Coping skills are strategies used during stressful situations and moments with high emotional intensity. The newer generations of children are dealing with significant levels of stress. One of the most valuable gifts we can bestow on children is teaching them strong coping skills to carry them through the rough times. Here are eight tips for raising a resilient kid.
1. Ask them how they’re feeling
From an early age, parents can help children learn how to address their feelings. When a toddler is throwing a tantrum, one of the best supports is providing soothing words and providing words for emotions. “Oh honey, your face is so hot and pink. Let’s fan it to cool it down. You seem upset, so we’re going just to take some deep breathes so we can figure out how to help you”. As they get older, using emojis or making faces in a mirror helps children identify emotions. Teaching emotion identification helps them read others as well to gain a better understanding of social cues. As communication skills increase, children can express how they feel; they just may need an audience to help them process the big stuff. A fabulous parent trick can simply be to ask them how they are feeling and then just listen.
2. Know their emotional triggers
Parents know their child best and know what can set off a meltdown. Help children learn to identify their emotional triggers to learn how to steer clear or self soothe. Some emotions become too big to hold in and need to be released. Coping skills help children remove the steam valve. So meltdowns become less frequent or are avoided altogether. If your child seems to tantrum more when tired, leave chores, homework, and even conversations to another time. As your child identifies feelings of tired he may be better able to cope with becoming more proficient in soothing the frustration, so it simmers rather than bubbles over.
3. Discuss an advance warning
Like many adults, children are creatures of habit. They enjoy routines and like to know what’s coming next. For changes big and small, children do best when parents provide fair warnings for changes. Talk to children about whatever change is coming by using age-appropriate vocabulary, so your child understands. Highlight things that may be fun or exciting, the bright side. Make sure to provide time and space to talk about any concerns they may have. You can even leave out a notebook where all family members can ask questions. Parents can answer questions or address them at a particular family discussion. The most important thing is for parents to give as much warning as possible to help get their child ready.
4. Encourage them to try new things
Even for adults, trying new things can be scary or intimidating in the least. How do you help your chid tread a little further into a new skill? A growth mindset is a great place to start. Teach children the power of yet rather than focusing on perfection. Children who embrace mistakes are more willing to try new things. Children are more open to learning from mistakes with the fear of failure gone than simmering in disappointment. It is the emotional equivalent of getting back up, shaking off the dust, and trying again. Remind them they can always take a break and come back and give it a shot.
5. Take a seat and listen to them.
Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing. While parents are often the problem solvers in children’s lives, parents also need to know when to stand back and take a moment just to listen and support the child’s own problem-solving. While some children may be more open to talking, others may need some help. Art is a great way to help children let down their walls and talk. A parent can sit and color with the child and ask a few topical questions. As children color, they may be more open to talking.
6. Teach them positive self-talk
Parents become one of the first voices behind a child’s self-talk. Even if they fail, children complimented for trying are more likely to go out and try again. Help children create self-affirming self-talk with a growth mindset. Use printables for kids to create artwork with affirmations and heartfelt intentions—model positive self-talk with yourself with a daily morning affirmation for the whole family.
7. Practice the “breathing in a box” method
Help children practice mindfulness with a breathing activity. Katie Lear provides “breathing in a box” as an example for helping children learn to self regulate. Her box breathing requires drawing a box. Your child moves their finger up the side of the box with a breath count of 4. They then hold then breathe for a count of four following the next side of the box. They will then follow the next wall releasing the breath with a count of four. This breathing continues as long as they need it. Mindful breathing and repetition help create a sense of calm. They continue around the walls of the box.
8. Spend extra time with your kids
Another way to build healthy coping skills is with strong, meaningful relationships. Children who feel connected to others can experience less anxiety and stress. Having parents around more help create bonding moments and allow more natural, less rushed, interactions. Busy schedules don’t always allow us to indulge in more time with our children, but you can make the most of the time you do have. Even an extra five minutes at bedtime can mean the world to your child.
Some of the most resilient children aren’t necessarily the straight-A students or the best quarterbacks; they’re the children who continue to get back up when they fail. They’re the children who can go from red-faced angry to cool as a cucumber through breathing and other mindfulness techniques. These types of healthy coping skills help your child learn how to endure stressful situations without becoming dysregulated. They also help your children enjoy the journey rather than worry about it.