Life is filled with challenges that can be faced by fighting fears. Whether you are a child or an adult, you need strategies to confront difficult situations. These strategies are named coping skills. They help you deal with the situation positively, responsibly, and calmly, rather than avoiding it and being frustrated or anxious.
Children may not communicate their feelings when they feel irritated, fearful, and disheartened (1). They need to learn coping skills to manage life’s challenges adequately. As parents, you need to help your children learn and develop these skills. Read on to learn why coping skills are essential for children and ways to teach these skills.
Why Are Coping Skills Important For Kids?
Children get angry, sad, bored, scared, embarrassed, anxious, and depressed with various day-to-day experiences, the same way that adults do (1). These feelings need to be managed correctly to avoid problems later (2). Unattended problems could impact a child negatively—it might increase the risk of depression or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Coping skills help manage emotions and situations for the healthy mental and physical growth of a child. Learning healthy coping skills can help children fight their fears, be calm, happy, productive, and stress-free.
How Do You Teach Coping Skills To Kids?
Teaching coping skills requires an understanding of the problem. If the child is affected emotionally, the strategies need to be targeted on the feelings. However, if it’s a situational problem, it requires skills to solve the situation.
Emotion-Focused Coping Skills
Emotional coping skills are needed to manage stress. The focus is on helping the child tolerate stress and overcome it. Make the child understand that few things require acceptance to move on in life. Some examples of such situations are:
- Loss of a pet
- Death of a loved one
- Not being a part of a social circle
- Change of town or school
Emotion-focused coping skills involve distraction to make the child feel better and calm.
1. Label the feelings
Verbalizing feelings by saying, ‘I am mad,’ ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I am nervous’ can at times help children feel relieved.
You should help them describe their feelings and explain to them there is no need to get embarrassed. You can try out the following things.
- Talk about different emotions.
- Show them pictures with various feelings.
- Act emotions or show them videos.
- Play social charades, describing situations and associated feelings.
2. Do breathing exercises
- Tell them to try bubble breathing.
- Ask to inhale deeply, imagining smelling a pizza, and exhale out as if blowing out a birthday candle.
- Lie down with a soft toy on the belly and ask to breathe in such a way that the toy swings up and down.
- Tell them to breathe till the count of five and exhale the same way. Repeat the cycle ten times.
- Elephant breathing can be done by standing with feet spread wide and arms hanging forward. Inhale slowly through the nose, raising the arms over the head, and then exhale slowly, bringing the arms down.
- Practice shoulder roll breathing. Your child has to sit upright, taking in a slow breath through the nose by raising the shoulders and lowering when exhaling through the mouth.
3. Perform exercise and yoga
‘A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body.’ Having a set routine of exercise helps manage emotions better and reduces stress. Yoga and meditation attune stress responses (4). Encourage your children to perform these stress-relieving physical activities for a happy time ahead.
- Hands to feet
- Aerobic exercises
- Stretching exercises
4. Read a book
Story books, comics, and fun fact books are excellent ways of distraction. According to a 2009 study at the University of Sussex, stress is reduced up to 68% by reading (5). Reading constructs a clearer and focused mind, boosts imagination and creativity, and improves vocabulary. Give access to some good books that could elevate your children’s mood and interest.
5. Sing and dance
Singing and dancing help to empathize, communicate, and learn the emotional language (6). Dancing helps children learn to share space and understand the body language of others. They can express their feelings through dance and movements. Music is used as a treatment for physical and mental health problems and is proven to heal, calm, and reduce anxiety and depression (7).
6. Play games
Children love games, which distract them from their worries. Playing games boosts the mood and helps to move on. There are a variety of games to choose from, depending on the child’s age.
- Board games such as Ludo and Snakes and Ladders for toddlers and Monopoly for older children.
- Kick around the ball.
- ‘Feeling’s Uno’ can help determine the reason behind the stress. It can be played by assigning one color to one emotion and asking the child to share the card related to their feeling.
- Spin the bottle can be played as each time the bottle spins, the person has to give an idea to solve the problem.
7. Practice arts and craft
It is one of the best ways to indulge in a fun activity. Identify your child’s favorite activity and give them the raw material they need. If you are not sure about the activity, you can try the following.
- Clay and playdough
- Collage making
- Do-it-yourself crafts
- Origami and craft paper art
- Waste upcycling
8. Watch funny videos
Laughing helps forget all the problems. But this should not be done every time the child feels upset, as limiting the screen time is essential. They can watch funny cartoons, prank videos, and funny animal videos to enjoy a stress-free time. You can help them make their funny recordings and watch them together for a gala time with family.
9. Do some positive self-talk
Self-talk is an effective way to gain self-confidence, fight negative emotions, stay motivated, and be productive (8). You need to teach children about positive self-talk and remind them about it when they feel low. Some good phrases to recite when feeling low are:
- “I can do it”
- “I am the best”
- “It’s a great new opportunity to learn”
- “Let’s take a chance”
- “I will be the one taking initiatives”
- “I will give it a try”
10. Eat mood-boosting foods
Food that helps secrete serotonin, also called the happy hormone, elevates the mood from feeling depressed to happy. Treating children with some mood-boosting foods can help them cope-up with stress (9). Some well-known food includes:
11. Try a calm-down kit
You can make a box and put some things that can calm down the child. Ask them what all they would love to keep in the box. When they are anxious, ask them to go to their calm-down kit that can have:
- Stress ball
- An aromatic lotion
- A soft stuffed toy
- A favorite photograph
- Favorite gift
- Angry pillow to hit and take out the anger
12. Become the child’s comfort zone
Be a person with whom children feel safe and comfortable sharing their feelings. Let them cry if they want to and never judge them for their feelings about anything or situation (10). By not judging, you can be their ‘happy place.’ Avoid saying things like “boys don’t cry,” “there is nothing to cry about it” or “it’s stupid to feel like this” Allow them to express how they feel, and let them take it out of their heart. Give them time and space if they desire, so that they can overcome the difficult emotions on their own. For small children, frequently hug them and cuddle them when they are upset.
