Coping strategies are the supports we use to manage tough emotions and stress in our daily lives. I like to think of them like tools in a self-regulation toolbox. From positive self-talk to mindful breathing to checking in with emotions, there are many different techniques we can teach and practice with kids to help them learn to regulate themselves.
Before getting started teaching and practicing coping strategies with a child or teen, here are a few important points to know:
Coping strategies need to be learned when we are calm. We wouldn’t teach a new reading or math lesson when a child is agitated or overwhelmed; the same is true for social-emotional skills like new coping strategies. Teach and practice new skills when a child is calm.
Different coping strategies work for different people. Coping strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all. As unique individuals, we all have different calming activities that are going to work best for us. What’s most important is to try a variety of strategies to see what resonates with each child or teen.
Lots of practice is key. If we want a child to use coping strategies to calm themselves when they are overwhelmed, the strategies need to be almost automatic. This comes from lots of practice when the child is calm.
One strategy isn’t going to work every single time a child or teen is upset. This is why having a “toolbox” of skills is so important. It’s critical to have different techniques to fall back on when something doesn’t work.
Here are 12 Coping Strategies Every Child & Teen Should Know:
1. Using Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk is the inner voice we have that motivates, inspires, and encourages us to do our best. Using positive self-talk is one of the most important coping strategies, since it’s something kids and teens can “carry” with them wherever they go.
Some examples of positive self-talk statements might include:
- I am enough.
- I get better every single day.
- Today is a fresh start.
- My challenges help me grow.
- I can do this.
There are many different ways to teach coping strategies. One of the best ways to start is to read a positive thoughts list and have students choose their top statements to write out as their own individualized list. You can have kids and teens reread this list first thing in the morning as a morning ritual, when they’re feeling stressed, or just any time of day.
You can use this free printable positive affirmations list to give it a try.
2. Unplugging from Technology
In our technology-centered world, we all need a break sometimes. Learning to unplug from technology truly is a skill at this point. Teach kids and teens about unplugging from cell phones, computers, and tablets as a proactive coping strategy to manage stress and tough feelings. Other strategies and activities for that unplug time might include:
- Taking a walk outside.
- Creating art or crafts.
- Talking with friends or family.
- Playing board games.
- Writing in a journal.
- Cleaning or organizing.
- Free play.
3. Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness is learning to be present in the moment. Being mindful is an essential coping skill all kids and teens should know because it encourages them to pause for just a moment. This builds self-regulation skills, improves focus, and supports positive emotions.
One strategy to try is “STOP.” Here’s how you can give it a try:
- Stop what you are doing. Just take a pause!
- Take three breaths. Remember to breathe in and out slowly.
- Observe around you. Take a look and notice some things you see.
- Picture a calming place. Close your eyes and imagine somewhere that relaxes your mind.
There are many different mindful techniques and activities to try with kids and teens. For more mindfulness activities and prompts, check out these Mindful Moment Cards.
Exercise is an extremely important proactive coping strategy. Research shows that exercise helps release endorphins, which contributes to happier and healthier kids. Regular exercise can also help boost confidence, improve focus, and strengthen cognitive skills.
5. Checking In With Feelings
Everyone experiences a variety of emotions each day. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how we’re feeling until we stop and check in with ourselves. The good news is that we can teach kids and teens how to check-in with their emotions in a simple 5-step process:
- P – Pause and breathe for a moment.
- A – Ask yourself how you are feeling.
- S – Say the emotion by naming it aloud or writing it down.
- T – Think about your feelings. Sit with them and let them be.
- A – Ask yourself what you need.
Grab your own free 5-step Emotions Check-In here to get started.
Many kids and teens think of reading as an academic activity. It’s also important to teach them that it is a coping strategy too. Give free choice reading time in the classroom and at home to help kids calm and clear their minds. It’s important to sometimes separate this time from academic reading expectations. Improving our reading skills is clearly important kids need time for this, but they also deserve downtime to just read and relax.
7. Practicing Deep Breathing
Mindful breathing is the practice of intentionally focusing on our breath as we breathe in and out. This is another coping strategy that kids and teens can add to their toolbox and take anywhere with them. Make breathing exercises fun and engaging to help kids remember them.
A favorite breathing technique of mine is “Apple Pie Breathing.” For this exercise, imagine there is a warm slice of apple pie in front of you. Slowly breathe in with your nose to smell the pie. Then, breathe out. You can repeat this activity with all sorts of different foods and drinks, like pizza or hot cocoa. Learn about some other breathing exercises to test out right away.
If you need more ideas, you can use these mindful breathing cards to practice mindful breathing throughout the day.
8. Coloring & Drawing
Coloring and drawing is often a favorite coping strategy for many kids and teens. Some students enjoy free-draw time, while others might benefit from coloring pages to give them a little bit of structure while they color. Use these free printable mindful coloring pages to giving coloring and drawing a try.
9. Making a Plan
Learning to make a plan is an action-oriented way to cope with stress and tough emotions. While this doesn’t work for every single challenge, in many situations, it can help kids strategize through their challenges.
Some prompts you might use to help kids and teens learn to strategize include:
- What is the problem?
- What are your options to handle the problem?
- What are the consequences for those options?
- What steps could you take to get started in the right direction?
Another way to support this skill is to give example problems and have kids work through the challenges. For example, you might say, “You get to class and realize you left your homework on the table at home. What can you do?” Come up with your own or use social problem-solving task cards with no-prep scenarios already created for you.
10. Writing in a Journal
Journal writing is a coping strategy that lets kids and teens share their thoughts in a healthy and private way. One way to teach and practice journal writing is to give free write time. This is time when students can share anything and everything on their minds. They can choose to submit to you or keep it private.
Another option for journal writing is to give specific prompts for students to respond to. Sometimes, this is a great way to start because kids might not know exactly what to write about on their own.
One of my favorites, this Mindfulness Journal is designed to give journal-writing time with a mindful and calm focus. It also integrates skills for coping strategies, positive self-talk, and confidence along the way.
11. Talking with Someone
Talking is an important coping strategy because it involves connection with others. Sometimes, kids and teens might want to talk about the problem or challenge they are dealing with. In this case, you might ask questions like: How are you feeling? What are you thinking about right now? What might help you right now?
Other times, though, distraction can be a helpful technique. These are times when we might talk about a favorite family pet, a new movie, or a sport just to calm the mind. Questions might include: What do you love to do? What is something that made you laugh recently? What makes you smile?
Grab these free conversation starters to get the discussions started.
12. Listening to Music
Listening to music is another favorite coping strategy for many. It’s important to help kids and teens find the music that best suits them. You can try listening to different genres of music and even nature sounds. Let kids color, draw, or start their work while they listen to the music.
Coping Strategies Visual Poster
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More About Coping Strategies:
- All About Coping Strategies
- 100 Coping Strategies for Managing Emotions
- Resources to Teach Coping Strategies