How to Teach Your Kids Healthy Coping Skills

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Childhood is thought of as a carefree time, but kids have just as many challenges as adults. They may even become overwhelmed by their emotions at times. As a parent, you can teach your child how to handle these situations by using healthy coping skills.

What Are Coping Skills?

Coping skills are strategies we use to manage difficult emotions. Your child probably already uses certain coping skills; they just might not be aware of it. Work with your son or daughter to identify the strategies they use right now and whether or not these strategies are healthy.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Skills

The main difference between healthy and unhealthy coping skills is that healthy coping skills improve our situation while unhealthy skills don’t improve the situation or even make it worse.

Healthy coping skills:

  • Relieve the intensity of the emotion
  • Cause NO harm to self or others
  • Improve the situation

Unhealthy coping skills:

  • Increase the intensity of the emotion
  • Cause harm to self or others
  • Don’t improve the situation

Here are some questions to ask yourself to evaluate a strategy:

  • How do I feel in five minutes after I use this strategy? How do I feel five hours or five days from now?
  • Did this resolve the situation?

Helping Your Child Identify Positive Coping Mechanisms

The first step to teaching your child coping skills is to identify some positive ones and then decide which strategies will work best for your son or daughter. This may require trying out many skills and adapting them for different situations.

Remember that positive coping skills:

  • Bring you joy
  • Benefit you on all levels
  • Are practical and adaptable
  • Are learnable
  • Should be varied and individualized

Examples of Healthy Coping Strategies

Here are some strategies your child can try. Some of these may work and others might not. Try a variety so your child can find the ones that work best for him or her.

  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Grounding
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Guided meditation/imagery
  • Watching a movie/TV show
  • Reading
  • Mindfulness
  • Trying a new hobby
  • Sleeping and eating well
  • Drawing/coloring/sketching
  • Talking to someone
  • Cooking
  • Repeating positive affirmations
  • Challenging negative thoughts
  • Engaging the five senses
  • Taking a shower/bath
  • Listening to music
  • Doing brain teasers/crossword puzzles
  • Cleaning/organizing

Building Your Coping Skills Toolbox

A helpful analogy is to think of coping skills as a toolbox filled with different strategies for various situations. In times of distress, children can visualize looking through their toolbox to find the right coping skill.

Follow this process to help your child create their own toolbox:

Identify: What are things that bring me joy and comfort?

Practice: Engage in the activity/skill to become comfortable with it.

Implement: Use the skill in times of need.

Evaluate: How successful was I in utilizing this skill? Was it easy/natural to use? Did it decrease the undesired emotion? Did I like the outcome?

Adapt: Make small or large changes to the skill; keep adding to your toolbox.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Some children and teens have trouble regulating their emotions. They may act out or engage in harmful behaviors in an effort to self-soothe. This can be made even worse by an underlying mental health condition. Here are some negative coping mechanisms to watch for in your child:

  • Verbal or physical aggression
  • Self-harm (cutting, scratching, burning, etc.)
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Excessive screen time
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Avoidance of problems/denial of emotions

If your child is using negative coping strategies and you are having trouble replacing the unhealthy behaviors with healthier ones, it may be time to try counseling. A therapist can work with your child to break the cycle of negative coping mechanisms and build a foundation of positive coping. Also consider having your child evaluated for a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression, or ADHD.

High Focus Centers treats children and teens ages 10-18. Right now, we’re offering our programs online through teletherapy. We teach dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills to help improve with emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. Call our admissions team at (800) 877-3628  to inquire about our adolescent mental health program today.