While we wish the best for our friends, family, and especially our children, the truth is that hardships come in every lifetime. Coping skills and coping flexibility are essential for your kid’s ability to overcome hardships from academic stress to the loss of a loved one.
Today, we’re taking a look at coping skills for kids. We’ll also look at what we can do as parents, guardians, or family members to help the children in our lives build a toolset that will work for them.
According to a research study published in the scientific journal PLOS One, the number of positive coping strategies used by students is directly associated with emotional regulation. The study focused on college students, as the transition from high school to college often results in emotional, financial, and lifestyle stressors, and hardships.
Overall, a greater number of positive coping strategies in student toolboxes resulted in less suicide ideation, higher self-esteem, and academic achievement over time. Whether your child is still extremely young or approaching the age of 18, learning and passing on types of positive coping skills can help both them and you.
Types of Coping Skills
Truth be told, there are an unlimited number of names and labels for types of coping skills for both kids and adults. From reading a book to running a marathon, almost any activity can count as some type of coping skill and work well to relieve stress for you or your child.
However, identifying coping skill categories can help us decide which activity might help us in different times of trouble. Over months and years, we can also help our kids identify which types of coping skills help them most and are reliable methods for self-regulation in adulthood.
Our two large categories of coping skills are 1) Problem-based coping and 2) Emotion-based coping.
Problem-based coping consists of activities or thinking exercises that directly serve to fix a problem or stressor. This could include talking to someone about an earlier argument or writing a plan on how to approach that later conversation.
Here at Mighty + Bright, we created a specific book & calendar kits to help kids cope with change and transitions. The kit consists of a full-color 32-page softcover book, Nothing Stays the Same, but That’s Okay (also available on Amazon), that helps your child understand what change may consist of. An accompanying dry erase calendar and reusable stickers can be used to visually show and plan what any change in your child’s life may look like.
Switching schools, moving to a new state, greeting a new sibling into the world, and more can all be explored and written out with this kit, serving as a problem-based coping exercise.
While the verb “to cope,” can often be associated with negative change, it’s important to remember that employing healthy coping skills is not shameful. Our kit is a great way to introduce your child to healthy problem-based coping through planning and understanding.
Emotion or Redirected Energy-Based Coping
Emotion-based coping activities include redirected energy and distraction methods. Instead of tackling the stressor or problem head-on, emotion-based activities serve to help calm us down and renew our energy. They can also help us recenter and approach problems at a later time with a more logical approach.
Emotion-based coping activities can include exercising, creating art, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.
Negative Coping Responses
While there are many ways to cope with change and stress healthily, there are also negative coping skills that can hurt us in the long run. According to British Columbia’s HealthLink, negative coping responses can include negative self-talk, aggression, smoking or chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, and recreational drug use.
Substance abuse is a red flag for negative coping responses. But smaller occurrences such as fingernail biting and avoiding friends and family can also snowball into lasting problems. Speaking with your kid about what they want to do when stressed or what their friends do when stressed is a great way to gauge which negative coping skills they may be at risk for.
Learning Positive Coping Skills
Now that we’ve taken a look at the big umbrella types of coping skills, we’re going to learn how to instill positive coping skills in our kids and ourselves. Here are some of the most effective and even enjoyable positive coping skills.
Understanding Problems as a Coping Skill
Under the problem-based coping category, understanding the big stressor or problem in your life is a great way to calm a racing heart and recenter a panicking brain. One great way to start understanding a situation or feeling is to create a list of your own values.
What actions make you happy? What actions make you angry? What do you wish others would do, or what do you wish would happen but doesn’t? Often, conflict and problems in our lives are a result of our values or needs being disrespected or unmet.
Value-based recovery is also an important pillar in mental health treatment journeys. Having a clear idea of what we stand for can help us understand why changes are difficult.
If your child values efficiency and cleanliness, they may get upset when a new baby brother or sister starts creating messes around the house. If they value socializing with other kids or playtime, they may become sad or angry when a global pandemic results in secluded childcare or at-home care.
Sitting with your child and exploring what they want vs. what they are getting is a great way to reduce the problem to cause and effect instead of only emotions. Sympathize and validate their feelings before exploring why the change or situation is needed.
Solving Problems as a Coping Skill
Solving a problem or completing a time full of change in our lives is also a coping skill that can help us return to a new “normal.” For example, moving from one house to another is a stressful change for anyone.
Physically moving belongings from one house to another is an example of coping with the change by directly addressing it.
