Healthy Coping Strategies for Kids

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has increased everyone’s stress levels, including kids and teens. Now, more than ever, we need to practice healthy strategies for managing feelings and coping with stress.

Coping is not something we are born knowing how to do; it’s something we learn how to do with practice. It’s never too early or too late to start developing healthy coping skills, and teaching your kids healthy coping strategies will help them become more resilient (better able to handle life’s ups and downs).

What are coping skills, and when should they be used?

Just like we need to help kids learn to identify and express feelings, we need to teach them how to manage (or cope) with them. Coping skills are strategies we use to manage feelings and handle stress.

Coping strategies can be used at any time, and using them regularly can help prevent some stress from happening in the first place.

Have you ever noticed that you get stressed more easily when you’re tired or hungry (aka hangry)? Practicing healthy habits, such as getting enough quality sleep, eating a nutritionally balanced diet and being physically active can help lower stress levels. The same can be said for following simple routines, such as waking up or going to bed at the same time each day. Routines let us know what to expect, which in turn helps us feel more safe and secure. The security of routines can be especially important during times of stress, such as COVID-19.

How do you teach coping skills?

There are a variety of ways to successfully teach healthy coping skills:

  • Practice healthy coping skills yourself. Good or bad, kids watch and learn how to cope from the adults around them. If they see you coping in healthy ways, they’re more likely to do the same.
  • Teach new coping strategies when everyone is calm. It’s difficult to learn something new when you’re upset or stressed out, so avoid introducing a new coping skill in the middle of a meltdown or a stressful situation.
  • Try lots of different coping skills. Every coping strategy isn’t going to work for every person, and what works today might not work tomorrow. That’s why it’s important that you and your kids practice many different strategies to find what works best at any given time.
  • Build coping skills into your daily routine. If practicing coping skills becomes a habit, or part of your kids’ everyday lives, they’re more likely to use them without even realizing it.
  • Make practicing coping skills fun. Many of the coping skills we’re suggesting are things kids already enjoy doing, so make the most of them!

Examples of healthy coping skills

Learning how to manage stress and deal with life’s ups and downs is a process that continues throughout our entire lives. During the current pandemic, it is especially important to maintain basic routines, such as staying socially connected to others, practicing healthy habits, and limiting exposure to news and media.

Below are some additional ways to help you and your kids cope.

Active coping strategies:

  • Go for a walk, run or hike.
  • Do some yoga or stretching.
  • Do jumping jacks.
  • Run in place.
  • Put on some music and dance.
  • Bounce or kick a ball.
  • Jump rope or hula hoop.
  • Squeeze a stress ball.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Play a family game of tag or basketball.

Relaxing coping strategies:

  • Listen to calming music.
  • Take some deep breaths (deep breathing).
  • Think of a calm, happy place (guided imagery).
  • Tense and relax your muscles (progressive muscle relaxation).
  • Take a quiet break or rest.
  • Have a drink of cold water.
  • Close your eyes, and count to 10 or backward from 100.
  • Read a book or magazine.
  • Take a bath or shower.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Hug a stuffed animal.
  • Spend time outside. Sit and look at the clouds, or close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you.

Creative coping strategies:

  • Color, draw or paint.
  • Write a poem.
  • Make up a song.
  • Play an instrument.
  • Write about your thoughts or feelings (journal).
  • Play with Play-Doh.
  • Build with Legos or blocks.
  • Play with different textures, such as dry rice or shaving cream.
  • Make up a new game.

Social coping strategies:

  • Play a game with the family.
  • Call a friend.
  • Cuddle or play with your pet.
  • Read a book together.
  • Facetime with relatives.
  • Share your feelings with someone you trust.

Coping strategies that shift your mindset:

  • Think of something positive.
  • Focus on 1 thing you are grateful for.
  • Close your eyes, and think about something you are looking forward to.
  • Look at pictures, or think about a happy memory.
  • Focus your energy on the present moment (grounding).
  • Think about something that makes you laugh.
  • Create a time capsule with your favorite artwork, homework, report cards and pictures from the past year.
  • Practice reframes. Instead of “I am stuck at home,” try thinking, “I’m lucky that I am healthy and safe at home.”
  • Focus on what you can control. Create a list of ways to stay healthy (washing hands, eating healthy, getting exercise, etc.). Sometimes just having a plan can help us feel calmer and more in control.

Coping skills are for life

Learning to manage our emotions begins when we are young and continues throughout our lives. By teaching your kids healthy coping strategies early on, and practicing them regularly, you are building their resilience and setting them up for success.

If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional wellness, ask for help. Many mental health professionals are currently providing services online or over the phone, and new resources are becoming readily available: The Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line provides free and confidential assistance, 24/7, to callers needing emotional support or resource information as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emotional Support Line is staffed by volunteers, including mental health professionals and others trained in crisis counseling. Call 866-399-8938.

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) at 1-800-715-4225. You can also chat or text for support by downloading the MyGCAL app in the app store or on Google Play. For those outside of Georgia, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Any thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously.