Today is the perfect time to start teaching children coping skills. With the recent events, and twist and turns of life happening, it is important to use these current moments to give children a repertoire of coping skills by using daily situations as teaching moments. As adults, it is our responsibility not to take away opportunities for children to learn the skills required to live a functional, successful and healthy life.
We are living in a time when activities, events and routines have been cancelled consistently. It’s more important than ever to teach children how to handle disappointment through building and developing their coping skills.
When children demonstrate behaviors such as frustration, anger, anxiety or sadness, we mostly teach children it is OK to have these emotions and that they are perfectly normal. Allowing children to experience a variety of emotions and label these emotions is an essential process in their development. If adults are always saving the day, children won’t be exposed to learning their feelings and won’t learn how to cope with the realities of life.
The first stage of teaching coping skills is to teach children to notice their feelings by having them communicate or point to an emotion emoji to express their current feeling, such as being sad, angry, nervous or disappointed.
You can also ask a question such as, “When basketball camp was cancelled, how did that make you feel?” Now that you have taught children to notice their feelings, label their emotions and have explained emotions are a normal part of life, they should welcome them.
Now it is time to teach children a committed action they can do when experiencing a feeling. This teaches that the emotion doesn’t consume or take away the present moment, and prevents the child from missing out on an experience.
Teaching children coping skills will allow them to understand what to do when something has been denied. If adults do not teach children coping skills, one will notice quickly the problem behaviors that occur when a child doesn’t have access to what they want, and when they want it.
Imagine you have just communicated with the child that sports camp was cancelled. After you tell the child about the cancellation, the child will likely demonstrate behaviors of frustration as you observe their body language. You can now express to the child you notice they are frustrated. The moment has arrived, and now you can begin to teach two coping skills.
You can communicate to a child that when you are experiencing disappointment, you can take a few deep breaths. Then you can model taking deep breaths for the child to observe, and then have the child practice taking deep breaths and provide positive feedback to encourage the behavior of taking deep breaths.
Another coping skill is to have them practice going to their “secret area” in the house to calm down. You would model going to the secret area, and they would practice going to the secret area, then you would provide positive feedback and praise to reinforce their reaction to their emotion of being frustrated.
For children to learn coping skills, they need to continue to practice while you provide feedback and praise, resulting in an increase of the probability of them using a coping skill in the future. When children have a repertoire of coping skills, they are more likely to live a functional, successful and healthy life.
Holly Metzger-Brown, M.Ed. is the youth fitness director at the York Jewish Community Center.