It’s hard for adults to cope with the day-to-day vagaries of life, with many adults feeling stressed-out, burned-out, and mentally depressed. The recent health crisis has also added a significant burden to that coping stress. But, professionals at the Rockville daycare center know, that trying to cope in today’s world isn’t just an “adult thing”. Even kids today struggle to cope with all that’s happening around them. In times when young children find it challenging to handle tough situations, it’s good to equip them with coping strategies they can use when needed.
The Need to Cope with Difficult Situations
When young children feel stressed, insecure, or threatened, their natural impulse is to either lash out, throw a tantrum, or shutout the world and withdraw into their “secure place”. Some children may deploy other coping mechanisms, like snacking or binge-watching TV or overindulging in video games. None of these are helpful reactions to dealing with stress, change, and uncertainty.
If left unaided, these natural impulses for dealing with difficult times can become the “go to” strategy for kids, that they even carry into adulthood. Consequently, these defensive reactions, to the uncontrollable changing situations around them, may even alter a child’s personality, and cause them to shun family, friends, and social networks. Unless they learn, at a very early age, to cope with challenging situations that will occur throughout their lives, young kids might not function well as productive members of society as they grow up.
Building a Kids’ Coping Toolbox
At preschool in Rockville MD, early childhood educators (ECEs) know the importance of equipping young kids with various coping strategies. When challenging situations arise, whether it’s in class or on the playground, on a field trip or at summer camp, kids learn how to respond to each situation appropriately. In fact, some of the technique’s children learn may even help them prevent a situation from expanding into one that requires extensive coping.
Each time a circumstance presents itself, adults in the room (teachers and caregivers) encourage the child to use one of the many tools in their toolbox to respond. For instance, if a child consistently displays disruptive behavior during group activities, one strategy, for the kid to cope with his/her feelings, is to have them remove themselves from the group, and engage in some alone-time activity, while mulling over the root cause of their anxiety.
Some children might feel anxious or uneasy when visiting new places for the first time. For instance, during a field trip to a ball game or a museum, a child might display hyper-stress, resulting in their inability to proceed with the trip. Teachers and chaperons accompanying the class help the child cope with the situation by talking (calmly) to the child, and having them close their eyes and take deep breaths. Over time, the child learns that, when faced with change, the first impulse – to panic – isn’t the right one. Stepping back, pausing for a bit, and re-evaluating the situation often results in an eventless resolution.
While throwing a tantrum, shutting down, or binge eating or TV watching are destructive coping strategies, they’re nonetheless mechanisms that kids naturally default to in a crisis. The good news is that, through training and a disciplined approach, teachers, parents, and caregivers can fill a child’s coping mechanisms toolbox with healthy strategies and techniques they can then use throughout their lives.
Coping Tools for All Seasons
Because every situation is unique, each child responds to stress and anxiety differently. So, there are no one-size-fits-all tools that adults can equip a child with. However, teaching children about a range of coping techniques, and helping them apply those strategies during stressful times, will equip kids with coping tools for every occasion in life.
Some of those strategies might be as simple as forming a routine – when to go to bed, when to wake up, how to plan their wardrobe or organize school and homework etc. Young children at Rockville daycare center also learn other, more complex, coping techniques, like taking time out when having an anxiety attack, or indulging in individual creative activity (painting, building Lego toys) to relieve stress or nervousness.
Here are some coping strategies, for a broad range of situations, that teachers, parents, guardians, and home caregivers should consider:
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES
NETWORKING OR GROUP STRATEGIES
The types of coping strategies to use depends on what situation the child must cope with. Some strategies help them deal with stress when they’re feeling anxious. Others might help them change a stress-inducing situation, or help them deal with it head on. Still others will help them accept a situation they can’t change, and work around it. Ultimately though, when used in unison, these strategies will help them persevere and build tolerance and resilience.
The Value of Coping Strategies
Like learning the alphabet, reading, writing or understanding math, learning coping skills is a life-long asset, and building those skills begins at a tender age. Initially, young kids might not understand what “time out” means. They may not realize why, or how, “alone time” is helpful. However, once they ingrain those strategies as part of their natural reaction to stress and challenging situations, they’ll begin to appreciate why, how, and when to use them.
Equipping young kids with appropriate coping strategies at a young age, also adds value in helping them shun the use of avoidance coping at a later age. For instance, a child attending Rockville daycare center learns the value of schedules – time for individual play, time to learn, meal times, breaks and group play. These are coping strategies they’ll use later in life, when organizing their time and daily routines is critical for academic, professional and social success.
If a child does not know how to adapt to the endless demands on their time, when its time to do their homework, or prepare for a tough test or exam, or appear for a job interview later in life, they’ll likely use avoidance as a preferred strategy: Play games instead of doing homework; go out for a night with friends instead of studying for the exam; work on trivial or unnecessary tasks instead of preparing for their interview.
Lack of knowledge of proper coping mechanisms, then, leads to additional stressful situations. For instance, because they did not complete an assignment, they’ll not master the subject matter; they’ll likely fail the test or exam, or will not get the job after failing the interview. These outcomes will further fuel a cycle of stress, anxiety, disappointment, and frustration.
There’s tremendous value in teaching kids coping strategies at a young age. Because society did not equip the child with the necessary coping tools as a youngster, they’ll lack self-confidence in adulthood, experience failure during critical phases in later life, and become increasingly socially isolated, and may even succumb to mental and physical stress and illnesses.
One of the most effective ways that coping strategies bring value to children, however, is by equipping them with positive, healthy ways to deal with adversity, stress, and anxiety. Instead of turning to unhealthy habits – like junk food or overindulgence in video gaming – they’ll learn how to change what’s holding them back, or thrive in environments they can’t change. And, they’ll do it using healthy, proven coping strategies.
MCCA has been recognized by the Maryland State Legislature for its commitment to Montgomery County issued a quality programs and special needs child care Proclamation in 2016 to MCCA for its commitment to Montgomery County child care for more than 50 years. MCCA was also selected as a 2018 nonprofit finalist for a MOXIE Award for boldness and innovation
MCCA is the oldest nonprofit licensed child care provider in Montgomery County and started its work in 1968 as a Community Action Project of the War on Poverty. Recognizing the need for quality child care programs in their neighborhoods, a group of local activists formed an association to establish centers in Montgomery County that would serve a diverse population and establish high standards for child care. Now, more than 50 years later, MCCA’s dedicated and expertly trained staff continue their tradition of providing high quality child care and play-based education for children.
Families with school aged children who can afford their child care expenses during the school year often struggle to afford the all-day programs they need when school is out for the summer. The Richard Krampf Summer Adventures Scholarship Fund was established to help provide children a safe and stimulating place to spend their weeks when school is out. Please contact an MCCA Director for details on how to apply.