Be a good listener. Listen carefully to what they want to tell you. Let them know that you are interested and are paying complete attention to what they want to share. They will then speak out to you and ask for help (11). Giving time is the most precious thing you can do for your child.
14. Take them for outings
You can take the child to an interesting and fun place and distract them from their worries. Outings are a great way to relax, bond, and have a fun time. You can choose:
- Car rides
- Garden day
- Zoo or aquarium visit
15. Share personal experiences
Share your childhood experiences about a similar situation and how you handled it. Sharing personal experiences lets children know that they are not alone in trouble, and it is possible to solve the problem. All they need to have is time and patience. Be careful to avoid preaching in such an approach and be as honest as possible.
Problem-Focused Coping Skills
It involves taking actions for situations, rather than consoling and accepting things with emotional manipulations. The purpose of these skills is to target and resolve the source of stress. Examples of problem-focused coping skills are:
- Ending an unhealthy friendship
- Complaining about bullies to teacher
- Standing up for your rights
16. Offer help
When you find your children struggling with a problem, you could ask them:
- Do you need my help?
- Is there someone who can solve this?
- Who could help you with this?
Make them understand people can help and find ways to solve their issues. For example:
- A homework issue can be resolved by calling a friend or talking to a teacher.
- Complaining about bullies to the teacher can help them.
- Researching on the internet can help them make a school project.
17. Empower them
When children cannot decide or choose between the options, ask them to write down the pros and cons. Doing so will eventually empower them to make correct decisions. Help them brainstorm all the possible solutions and then discuss to get the appropriate and feasible options.
18. Give choices
Providing choices creates a sense of control. Choosing between things will make children understand that there are choices in life. Give them the freedom to choose what they want to wear, what they want to eat, the haircut style, and more.
19. Cope as a family
Family is all about “one for all and all for one.” Spending and discussing the problem with family can be helpful. Thinking about the solutions together creates a sense of togetherness and bonding. You can:
- Plan a trip or feasts
- Have meals together
- Talk at bedtime
20. Take appropriate actions
At times, the reason for stress can be solved by taking appropriate actions. When emotional coping won’t change the situations and reduce the stress, address the problems with correct measures.
- Studying more to lower the stress of exams
- Confronting people
- Telling the truth, instead of hiding
21. Reduce the burden of formal events
Children can be stressed when they attend formal events. It could be due to restrictive outfits, expectations, others’ behavior, physical greetings, and unclear rituals (12) (13). Focus on making the child feel comfortable and happy at events, rather than presenting them to stand up to other’s expectations.
22. Teach them to appreciate life
Unnecessary demands can be a reason behind the stress. Make children aware of the resources they have and how they are a blessing. Appreciating available resources can help them understand and ignore unnecessary demands. You may try the following ways to achieve it.
- Ask them to name five important things present around them.
- Explain to your children about mindful eating, which means taking small bites, chewing slowly, and appreciating how it smells and tastes. They can help to be more aware of the environment and concentrate on essential things like good food and contentment.
- Let them understand the importance of charity.
23. Give a break
Depending on the child’s age and concentration period, give a break between activities. During this time, let them relax, dance, sing, hum, or have a five-minute blanket break. Splashing cold water on the face and eating a sugar-free candy are good options between the study times (14). These measures are useful at coping with stress due to homework and other studies-related activities.
24. Find the child’s triggers
Observe what makes the child angry, sad, or uncomfortable, and plan to control these stress triggers (11).
- If they cry when you turn off the TV, you can give them a warning before turning it off.
- If they get angry when someone else takes their toys, explain to them the importance of sharing.
- When they get cranky when transitioning between activities, taking a break between activities can solve this problem.
25. Seek help from others
Seeking help from others can make children realize there are people around to help them (11).
- A tutor can help in studying a specific subject.
- If the child is uncomfortable learning something from you, a relative or friend can help learn those things.
- An appointment with a counselor can help fight any existing signs of depression.
Other than coping strategies, sound sleep and healthy eating habits help children stay happy.
The aim of teaching coping skills is to make children independent and get through situations when you are not around. Developing coping skills needs patience, and children learn gradually through life experiences. So, allow your little ones to explore the world, overcome challenges, and learn from their experiences.
2. Anxiety and Depression in Children; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. Relaxation Techniques for Kids: Benefits, Examples & Resources; Regis college
4. Yoga for anxiety and depression; Harvard Health Publishing
5. Reading for Stress Relief; University Of Minnesota
6. L. Marsh; Why song and dance are essential for children’s development; British Council (2015)
7. How music can help you heal; Harvard Health Publishing
8. How Positive Self-Talk Can Make You Feel Better and Be More Productive; Walden University
9. O. Robbins; 8 Nutrients and 16 Foods to Boost Your Mood; Food Revolution Network
10. Coping Skills for Children; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
11. Developing Coping Skills: 5 Ways to Help Kids Who Struggle With Self Confidence; Understood
12. L. W. Wright; 7 behavior triggers for kids at formal events; Understood
13. L. W. Wright; 7 Ways to Prepare Kids for Visiting Relatives and Family Friends; Understood.
14. Coping Skills for Parents and Children; Youth First