When Daniela Owen, a licensed psychologist and assistant director of the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, published Right Now, I Am Fine in June of last year, she hoped the book would help children deal with stress and anxiety, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which uncertainty reigns.
After adding another two books to the series last year—Right Now, I Am Kind and Right Now, I Am Brave—Owen isn’t showing any signs of slowing down: another three-book series is set to publish this summer. PW caught up with Owen to talk about how the series can help children develop a “tool kit” for handling life’s obstacles; the challenges of writing children’s books; and how her work as a child therapist informs her writing.
What inspired you to write your first book, Right Now, I am Fine, and why did you decide to continue with the Right Now series?
I wrote Right Now, I am Fine to help children handle crises and major challenges. Children in this country are suffering— especially during the pandemic. The number of anxiety disorders and mood disorders in children is on the rise. I ended up writing the Right Now series because there were more problems that children are currently facing than I could fit in a single book!
What will the next Right Now book focus on, and when can we expect to see it in print?
The “next book” is actually a series of three books all coming out this summer that specifically teach children how to handle anger, sadness, and fear. These are emotions that children experience daily, but often they are not discussed. Parents frequently tell me they are not sure what to say and what not to say to their children in response to these emotions.
Who can benefit from these books?
These books are designed for children between the ages two and 10 and their parents or other caregivers, and they teach coping strategies for successfully navigating life’s challenges. Parents worry about how to best help their children without making problems worse.
Do these books fill any gaps in the children's literature that existed before the Right Now series?
Yes. Children's publishing often includes books that validate children's emotions and negative experiences, but very few books teach children and adults what to do in response to these emotions or experiences. The Right Now books not only acknowledge challenges that children face in daily life, but also teach them strategies for overcoming the obstacles.
Why are these books an important part of the child mental health conversation going on in this country?
Teaching children about their emotions at a young age and guiding parents about what to do in the face of a problem can help them develop confidence, strength, and resilience. All of these positive outcomes can help to protect children against future mental illness.
You are a child psychologist, so you obviously know how to speak to children, but writing for children is different than speaking to them. What were the biggest challenges when it came to writing for children?
Great question! When writing for children, getting ideas across with as few words as possible is key to keeping the child's attention. So, I would say the biggest challenge was explaining complicated ideas very simply.
How does your work as a child psychologist inform your writing?
All of the strategies in my books come from evidence-based practices that help children manage daily challenges. The strategies and concepts have been demonstrated, through research, to effectively help and protect children from the negative consequences of worry, stress, and anxiety. As a psychologist, writing children’s books allows me to reach a much broader audience of families—and Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream uses marketing tactics that deliver a greater reach—than I ever could using traditional psychotherapy. That in itself is worth the effort.