Just like adults, kids deal with their fair share of stress and anxiety. Check out these 12 coping skills for kids that can help them manage stress now and well into adulthood.
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Stress is part of everyone’s life. As an adult, you have experienced stress at one time or another. But did you know that kids experience stress too? Kids stress about school work, family, friendships or the future. Sometimes kids get stressed with adult worries, like the health of family members and paying the bills.
Certain times of the year are more stressful than others. When we head back to school, everyone (kids included) gets more stressed and has a harder time dealing with feelings in a healthy way.
But there’s good news! Just as you can teach a child to brush their teeth or tie their shoes, dealing with stress is something that can be taught. Teaching kids coping skills to help with stressful situations now is wonderful because it’s more likely they will become an adult with good coping skills for dealing with tough situations.
Think of coping skills as a collection of strategies to help deal with stress. In my work with children and adolescents, I’ve identified four main categories of coping skills: calming skills, skills designed to distract, skills that get kids moving, and skills to help kids learn more about their stressors.
Coping Skills to Help Kids Deal With Stress
Here are 12 examples of coping skills, divided by these four categories, that you can use today to help your child deal with stress.
Calming Coping Skills
1 || Take Deep Breaths and Make it Playful
Taking deep breaths can actually have a physiological effect on the body. When you’re stressed, your body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and your breathing automatically gets more shallow. To trick your body into getting back to a more restful state, take deep breaths. To make it a little more fun for kids, you can use bubbles, a feather or a stuffed animal.
2 || Use Your Imagination
Talk with your child about their favorite place. Have them think about what they hear, see, smell and feel when they are there. When they’re having a tough time, they can take a mini vacation wherever they are just by closing their eyes and thinking of their favorite place.
3 || Take a Drink of Water
Sometimes the sensation of having a drink of water, especially a cold one, enter their body can help a child reset, take a quick break or energize them to move forward with the day. Try a water bottle or straw so the child has to suck against resistance to get a drink. This resistive sucking is a great oral sensory strategy for calming.
Distracting Coping Skills
4 || Laugh and be silly
Laughter and silliness can reduce stress. When kids are in a cranky mood, sometimes reading a funny book will make them laugh and relax a bit more. At my house, we love any book by Mo Willems. What makes your child laugh? Joke books? Silly dance parties? Funny videos?
5 || Play a board game
There are so many fun and entertaining games out there. Arrange a play time with a friend of theirs and invite them to bring their favorite board games. What a fantastic way to spend the afternoon!
6 || Do a word find puzzle
When kids focus on solving the puzzle, their brains will be less focused on the stressful situation. Does your child dislike word puzzles? Pick something else they might enjoy, like sudoku or a hidden pictures puzzle.
Physical Coping Skills
7 || Play at a playground
When you are feeling stressed, your body gets a ton of extra energy. To release it, the best thing to do is to move. Visit a playground and encourage your child to run, climb and play with other kids. Check out these fun playground games for kids!
8 || Keep your hands busy
Find an item that your child enjoys holding or playing with and keep it nearby. Some ideas of great fidget toys include:
-Cards to shuffle
9 || Go for a walk
By simply taking a walk together, you and your child can take a break. Being outside in nature can be calming and relaxing for everyone.
Processing Coping Skills
10 || Talk about what’s happening
A great way to get a snapshot of a child’s day is to ask about their “roses” – happy and positive things that happened and their “thorns” – tough or negative things that happened at school. This can give you a good understanding of what’s happening in their life day to day.
11 || Understanding Triggers for Stress
There are certain things that might make your child feel more frustrated and stressed. It could be a class presentation, small group work, or certain classes. Some situations that make your child feel stressed can’t be avoided, but your child can be better prepared to deal with those triggers. Once you know what those triggers are, you can make a menu of strategies for your child to use to manage that stress.
12 || Where do they feel things in their body?
When kids have big feelings, their body can give them clues about it. Once they are able to recognize those clues, they can start to use the appropriate coping skill to deal with that stress. For example, have them think about the last time they felt worried and ask the following questions:
How did their neck and head feel?
How about their face?
Their arms and hands?
How did it make their legs and feet feel?
Does using these skills mean stress will go away? No! But they can help your child learn to cope with day to day stress a little bit more successfully.