Neil Tirko, 5, of Wellsville, crushes graham crackers in a ziplock bag while Early Headstart/York County Head Start disabilities manager Cele McCloskey,
Neil Tirko, 5, of Wellsville, crushes graham crackers in a ziplock bag while Early Headstart/York County Head Start disabilities manager Cele McCloskey, left, teaches the technique to Tierney Ernst, 5, of Dover Township during a Head Start-sponsored story time at Dover Community Library Tuesday. The cracker crumbs were used to coat banana wedges to make banana munchers. Head Start representatives presented the story time to promote National Childrens Mental Health Awareness Day activities at Books-A-Million in Springettsbury Township which runs Thursday from 2-6 p.m. (Bill Kalina photo)

A handful of children gathered at the Dover Area Community Library for story time, each clutching a little stuffed animal.

They sat on the floor with the comfort of their mothers and a huge, soft turtle.

But Tuesday's book was a little different than usual. Called "Lots of Feelings," it focused on recognizing emotions and reading facial expressions.

Once the story was over, the group focused on one particularly critical feeling: anger.

"It's OK to have all those feelings," said the storyteller, Cele McCloskey. "You know what? It's OK to be mad."

The lesson: She gave the children tips about anger, like imitating a turtle withdrawing in its shell: Stop, take three deep breaths, then come out and solve the problem. Taking deep breaths should be like cooling off hot chocolate, she said: controlled but still effective.

When it was snack time, the kids "got mad" at graham crackers, pounding their hands on the sealed bag of crackers until they were pulverized into crumbs.

Then they peeled bananas and sliced them into coins, dropping them in the bag and shaking to make graham cracker-coated "Banana Munchers."

The kids also pushed down on the floor and against the wall to exert energy in a safe way. Getting rid of "the mad" doesn't have to result in hurting others or yourself, McCloskey said.

Raising awareness: Thursday is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, which addresses the mental health needs of children and adolescents. McCloskey is disabilities

manager of the Community Progress Council's Head Start program, which provides early education services to children.

The program works to teach kids how to handle anger and other emotions at a young age, she said, and that's important right now.

"You can't deny that (violent) things are happening in the world," she said. "That's what gets kids into trouble: being angry and not knowing what to do."

The organization has been in York for 46 years, and last year was the first year it participated in promoting the children's mental health awareness day. She said knowledge is a key tool for parents to have.

"Their kids don't come with guidebooks," she said.

Her team will continue to raise awareness through other readings and a meet-and-greet at Books-A-Million Thursday.

-- Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.