatment approach, I tossed aside my old mantras and began using a new holistic I Am Pawso mantra.

This mantra was born out of my realization that in order to affect my thoughts, I need to move my body. To affect my body symptoms, I need an awareness of my thoughts. My health improved when I identified my inner powers that could help me shake off and turnaround situations to help me feel better.

But for a moment my mind starts to churn.

I can change my thoughts with a shake and a turn!

Today, me and Pawso are on a quest to teach kids and their adults how to identify and use their own “shake and turn” tools. It requires learning, but when we commit to building new habits through practice, we build healthy brain pathways for coping. There’s nothing more empowering than being able to calm down and feel better from the inside out!

Casey Hersch, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, animal rescuer, and health journalist. She uses holistic and resilience-based models to help children and families cope with trauma, stress, and illness. Her mental health children’s book, I Am Pawso: A Cat Teaches Kids Ways to Turn Around Difficult Situations is available on Amazon (2023) and garnering 5 star reviews. She developed a comprehensive I Am Pawso companion treatment guide for parents, teachers and clinicians, available for free download with purchase of the book.

For more information visit:

At, Casey has also written about the high costs of healthcare, integrative healing and using integrative approaches for living with chronic illness.

More Health