I’ve talked a lot about different ways to help ourselves, and our children, to learn to be more mindful. Part of this is learning healthy coping strategies. Why? By helping children identify their feelings, understand why they are feeling them, and then what to do with them is supporting their emotional intelligence and fostering a healthy growth mindset. Having worked as a teacher and therapist for children from early intervention to severe Special needs, as well as in the general education setting, I can attest to the need for all children to learn coping strategies.
When your child or student is having some big reactions to small problems it may seem like we can just brush it off and tell them it will get better. But, to them, feelings are permanent and they don’t see that anything will change so they are in a vicious cycle of anxiety and frustration. Identifying individual feelings can be difficult so one tool you can use is a ball of multi-colored rubber bands. As you both take off a few rubber bands you can label them with some common feelings they might be having. Keeping it to 3-5 different feelings is ideal and writing it on the band is a great visual for them. Start writing what feelings they would like to be having on some bands and put them on the top. Open up the discussion about how feelings are transient and this feeling or feelings they are having is not permanent.
Understanding why they are having the feelings they are is important as well. As they grow, we want children to understand what is triggering them so they can create new coping strategies to deal with the unexpected. Part of using coping strategies is being introduced to new ones and trying them out to see what fits. For example, I have a little friend who gets anxious when presented with a new or unfamiliar activity. Since my friend is so young what I might do is work on an activity with him that he loves and slowly introduce the new activity. By pairing the new activity with a favorite one I am helping take the anxiety out of learning something new to lessen the pressure.
Older children can benefit from learning the difference between a coping strategy vs. a distraction because there will be times they will want to implement one over the other. A coping strategy is going to help them harness the anxiety they are feeling and, by using strategies that work for them, they will be able to control how they handle the situation. And sometimes we need a distraction, or a break, something out of the environment or situation to be able to regroup. Things like journaling, going for a walk, taking a sensory break, running, climbing, drawing...these are all things we can do to help us refocus. These types of activities help children learn not to burn out on something, which helps tremendously as they get older. Learning when you need to take a break is an invaluable self-care skill that everyone should learn. You know your child better than anyone so you are the expert! If you know your child is good with 5-10 minutes of focused, concentrated work time where they will be sitting then allow for that and sandwich the structured time between transition times that are more physical (running, jumping, climbing, walk around the block, etc). The same goes for a child who isn’t quite as active, have them pick some activities (such as a nature walk, finding objects in nature to use for an art project, help with chores you're doing around the house) that speak to their interests. And help them to ask for a break when you see they are getting frustrated or overwhelmed.
What strategies are you using with your child or students? I’d love to hear! Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn!