Raising Kids Who Can Cope With Tough Times
By Guest Writer, Janine Halloran of Coping Skills for Kids
When you think of the word childhood, what comes to mind?
Perhaps you think of carefree times, playing games and giggles, stomping in puddles, scribbling crayons, or running on a playground.
But things aren’t always sunny and perfect in childhood. There are times when challenging events happen in a child’s life. Sometimes these events are small, like a favorite toy breaking, or having an argument with a friend. But sometimes they can be much bigger events, like a loved one dying or parents getting divorced.
As parents, we want to try to protect them from these experiences, and while it’s tempting to do, that wouldn’t be helpful. The truth is that kids will feel sad. Kids will feel frustrated. Kids will feel stressed. Kids will get mad. That’s part of life. Life isn’t always going to be perfect and fun all the time – there will be storms that happen.
We can’t always control what happens but, as parents, we can help our kids learn to navigate through these tough times in their lives. We help them navigate by teaching them healthy coping skills.
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, in his book, Building Resilience in Kids and Teens, mentions the impact positive coping skills has for children and their future:
Children with a wide range of positive coping strategies will be prepared to overcome almost anything and far less likely to try many of the risk behaviors that parents fear.
Short term and long term, kids benefit from learning positive coping skills. Where do we begin?
Talk about feelings.
Start by simply talking about feelings. How do they feel when they earn an “A”? How do they feel when their sister wins at Connect 4? How do they feel when they’re about to go to a birthday party? Help them talk about and start to identify how they feel as part of everyday conversations.
Use teachable moments during the day as opportunities to have these conversations too. When you’re reading a book or watching a television show with your child, ask them how they think the characters feel.
Let them know that they can’t expect to be happy all the time. It’s completely normal to feel angry, or feel sad, or feel frustrated at times. It’s what they do with those feelings that matters.
It also helps kids to understand that they can feel more than one feeling at once. Movies like Inside Out or Home demonstrate this perfectly. There can be one event in a child’s life, and they may have a variety of emotional responses to it. For example, moving can be exciting, scary, and sad all at the same time. Feelings are complex!
Help them identify what they are feeling.
It can be hard initially for some kids to figure out exactly what they are feeling. Talk with your child about how their body reacts when they feel different ways. For example, when they feel worried, they may feel butterflies in their tummy or trembling in their legs or warmth on their neck. When they feel angry, they may feel energy rushing to their arms and legs. They may feel hot, and they may feel like their face is red.
It’s really helpful for kids to know the signs their bodies give them about what they are feeling. Once they have that knowledge, they can take the next step, channeling those feelings in healthy ways.
Brainstorm together and make a list of coping skills they already use.
Talk with your child and figure out what helps them feel better. They might be able to identify a few things that help them relax when they are having a bad day.
If they are stumped, start with what they love. Ask them to think about their interests, their hobbies, and their favorite things. If they could do anything with free time, what would they do? What do they love to do on the weekends? What are they interested in? Use this information to help them identify things they can do when they are having big feelings.
As you’re talking, make a list that you both can reference. The neat part of this list of coping skills is that it will grow and change over time as your child grows and matures. Your child may discover that they really like painting and that it helps them relax. Add it to the list! You’ll discover over time that a coping skill that was effective before doesn’t seem to be working as well, so take it off the list.
To get you started on this brainstorm, here are 20 common coping skills kids use that may be helpful for your child:
- Imagine your favorite place
- Take a walk
- Get a drink of water
- Take deep breaths
- Count to 50
- Jumping Jacks
- Play a game
- Talk with someone you trust
- Use a fidget
- Write in a journal
- Blow bubbles
- Read a funny book
- Build something
- Listen to relaxing music
- Take a break
- Take a shower/bath
- Use a calming jar
Connect feelings to coping skills
Pick one big feeling to focus on and identify some coping skills your child can use. Talk with your child about what coping skills on the list might help them calm down when they feel that way. For example, you may want to work with your child on managing their frustration in a healthy way. Talk with them to help them identify which coping skills they can use when they feel this way.
When I feel frustrated, I can….
Take a walk
Take deep breaths
Listen to relaxing music
Talk about it
Use a calming jar
The coping skills a child may choose to use will vary based on where they are and what they are feeling. For example, you can’t listen to relaxing music for a few minutes at school when you’re feeling frustrated, but that’s perfectly acceptable at home. This is an important reason why it’s good to have a variety of coping skills to choose from.
Gently remind them to use their skills.
As a parent, you are a great detective. You know instinctively which situations cause your child to have a hard time and you can pick up on your child’s feelings. You may notice them getting frustrated way before they are able to recognize it themselves. When you know that your child is going to be facing a situation that makes them frustrated, gently remind them of the coping skills they can use.
When you notice your child is starting to escalate to big feelings, that’s another time to gently remind them of things they can do. You could say something like “It looks like you’re getting frustrated, what about using your calming jar?”
Childhood is often full of giggles and play, but there will be tough times too. Help your child figure out healthy ways to cope. With your love and support, your child can learn to weather the storms of life and enjoy the fun, playful, and happy experiences of childhood.
CPCK Note: Sincere thanks to Janine Halloran for sharing her wealth of knowledge, experience, and strategies on how to help kids cope with tough times!
Janine Halloran is the Founder of Coping Skills for Kids where she provides products for parents to help their kids cope with stressful situations in healthy ways. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been working with children, adolescents, and their families for over 15 years. Janine and her family are currently exploring California. When Janine isn’t working, you can find her in her garden or doing an arts and crafts project. To learn more about Coping Skills for Kids, follow on Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook.