How to Nurture a Child's Mental Health

In 2021, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide,and Black and Hispanic children were about 14% less likely than white children to receive treatment for their depression.2 Is it any wonder that LGBTQ adolescents of color may be especially at risk of self-harm?3 

We’re failing the most vulnerable members of our society on an alarming scale, in which lack of resources and willingness to change literally means the difference between life and death. It feels overwhelming, doesn't it? But you can make a difference, right now, starting with the books you choose for the children in your life. 

How can books nurture a vulnerable child’s mental health? 

“The whole world is not white, able bodied and with a nuclear family structure,” wrote Orla McKeating, founder of Still I Rise — Diversity Storytelling. “When children read books and don’t see people like them in them, they don’t feel included in society, which can have a massive effect on their own confidence and self-worth.”4 

Books that have characters kids can identify with make them feel connected and validated, because they’re represented in a meaningful way. Protagonists of color, adventurers with disabilities and nonbinary heroes can help children with those characteristics feel more confident in their own skin. 

“Growing up as a Brown Asian American child of immigrants, I never really saw anyone who looked like me in the media,” wrote Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. “The TV shows and movies I watched mostly concentrated on blonde-haired, white, or light-skinned protagonists. They also normalized western and heterosexist ideals and behaviors, while hardly ever depicting things that reflected my everyday life.”5 

Even books with simple tasks — like playing in the park, shopping for groceries or getting ready for bed — help kids see themselves in the characters and validate their existence.6 Positive representation in children’s literature can increase their self-esteem and contribute to prolonged mental health benefits.7 

Who else can benefit from diverse books? 

Inclusive literature helps all kids develop empathy and inspires connections among different groups. Children who experience characters and ideas outside their worldview are more likely to practice tolerance and accept others just the way they are.8 
Who wouldn’t want their kids to be validated? And who wouldn’t want their kids to be the ones validating? Diverse and inclusive children’s literature helps increase understanding of underrepresented groups and encourages kids to truly recognize and value different identities.

Why are intersectional books so important? 

Everyone has an identity they can and should be proud of. These identities are determined by an intersectionality of several factors, including gender, race, disability, LGBTQ, family structure and more.9 Representing any one of these factors in children’s literature is great, but it’s not enough. What about the girl being raised by her adult sister? Or the boy with a hearing disability and two moms? Or the siblings in foster care? These kids are out there, and they deserve just as much validation as everybody else.  

“When children read books that only depict one kind of protagonist, it can skew their perceptions of themselves in a negative way,” wrote Krystal Jagoo, a social worker specializing in mental health. “Children may see less value in themselves because of such poor representation, which can potentially minimize, erase, and ignore their identities.”9 

It’s not easy to find books with intersecting identities. But it can be done.  

What can I do to nurture mental health in children? 

By educating yourself and advocating for change, you can be a voice for those who don’t have one. Start small today to make a big difference later by providing the kids in your life with diverse and inclusive literature. Exposing youth to media that represents them from a young age can help set a solid foundation for greater self-esteem, self-worth and mental health in the future.

"Representation should never be the final goal; instead, it should merely be one step toward equity." — Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal, Ph.D.


  1. 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The Trevor Project. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from
  2. Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis: The urgent need for more education, services, and supports. Mental Health America. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from
  3. Yunyu Xiao, P.D. (2021). Temporal trends in suicidal ideation and attempts among us adolescents by sex and race/ethnicity. JAMA Network Open. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from
  4. McKeating, O. (2020). Why diverse representation matters in children’s books. Diverse Educators. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from
  5. Nadal, K.L.Y. (2021). Why representation matters and why it’s still not enough. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from
  6. Rodriguez, J. (2018). Why it's important for kids to see themselves in books. Scholastic. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from
  7. Murphy, E.K. (2018). Representations of health and wellness in children’s literature. UNI ScholarWorks. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from
  8. Levinson, J. (2020). Why diversity in children’s media is so important. Psychology in Action. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from
  9. Jagoo, K. (2021). The importance of representation in books. Retrieved May 6, 2021, from