Inside: The more stress our kids experience, the less resilient and adaptive they become. But these coping skills for kids of any age plus the four pillars can make all the difference between being receptive and stable or reactive and defensive, even if they’ve never practiced before.
Did you know? It’s a proven scientific fact that kids can experience just as much stress as an adult 3 times their age. Life is really tough, and dealing with stress is hard for kids. At least 2,340 days over 13 years could be a cause of stress for our kids.
And that’s just the number of days they’re in school.
That doesn’t even account for all other areas of their lives, like dealing with a sibling who gets better grades, preparing for their first slumber party, or even an upcoming sports competition.
While all of these things may seem trivial to us, they may be the world to our kids. Our kids have to learn how to get through the hard parts of life. It’s our job to arm them with the right tools to do just that.
What You Should Know About Coping Skills for Kids
Teaching coping skills to kids isn’t much different than teaching coping skills to adults. We all deal with stress, and the way in which we handle uncertainty can look similar too.
When our kids become stressed, high levels of cortisol course through their bodies. This hormone changes the brain, so learning positive coping strategies helps bring the levels back down to normal. This also allows them to think more clearly about how they approach the world.
In order for them to approach their world correctly, we need to make sure our anxiety doesn’t become theirs. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our own stresses that we reflect this onto our kids.
They’re like little sponges that will mirror our behavior. So, the best way for them to learn proper coping skills is for us to use them too.
The Biggest Hurdle to Developing Coping Skills
The #1 hurdle to conquering stressful situations: the brain.
A brain under stress doesn’t think clearly or make sound decisions. This part of the brain is the “fight or flight” response system. Stress causes any person to choose reactive responses rather than receptive ones.
When a child’s brain experiences stress, their brain is flooded with the stress hormone which quite literally shuts down every other higher-level functioning part of their brain.
At this stage, they don’t understand how to process their emotions. They have these feelings and emotions but don’t have enough life experience to cope with them correctly.
We can help them create those connections in their brain through life experiences and repetition. Just like the songs we used to sing on repeat as kids to learn something new, strategies allow our kids to practice and hone their skills.
“Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change outcomes.”
~Amy Cuddy, a Harvard University social psychologist
The Secret to Being Open and Receptive
Here’s the good news, not only is their brain the hurdle, but it’s also the answer.
Our kids must have a “Yes” brain when it comes to learning how to handle new experiences and feelings. According to Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, a “Yes brain is a neurological state when you are open and receptive, willing to take risks and try again.”
Dr. Bryson states that there are 4 pillars of the “Yes” brain we need to teach our kids:
- Balance – emotional regulation
- Resilience – bounce back after a setback
- Insight – knowing yourself
- Empathy – share feelings of others
When you look at the above 4 pillars, you’re observing a well-rounded person. Someone who can keep their emotions in check, keep the perspective of others, and recover quickly from life’s circumstances. So in other words, the complete opposite of toddler-hood. 😉
We’re in the throes of the “me, me, me” stage and teaching coping skills ourselves.
If we want our kids to internalize these skills, they need to practice and cultivate these coping skills during good times and bad.
RELATED POST: 17 Positive Affirmations to Help Kids Ease Anxiety
4 Types of Coping Skills
Not all coping skills are created equal, nor do they work the same for every child. It’s good to have a variety of strategies your child can try to find out what works best for them.
Some days one strategy may work better than others. Trying different strategies is the important part.
As we say in teaching, “You need to have as many tools in your toolbelt as possible, so you can draw on them at a moment’s notice.”
The same goes for our kids. The more tools they have, the better they’ll be able to deal with any situation or feeling.
Coping skills can be divided into four main categories depending on their type and use:
- Calming Skills
- Distraction Skills
- Physical Skills
- Processing Skills
Calming skills are those skills which help our kids reduce their heart rate and take control of their breathing.
Maybe a friend made them angry, or they got overwhelmed by schoolwork, or they have to present a project in front of their peers.
Whatever their situation, calming skills can diffuse any negative feeling or experience.
Here are 5 calming skills your kids can try right now, right where they are:
- Deep breathing with bubbles or a feather.
- Take a mindful walk and listen for new sounds.
- Remember the words to your favorite song.
- Visualize your favorite place.
- Play with therapy dough.
Distraction skills are just as they’re named: a distraction from the current reality. Sometimes our kids just need a different activity to get them outside of themselves and their “No” brain.
I love to say that toddler-hood is all about “the art of distraction.” It works. Every. Single. Time.
Here are 5 distraction skills your kids can add to their toolbag:
- Play your favorite board/card game.
- Create silly stories.
- Get your crafty on.
- Do something nice for someone else.
- Read your favorite book.
We all know that physical activity improves health. Using physical activity to develop coping skills and change the brain is no different.
When our kids get their hearts pumping and beads of sweat on their noses, they’re increasing the part of their brain that learns.
Movement may be one of the best mood boosters physically and mentally for all of us.
Have your kids try one of these physical activities the next time they’re dealing with stress:
- Squeeze a favorite squishy or stress ball.
- Make an obstacle course.
- Have an impromptu dance party.
- Ride a scooter or bike.
- Get outside and MOVE.
Of all four types of coping skills, processing skills are sometimes the hardest for our kids to grasp. However, they tend to be the skills that have the longest lasting effects on the brain.
Processing skills create new pathways in the brain which help our kids cope.
This executive functioning of the brain will allow our kids to evaluate their experiences, review what was done, and choose a different path when needed.
Have your kids try these 5 strategies to increase their personal insight:
- Write what’s bothering you on colorful sticky notes, and throw them away.
- Color or doodle.
- Repeat positive affirmations to yourself.
- Write in a journal.
- Talk to someone you trust.
According to Dr. Bryson, the best balance for our kids is in a place of F.A.C.E.S. (Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent (Resilient), Energized, Stable). Using coping skills allows for our kids to have the left (logical) side and right (emotional) side of their brains working together in a cohesive manner.
RELATED POST: Use Mindfulness as a Way to Reduce Stress
3 Simple Steps to Manage Difficult Thoughts and Feelings
Walking our kids through the process of dealing with emotions and stress will eventually lead them to pull out their toolbag on their own when needed.
There are 3 simple steps we can use to help our kids practice their coping skills:
- Have them identify their feelings.
- Choose from their list of coping strategies to deal with that feeling.
- Practice using that skill repeatedly, if necessary.
Sometimes a few tries may be needed or even a change of strategy, but the key for us to instill in our kids is the fact that they will get better with practice. Practicing with our kids will bring about a connection between us that will also enhance their ability to be resilient.
Before You Go: The Important Piece I Need to Emphasize
When you work with your kids on developing their coping skills, they’ll feel more in control of their feelings and their “fight or flight response.”
But with that said, there’s one foundational piece that’s just as important as everything else.
That piece is YOU.
You matter to your kids. You hold the key to stability for your kids. And your connection with your kids is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
They need us and we need them. It’s a vital relationship for everyone’s well-being. Let’s not take it lightly, and rather work on cultivating it. We can’t do it alone…