5 Ways to help kids develop coping skills

Kids often struggle with appropriately coping with life’s challenges. Developing coping skills will not only help correct and prevent negative behavoirs, it sets your kids up to be handle adulthood. Here are 5 ways to help your child cope with difficult or stressful situations. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health discovered a significant correlation between social-emotional skills in young children (kindergarten age) and well-being in adulthood. Children who had a better ability to control their emotions (coping) were more likely to go to college and hold steady jobs.

  1. Identify feelings
    Being able to help your child to identify strong/negative feelings will help them to understand what is happening and help lessen strong/negative reactions. It also helps them to understand that it is normal to have these feelings sometimes and seem more managable to control.

    Begin by asking your child how they feel and offer words like “sad”, “frustrated”, “mad”, “angry” or “anxious”. Explain what these feelings are if they are not familiar with them.

    Next, ask your child to try and identify the cause. Talk through the events leading up to the emotion and then potentially problem solve or help the child understand from a different perspective. Often our children get upset because they don’t fully understand why something may or may not have happened.

2. Find the triggers
Help your child find what triggers these negative emotions and problem solve to come up with ways to lessen the negative reaction and find productive ways to work through it.

For instance, many children become anxious when it’s time to do homework because they are struggling with that subject or just don’t know where to begin. They will then use avoidance in an unhealthy way by coming up with reason not to do homework. In this situation encourage your child to find someone to help them with the homework. If you are not able to, have them call a classmate that might be able to help them out. In the future, the child has now learned that it is acceptable to ask for and find help.

3. Find ways to ease the situation
One of the best ways to resolve negative emotions after identifying them is to focus on something else. This is especially helpful in situations of sadness, stress or anxiety.

Ask you child questions like, “what would help calm you down?”. Sometimes all it takes is a simple activity like coloring to give your child a neccessary cool-down time. You may need to use other methods such as grounding techniques. One popular grounding exercise is to prompt your child to find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This uses all 5 senses to help calm down.

Engage your child in solving the problem. Encourage them to write down several possible solutions. The more they are able to think about finding a solution, the sooner it will happen. Additionally, have them write down pros and cons of each solution. Sometimes just seeing it on paper helps and eventually your child will become very good at problem solving by themselves.

4. Debrief
This is an important step and often skipped over. Make sure to talk about the emotions and situation after it has passed. Start with talking through the situation that caused the emotion. Ask your child if there may have been better ways to handle the problem, Ask questions about their coping like, “did that help calm you down?” or “do you feel better now?”. By doing this, you help your child to understand their emotions, identify the triggers and find healthy ways to cope in the future.

5. Praise
Praise your child when they have taken steps towards coping with difficult situations. If you see your child actively using positive coping mechinisms be sure to tell them what a great job they did handling the situation. They will be proud of themselves and want to continue the behavoir.

Of course, if you feel your child is really struggling or you are not adequately able to help them, ask for help. This can be from a relative or friend and in some cases even a therapist might be able to provide more support.