Children can exhibit a range of emotions from boredom and happiness to anger and sadness. Just like adults, children feel all types of ways given the situation they are in. Though sometimes, understanding these emotions and how to manage them is a tricky topic for children, and one frequently overlooked. At first look, these emotions are categorized as tantrums or being dramatic, with the child so often being told to cut it out or it being brushed off as something they will just get over.
However, these kids are facing emotions they don’t know what to do with. With all of these feelings bubbling up to the surface in their developing brains, their bodies are just waiting to explode into whatever reaction feels right. This can cause children to become fearful or resentful of their emotions, embarrassed by their reactions or by being condemned by parents or teachers, as well as confused and unsure as to what to do if the emotion happens again. With these moments, children need a way to cope and manage their emotions to fully understand what they are feeling before blindly reacting.
An effective way to help children with their emotions is by implementing coping skills into their lives. Coping skills are tools to help manage and respond to emotions and stressors that affect one’s ability to function or perform daily tasks. Developing coping strategies can be an effective way to balance one's emotions and regulate them throughout the day.
Everyone needs coping strategies, not just children. We are all inundated with worries, stressors, and unbalanced emotions that can be overwhelming and affect the way we function. It’s easy to just push past the feelings or ignore them completely to get whatever is pressing us done, but sometimes, these emotions turn into a downward spiral of negative feelings sabotaging our mental health and everyday life. However, having a resourceful list of coping skills can help mediate these feelings for us to move forward and feel more content and confident in moments of high stress and emotion.
Children need to have coping skills and strategies to rely on when their emotions feel too big for them to handle. These mood swings, emotional bursts, or behaviors can be tricky to understand and pinpoint, and may even be a combination of problems! Yet, all of these behaviors and emotions can benefit from implementing coping strategies to soothe them.
With a list of coping skills, children can build their toolkit of strategies to cope with their emotions and figure out what works best for them. Not only can they embrace their emotions, but can refrain from being scared and unsure of what they are feeling. Yet, building a toolbox differs for every person. Each coping skill does not benefit or work for everyone. Not all children are going to effectively cope with the same skills. They all have different problems and struggles that need different answers and strategies to cope with. Trying out different coping skills and being mindful of what works best for you is important when building your toolbox.
Even with our toolbox in hand, situations may arise where we need to adapt and alter our coping strategies to handle them. This is where coping flexibility proves to be an effective skill to adjust and revise our coping skills to fit the situation. With access to different coping skills, one can be confident and flexible in responding to stressors and overwhelming feelings. These strategies can help calm the child down in the moment, but also make them feel confident and empowered to manage their feelings in the future.
Emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping are two strategies of skills that help kids to handle stress and overwhelming feelings, as well as address the situations and circumstances that may be the cause of the emotional response. These skills are both important for kids to learn and understand to carry out throughout their lives.
Emotion-focused coping strategies revolve around the child working to manage and understand their feelings to be less stressed. These skills involve kids learning to tolerate their stress and gain the persistence to continue to address these feelings without letting them spiral. These coping skills are especially necessary for situations that cannot be changed, encouraging them to remain calm and present during difficult times.
For example, our child might have a surprise pop quiz, a situation they cannot change and are surprised by. This situation is a stress bomb in the making, especially as our child begins to question if they know the material or not and dwell on the fear of getting a bad grade. In this moment, having the coping skills at the ready will help your child feel calm and in control of the situation, making their time with the quiz more productive and beneficial.
These emotion-focused coping skills revolve around making the child feel better and provide a temporary distraction so they can return to the feeling when they feel calmer and collected.
Emotion-focused coping skills:
All and all, these coping skills prove to be effective mind breaks for children to take a moment to themselves and return to their emotions a bit clearer. A good thing to keep in mind is to have your child make a list of what coping skill works best for them to rely on when they are having a rough time.
Making a list is a way to have the coping skills that you like and work best for you ready and available for when you start to have a rough time. If you enjoy reading to calm down, keep a book ready for when a situation arises, or if you like to listen to music, have a playlist ready. This is taking the time to take care of yourself and give yourself a chance to relax for a minute before returning to your heavy emotions. After a moment of expressing yourself or getting your energy out, you can better focus on how you are feeling or what caused these overwhelming emotions. If anything, these skills are your little superpowers to take those stressful situations and make them nothing more than topics to address.
Problem-Focused coping strategies are related to situations that can be changed. You might have your parent ask you if these emotions could be helped by changing the situation or changing how you feel about it. Sometimes, you are put in environments and situations that repeatedly prove to be stressful or emotional for you. Such as school, you might get nervous in class because you are behind in the lesson or there is a bully you are scared of. These situations can be adjusted by asking for help or addressing a person of authority in the school. Although emotion-focused skills could help with these feelings, the continuous cycle of feeling this way in a certain environment is a thing that needs to be addressed to ensure that you can stop feeling this way. With these coping skills, you can see how there are options to reduce the source of stress and hopefully make you feel better about it all.
Problem-focused coping skills:
Coping strategies are an important asset for everyone to have, especially when we are constantly faced with stressful situations and uncomfortable feelings. By trying out different methods and skills, you can effectively build your coping toolbox to easily access when the time comes. Keep in mind, that not every child is the same. Each coping skill works differently for each child and some coping skills might not last forever. Yet, this just reassures the importance of mindfully building your coping toolbox throughout every part of your life.
Emotions can be hard for children to understand and manage, and it’s especially difficult for both the child and adult to figure out exactly what’s going on. Coping skills, especially for children, can create positive skills throughout their lives. They can effectively and confidently navigate challenges and obstacles throughout each stage of development. In the end, kids should have fun figuring out the right coping skills for them to help make their emotions and feelings more digestible. However, if situations get worse, the coping skills don't feel effective, or you or your child need some guidance, reaching out to a therapist or health professional might be beneficial if you feel that this is right for you.
For more information on coping strategies and different types of coping types, check the links below!
Sources and Links:
The OT Toolbox - Sensory Coping Strategies for Kids
Good Therapy - Coping Mechanisms
National Library of Medicine - Coping Mechanisms
Positive Psychology - Healthy Coping
Here are some worksheets focusing on coping skills and strategies from Therapist Aid.