Coping Skills for Teens and Children: How Do I Help Prepare My Child to Cope With Difficult Times?
While we may not be able to predict tough times, there are certainly things we can do to prepare for them.
Childhood is a fun time filled with playing, exploration, and lots of love. However, it’s also the first time we experience pain and frustration, even in small amounts.
From the first time another kid says they don’t want to play with you, to feeling ten things at once when your parents tell you they’re separating, the world can feel full of pain.
But people are full of solutions. Here’s how you can help prepare your child to cope with difficult times.
Get Comfortable Talking About Feelings
Prepare your child by asking their feelings on everyday things.
If they hit the ball at baseball practice, ask them how it felt. If you’re getting ready to go to a family event, ask how they feel about going.
Teach your child that they can talk about their feelings—good or bad—even when they can’t control the situation that gave them those feelings.
Try not to rush them to put their thoughts into words. If they look uncomfortable at a pool party and you ask if they’re having fun, they might still say, “Yes.”
Help them get their feelings out by simply offering, “What else are you feeling?”
They might be having fun around so many kids, but also feeling nervous about swimming in deep water. Help them understand that sometimes we feel multiple feelings at once because a lot of things can happen at once.
Break Down the Signs of Your Child’s Emotions
If your child is struggling to grasp the concept of an emotion, ask them about how it may be affecting them in other, more obvious ways.
You can ask, “Did you feel anything when the roller coaster went downhill? Sometimes my tummy gets all squiggly, so I know I’m nervous.”
Or, “What did it feel like when he took your marker? Did you feel anything in your face or maybe your legs?” This helps them notice the signs of their own distress: a hot face, tense muscles, trembling and flinching, etc.
Build a List of Coping Skills Together with Your Child
After your child gets better at noticing their own emotions, brainstorm a list of coping skills together that can make them feel better.
If they seem hesitant, start by suggesting things you know they love: hugging their stuffed bunny, lying in the grass and looking at the clouds, or watching their favorite movie.
Once the list starts growing, try to take a back seat by asking helpful questions:
- “If you got to plan a whole day, what would you want to do?”
- “What were you doing the last time you felt like you had a lot of fun?”
- “When do you feel most safe?”
Every now and then, check in with your child about their coping skills list. As they grow older, hobbies and interests are sure to change, so the list should, too.
Make the Connection Between Emotions and Coping Skills for Your Teens and Children
Looking at the list, ask your child, “The next time you feel frustrated, what should we try doing on this list?” This will help them get into the habit of thinking, “I feel frustrated. I should go flip through my comic book until I feel okay enough to talk about it.”
Remember that you probably know your child better than you think you do. If you notice them getting overwhelmed, gently remind them of the coping skills they identified at home.
“I can tell you’re a little frustrated. Do you want to talk about it? Or maybe we can go get your bike and you can ride out the feelings?”
If you could use more help supporting your child(ren) during difficult times, contact our office to start counseling today. Together, we can build a treatment plan around your child based on understanding and perseverance.