Coping strategies are the tools we use to manage tough emotions and cope with stress. While it is often an expected behavior to know how to handle emotions, it is not a skill we are born with. This is why coping strategies need to be taught and practiced on a regular basis.
Strong coping strategies can make a big difference in helping kid and teens be successful in and outside of school. For example, one student might need to practice deep breathing to feel calm before a big test. Another learner might want to listen to music to help them de-stress during a busy week with lots of homework. These strategies are actually life skills that we all need, which is why it is so important to help kids and teens develop them at an early age.
BENEFITS OF COPING STRATEGIES
Teaching coping strategies is important! These are one of the most foundational social emotional skills that all kids and teens need to learn. Here are just a few of the benefits that teaching coping strategies can bring:
- Teaches emotional management.
- Encourages a positive way to express emotions.
- Empowers kids and teens to make better choices.
- Improves self-regulation and self-control.
- Creates feelings of happiness and calm.
- Serves as a tool to manage stress.
- Improves confidence and independence.
- Helps learners work through risks and challenges.
- Improves behaviors and choices overall.
PRACTICING COPING STRATEGIES
It’s critical to spend time practicing coping strategies together with kids and teens. This is an important step because it normalizes healthy coping strategies. It also provides kids and teens with adequate practice with coping skills. Simply put, kids and teens need to practice coping strategies when they are calm so that they can effectively use the skills when they are overwhelmed.
Here are some of the most simple and important strategies you can practice with your learners:
Practice mindful breathing. By actually thinking about our breathing as we inhale and exhale, we can help control our bodies and our minds. In essence, deep breathing is a form of mindfulness. This is one of the best coping skills to teach because it is something kids can take with them wherever they go. Practice with fun and memorable breathing exercises such as “cookie breathing.” In this breathing exercise, have students imagine that there is a tray of freshly baked cookies in front of them. Slowly breathe in to smell the cookies. Then, breathe out! Other fun mindful breathing exercises include “dragon breath,” and “cool off the pizza.” There are as many as you can think up!
Exercise and incorporate movement. Getting the body moving is a great way to combat stress and tough emotions. In fact, some kids and teens need movement as opposed to other coping strategies that involve sitting still. Try taking a 5 minute brain break by doing jumping jacks, running in place, stretching, or even practicing yoga. This can even become a simple daily warm-up routine in the morning to start the day.
Read together. The practice of reading and listening to reading can be extremely calming. Choose a class read aloud that your students will enjoy and let them sit in a comfortable position, whether that is at their seats or on a rug. Rather than focusing on the literary devices or theme of the story (something you might do in language arts time), just spend the time reading and talking. Let it be a calming and enjoyable time together. Of course, this is a technique that you can practice again and again throughout the entire year.
Listen to music. Music is soothing, whether it is classical, jazz, or anything else instrumental. While students are working independently, play music to set a calm and positive tone. Another strategy is to listen to nature sounds. Once you have tried a few, you can give the responsibility over to the students for them to choose what to listen to for that day.
Mindful coloring. Grab some coloring books from the dollar store or use these free printable mindful coloring pages to start. Set the mood with calming music and let kids color quietly by themselves. The biggest key to mindful coloring is learning how to just color and not focus on thoughts that may pop into the mind. Encourage students to not judge while they are coloring. If they feel like they’ve made a “mistake,” just breathe and let it go. This can be a soothing activity to try out after recess or before a big test.
Use positive self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves sets the tone for our success. Teach learners to use uplifting and encouraging positive self-talk with phrases like, “I can do this,” and “I am strong.” Practice positive self-talk together, and you can even make it a daily routine to read positive self-talk statements together.
Practice gratitude. Gratitude is being thankful for what we have. Have students take a few minutes to list out 5 things they are grateful for. These can be big things, like important family members and pets. They can also be much smaller things, like the sound of birds singing or the feeling of the sun.
Write in a journal. Writing can be a healthy outlet to express emotions. Give time throughout the week for students to free write in a journal or notebook. Encourage them to write about how they’re feeling and what is on their minds. This can be something that they turn in to you or something that no one ever sees at all. You can also use writing for more mindful journal activities, such as a guided visualization or mindful focus.
Write a choices list. When challenges come up, it’s important to teach kids and teens that they have the power to tackle it themselves often. Come up with a problem and practice listing choices for it together. For example, you might say, “Imagine that you left your homework at home. What choices do you have?” List them out together to help focus on solving the problem.
Talk about favorite things. Distraction can be a powerful tool in times of stress. Teach kids and teens how to refocus on the good by talking about favorite things, like sports, a favorite pet, a family vacation, or just something they are looking forward to soon.
Create a coping strategies notebook. Help your students get acquainted with coping strategies by having them put together their own coping strategies notebooks. Start by choosing some strategies that you think will work best for them, such as deep breathing, using positive self-talk, and practicing yoga. For each coping strategy, add a page to your students’ binders explaining that skill. Practice the strategy and allow kids to reflect on it right in their notebooks. With time, kids will end up with a coping strategies notebook filled with meaningful techniques they can use during stressful times.
Start a coping strategies challenge. Make it a point to teach and practice coping strategies on a regular basis! One simple way to accomplish this is to start a 30-day Coping Strategies Challenge. For each day, take 5-10 minutes and practice a different coping strategy with your learners. For example, on day one, you might have your students listen to music. Then, on day two, you can have your learners color or draw. After practicing each strategy, have students discuss how it worked for them and when they might use it in the future.
If this is a topic you could use more support with, consider signing up to be a Pathway 2 Success member! As a Pathway 2 Success member, you will get updates on blog posts and access to exclusive free resources in the member library, like the free coping strategies challenge activity.
MORE INFORMATION & RESOURCES
Looking for more information and resources to help you get started right away? Check out some of the links below.