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Coping Strategies for Kids: Building resilience in kids to face uncertainty and stressful times

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:

CREATIVITY-INDUCING STRATEGIES

  • Encourage the child to play a musical instrument
  • Ask them to break out the crayons, coloring books or paint box and get creative
  • For older kids, get them to maintain a Thoughts Journal, where they document how they feel at that moment
  • Let them play with Play-Doh
  • Teach them to build shapes, figures, and other imaginary things with Slime

RELAXATION STRATEGIES

  • Have your child play their favorite song, limerick, or musical CD or video
  • Train them on the use of deep breathing exercises
  • Get them to understand the importance of ‘walking away’ to avoid escalation
  • Show them how to relieve tension by relaxing their muscles, clenching and releasing their fists, or raising and lowering their eyebrows and facial muscles
  • Counting backwards, from 100 to 1, often helps children cope with anxiety

ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES

  • Teachers and caregivers at preschool in Rockville MD will often take stressed and anxious kids to the playground, park, or outdoors for some physical activities
  • Bounce a softball against the wall and play catch
  • Play hula hoop or skip a rope
  • Use a stress ball or soft toy to squeeze each time they feel tense or distracted
  • Play a game – either alone or with a friend or sibling
  • Ride their bikes or peddle cars around the yard or indoors
  • Play with the family pet, or take the dog for a walk

DISTRACTIVE STRATEGIES

  • Close your eyes and think of a happy event – waterfall, snow falling, a river
  • With younger kids, parents or caregivers can encourage them to play hide and seek or peekaboo, or building blocks. Older kids may like slightly more challenging games to help distract them and cope with a situation – like puzzles or video games
  • Look out a door or window and count “stuff” – red cars, birds, people with dogs

NETWORKING OR GROUP STRATEGIES

  • Go out with family or friends – for a walk, to the park, or the mall
  • Make a playdate with other children their age
  • Join a kid’s group and learn to swim, or play some other game together

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.

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