Coping Skills Children Need To Know - Southern Medical Association

November 23, 2021

Coping Skills Children Need To Know

We are about to embark on the season of giving. This year consider giving your children the gift of "life skills" to help them learn coping strategies to deal with the stressors of life in healthy and productive ways.

Although we hope our children will talk to us about the stress in their life and ask for our guidance, the reality is many young people attempt to manage stress on their own. In their attempts to reduce discomfort, children may turn to unhealthy coping strategies that make them feel better quickly. This may include risky behaviors like drinking or drug use, self-harm, or unhealthy relationships.

Equipping young people with a wide range of healthy coping skills reduces the need to turn to destructive behaviors and supports emotional health. Consider sharing the following strategies with your child to help them develop a stress management plan.

  1. Be Realistic
    Help your child understand stress is a normal part of life. In fact, a healthy amount of stress is what motivates us to get things done and achieve goals. However, too much stress is overwhelming and becomes counterproductive.
  2. Time Management
    Setting goals and priorities for the day is critical for stress management. Help your child identify the most important priorities (health, family, school, spirituality, close friends). Then ask them to think about the less important, but still necessary life tasks (extracurriculars, recreation, hobbies). Lastly, ask them to think about the time-wasters (video games, social media, TV, YouTube, TikTok, etc). Help them assess their daily routine and prioritize their time to the most important activities. The Jar of Life video is a good way to teach the abstract concept of time management in a concrete, visual way.
  3. Healthy Ways to Deal With Emotions
    Children naturally have fewer healthy coping strategies than adults because they have less life experience. Teaching children to use their breathing to calm themselves down is a tool all children need. One simple breathing technique is box breathing (Inhale for a count of 4; Hold for a count of 4; Exhale for a count of 4; Hold for a count of 4; Repeat the cycle). In addition to breathing, help your child think about other things they can do to cope with difficult emotions. Perhaps they like writing or expressing their feelings through music or art. Some children deal with emotions through physical activity such as taking a walk/run.
  4. Focus on Physical Health
    Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things children and teens can do to take care of themselves. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6–12 years should regularly sleep 9–12 hours and teenagers, aged 13–18 years, should sleep 8-10 hours. Exercise and eating healthy are also important strategies to promote physical health.
  5. Set Healthy Boundaries (Time/Energy/Relationships)
    Not all stressful situations can be avoided but learning healthy boundaries can help. Help your child think of situations that provoke overwhelming stress and discuss ways to avoid or minimize those situations, if possible. When we think about boundaries we usually think of boundaries with people. But they also need to learn to set boundaries on their time and energy. Help your child think through time commitments for things like classes, extracurriculars, and recreation. Can they manage the workload and maintain their emotional and physical health?

About the Author:

Carissa Anthony is the Prevention and Development Coordinator for Homewood City Schools and serves as the Coordinator of the Safe & Healthy Homewood Coalition. She has over 20 years of experience in prevention. 

Carissa grew up on a family farm in south Alabama. She  received her Bachelors from Auburn University and Masters  from Georgia State University in Professional Counseling. She began her career as a community educator with the University of Tennessee and then with the University of Florida. In 2002 she and her husband moved to Birmingham and Carissa became the Prevention Coordinator for Hoover City Schools and coordinated the Hoover Coalition, a youth drug prevention coalition. In 2004, while serving as the Coordinator of the Hoover Coalition, Carissa received an award from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, for the Coalition’s successful efforts in reducing youth substance use. In 2007 she was a special guest at a Presidential Press Conference held by President George W. Bush recognizing outstanding drug free community coalitions. Working at the local level, helping communities come together to support healthy youth development is Carissa’s life work and passion. 

Carissa lives in Hoover, Alabama with her husband and two daughters.

Posted in: Medicine & Medical SpecialtiesMental HealthPatient EducationWomen’s & Children’s Health