Psychotherapist Julia Sivarajah Authors Her First Book, “When I Feel My Tough Feelings” To Suggest Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Manage Difficult Emotions

Tell us about your upbringing and how that played a part in you becoming an author.

Since an early age, my parents have always encouraged me to read, and they took my sister and I on regular trips to the library. We became obsessed with children and teen fiction. Some of the stories we would pick out, my father would call “nonsense books”, but then made a deal with us to read the classics first (i.e. Dickens, Jane Austen), before our preferred Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew series. By being exposed to this variety of literature, I developed a significant passion for both reading and writing. I started making my own “books” at the age of 9, and I still have some of the early saved works which are hilarious to read back now as an adult. I also had a strong interest in writing poetry, so my parents would enroll me into a few competitions, which led to my first trophies and medals! This provided validation for me to pursue writing goals, and I always remember my mother telling me to make sure I put this apparent talent to good use. This set the basis of my dream goal to publish a children’s book “for real” one day.

Congrats on the recent launch of your first book “When I Feel My Tough Feelings”!  What made you decide to write this book?

Thank you! My professional work involves helping others with their mental health goals which include learning to manage difficult emotions. In addition, I have two children who definitely have some big feelings we have to navigate daily. I therefore often implement my work at home and use therapeutic strategies to help my kids around many worries and frustrations they experience as typical toddlers/kids (you know when you see kids scared on their first day of school, or angry something isn’t going their way, or upset that their friend isn’t sharing, etc.). Since I also love writing, I had the “lightbulb” idea to combine it all into a children’s story, and here it is!

What do you hope a reader takes away after finishing your book?

I hope that readers, whether they are parents, children, teens or adults, can be introduced to some simple tools to help with difficult feelings including anxiety, anger, frustrations, sadness and disappointment. For instance, there are techniques that help specifically with reducing worry and rumination, in enhancing relaxation, promoting emotional regulation skills, grounding and mindfulness strategies and even encouragement towards support-seeking. It is all however put together in a fun rhyming format for kids to enjoy while casually learning helpful ways to manage their tough emotions. It would be wonderful to know that the book initiated conversations around mental health between caregivers and children.  I would also hope that kids can benefit from implementing some of the techniques shared and that this can lead to reduced frustrations faced by parents or caregivers, as well as may minimize lengthy power struggles families might have around powerful emotions. In addition, my vision for diverse representation was implemented so I hope all readers can feel even more connected to the book.  

How did your professional experience as a Registered Psychotherapist play a part in you writing the book and the content in the book?

I primarily work with individuals to help them with enhancing their mental health goals. Some of the main approaches I use in my therapeutic work include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) which helps to assists people in recognizing how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors influence each other and can often fuel anxiety, depression, trauma and even substance use problems. I have created treatment plans as well as group psycho-education and process groups for children and youth that are based on these principles to help them reduce associated symptoms and distress with these concerns. I converted some of these program materials/tools into content for this book while trying to make it as simple and fun as possible for younger audiences.

How long did it take you to write this book?  How did you make time for this given that you also work full-time and are a mother of 2 kids?  

I believe it may have taken me a few hours over the course of a month to create the work itself, and then two or three months back and forth with the publisher to establish and direct my vision for the illustrations that go with the work (provided by publisher).

At the start of the pandemic, I started venturing towards private practice, however referrals were very slow at the beginning. So during those spare hours (while my kids were in school or napping), I decided to write, and it was truly fun to do. I thought, why not see if this goes somewhere? My husband says I am a master at multi-tasking, so I think this skill was very useful for this project.

How did you go about securing a publisher for your book?  What was your criteria for making your final choice in terms of a publisher?

At the beginning I just googled publishers and reached out to several of them. I did not have enough confidence in myself as an author at this time to hire a book agent, even though this would have likely expanded my options. But for where I was at (i.e. casual project attempt), I wanted to secure a publisher that could help with obtaining the illustrations, provide support and work around my vision, and would be able to reach a worldwide audience.

What advice would you give to someone out there considering writing a book?

I would say, don’t consider it, do it! In an encouraging sort of way of course. There is no time like the present, and I would advise them not to let lack of time be a deterrence. I would suggest that they use an hour here or there in their leisure time to dedicate to this, and to make sure that it is fun and not “work”. Be passionate about your idea. This may help with motivation and follow through.

***Read the rest of interview at***