Clarifying misunderstandings in the middle of a conversation is another way to directly cope with a stressful situation through deescalation.
However, solving problems as a coping skill can also follow after coping by understanding the problem. Instantly moving to a new house would be ideal. But many of us have to first handle credit checks, down payments, and packing before we can move permanently.
Planning for the move mentally is an example of understanding the problem as a coping skill before actions to solve the problem can take effect.
Movement-Based Coping Skills for Kids
Problem-based coping skills can help calm your mind. They can also help address the problem at hand. But we rarely have the mental fortitude to handle stressful situations immediately after running into a roadblock.
This is where emotion or redirected energy-based coping skills come into play. Movement-based coping skills involve redirecting your negative thoughts or energy into physical play, walks around the neighborhood, or silly dances in the living room.
Regular aerobic exercise can decrease overall tension, stabilize mood and improve sleep and self-esteem. But even five minutes of aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety at the moment. The next time you notice your kid becoming stressed, ask them to join you in walking the family dog.
Creative Coping Skills for Kids
Many of us enjoy creating art that can give others happiness and build our breathtaking portfolio legacy. But even kids who are not naturally drawn to visual art, music, or writing can benefit from creative activities as a positive coping skill.
If you personally have a love for art, introduce your kid to your favorite artistic activity as a way to take a break from a hard day and create something new in the world. Even if you are not a fan of art typically, the physical touch of pen or marker to paper can help ground your emotions.
There is also extensive research to support the benefits of writing and journaling for you and your kid’s mental health. Expressing emotions through pen and paper can be extremely helpful for solving problems. But even writing silly stories about ants or grandiose fantasy adventures can help engage a worried brain in a relaxing way.
Relaxing Coping Skills for Kids
Sometimes, we all need nap time. Simply relaxing or vegging out is a tried and true positive coping skill when done purposefully and in moderation. Of course, spending weeks on end laying in bed may be a sign of steeper problems.
But if your kid is handling a lot of stressful situations and life changes, dedicating daily quiet times or weekly simple TV times can be a much-needed reprieve.
One of the most prevalent arguments for true rest resides in the 40-hour workweek. According to a 2014 study, productivity and creativity at work tend to plateau after a certain point. On average, productivity per hour falls after hitting the 50-hour per week benchmark. This number will vary depending on an individual’s stamina, experience, and overall health.
In general, John Pencavel, an economist at Stanford University, recommends taking at least one full day a week to do no work at all. Why? Because a 7-day work week truly stifles productivity.
Your child may not be working 40 hours per week. But they will likely be attending school or school-related activities for this amount of time. And while many adults may be able to breeze through childhood kindergarten classes and drama, the experience is different for kids.
Learning in class, navigating friendships, and exercising new skills can overwhelm a kid. Schedule healthy relaxation time for your child. This can be a great option instead of adding activities to a busy schedule. It’s also a great way to teach healthy coping skills for when even bigger changes come.
Social Coping Skills for Kids
Speaking of making friends, social coping encompasses coping with stress, changes, or problems by taking a break with friends and family. Your kid will have varying levels of social needs, depending on their temperament and environment growing up.
Handling stress and change through social coping can come in the form of problem-based or emotional-based social support. It can also come in the form of redirected energy coping. Playing games online with friends or exploring a new restaurant with a loved one can help give a needed break from a difficult problem.
We might want to spend quality time with our kids, sometimes they need to destress and cope with change with friends instead. Give your kid the freedom to choose their own coping skills. Keep the door open for advice and support.
Teaching and Choosing Coping Skills for Kids
Having many positive coping skills will ensure that your kid always has a healthy way to overcome challenges. However, different types of coping skills will be easier and more beneficial for some kids than others.
Take the time to explore each kind of healthy coping skill with your kid, but don’t pressure them into choosing the skill of your choice when they are stressed. Instead, equipping them with knowledge and a safe space to ask questions and rest will set them up for success.
Keep in mind that your kid will also need a balance between problem-based and emotion or redirected energy-based coping skills. You may prefer to tackle problems head-on. But your child may need more time before tackling a change or difficult situation
Balance giving them the space and time to self-learn while addressing any red flags. This will help teach them self-accountability and a feeling of comfort in having control over their own life.
Here at Mighty + Bright, we believe in not letting our darkest times define us. We also help and equip our kids to do the same. Check out our kid’s guides to change and other resources in our shop, and read more about raising tenacious and kind kids on our blog today.