Elements of a Confident Kid… Coping Skills
- to maintain a contest or combat usually on even terms or with success
- to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties
About Coping Skills:
Though all babies are born with a brain rigged for the flight or fight survival instinct, the interpretation of sensory input determining what is a real threat does not form until four or five and logical reasoning is still forming throughout childhood. Though young children may find ways to cope in stressful situations, they are more likely to exercise and develop healthy self-regulation skills with adult support. In research studies, those preschoolers who were able to show the strongest self-control when tested were those who had parents who were responsive to needs but did not over-control the child’s environment or experiences. 1 Coping requires bravery and kids need to be allowed to experience safe risk-taking. For example, a child who is prompted to find solutions to a conflict with a friend and try them out on their own is more likely to use those problem-solving skills in the future. A child whose parent “fixes” and solves difficulties for them will not learn those skills. Those children cope in one of two manners: they distance themselves from the parent (and have slightly more successful coping ability because they are asserting their independence but without support) or others will cling to the parent and become dependent on the parent to do their coping for them. These children can have difficulty with self-regulation so that when the parent is not there to save them, they may struggle.
Tian Dayton, a Clinical Psychologist and author wrote,
No situation need be inherently traumatic. It is how we experience the circumstances of our lives that determines whether or not we will find them traumatizing. The presence of caring adults who help children decode the ever unfolding situations of their worlds is a great protective buffer for the child. Needless to say, when the parent is the source of stress it’s a double whammy. Not only is the child scared but the person they would normally go to for comfort and comprehension of what’s happening is unavailable to them.
Promoting Coping Skills:
Our reaction to a child’s emotions is critical in helping them understand what they are feeling and how they can cope. Here are some specific ways you can help yourself become a facilitator of these essential skills.
Name emotions. Practice expanding a child’s awareness of her feelings by naming them whenever they arise. Do this for joy, boredom and anger giving her experience with a range of emotions. Ask, “How does your body feel?” or “What does the feeling make you want to do?” to help expand her understanding. Including the naming of emotions in your ongoing dialogue with your child can help raise self-awareness at any age. Use the emotions list (right) to assist you.
Practice your own emotional honesty. So often when kids or other family members asked, “Are you okay?”, we say “Fine,”as a way to deflect attention to our real emotions. Pledge to yourself that you will help your children by being emotionally honest. You need not go into detail but saying, “I’m sad. Someone at work was hurt today.” can be enough to explain to a child why your face is somber. For more, check out “Emotional Honesty.”
Determine your own coping strategies. Do you have a plan when you get really angry or have high anxiety? What will you say? What will you do? Don’t count on having a moment to think since your brain will be emotionally hijacked. Make a plan in advance and share it with your family members so they know how you will cope when you are feeling out of control. For more, see “Family Emotional Safety Plan,” an article that includes a simple, one-page template to help you develop a plan.
Practice coaching. Coaches must make decisions often in the heat of the moment about whether or not to step in. Mostly they facilitate others taking action. Ask, “Can she handle this?” and “What’s my role?” If it’s a situation in which she is not in serious danger, then asking good questions can prompt her to figure the problem out on her own. “Yes, I saw he stole your pillow. What are your choices in responding? What choice might help you and also not harm him?” For more, check out “Coaching as a Tool for Raising a Confident Kid.”
Practice ways to express emotion. Do you have a particularly verbal child? Then she will need to express herself verbally. Find ways she can do this without harming others. For example, one girl growls and her family knows she will do this to get her anger out. It does not harm anyone and she needs that outlet. If you have a physical child, what can he do to express his emotion? Run? Squeeze a ball? Tense his muscles? Punch a couch pillow? Help your child find what feels right and then offer practice. Make it a game. That practice will pay off so that he can use his chosen mode of expression in times of great stress.
Practice calming down. Deep breathing is probably the best way to restore calm to your brain. You can teach your child to breathe through blowing bubbles or hot chocolate breathing.
Remind him of his practice. In the heat of the moment, sometimes you can redirect a young child’s attention. But often when there is great upset, you need to deal with the problem at hand. First do what you can to remove your child from the situation to a private area if possible. Then, remind him of your practice. How can he appropriately express himself? How can he calm down? Give her the power to do it for herself while you are there to keep him safe.
All individuals will need to cope with intense emotions at some point. Often these self-regulation skills will be needed at school in order to focus on learning. This could be one of the most important ways you can contribute to preparing your child for academic and life success. But it will require you to reflect on your own ability to discuss emotions and analyze how you react in the heat of the moment. With reflection, planning and practice, you can prepare your child with the coping skills to meet any challenge with bravery and emotional intelligence.
- Mischel, Walter. (2014). The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.