Today, children and teens face many different issues from a variety of influences like academic, personal, extracurricular, and social pressures, all while they are also learning to develop emotionally. Children are learning to navigate new classrooms, teachers, and different expectations of teachers, family, peers, and self. Knowing how to keep perspective and maintain balance is not something that comes easy.
Both teachers and parents can introduce coping strategies for kids in and outside the classroom. Below are seven examples.
1. Relaxation Through Breathing
Children need to learn they can control physical reactions to stressors. One way is through breathing for relaxation — specifically, deep breathing. Students may not notice that breaths become short and rapid when they feel stressed. If they can learn to recognize stressed breathing, they can learn to slow breathing to long, deep breaths. Deep breathing has been used successfully as a relaxation technique for helping students with anxiety in school.
Teachers can use deep breathing activities as a test anxiety strategy, but there are numerous activities from which to choose. As educators, we should also emphasize the importance of teaching students how to take care of themselves mentally and physically.
2. Practice Self-Care
It is easier to feel stressed when there are physical or mental needs not being met. For example, stress may feel amplified when a student is hungry, taking a test, or finishing a project. There are also stressors outside of school, for example, if a child recently lost a beloved pet, they may not know how to cope with their emotions and act out instead.
Learning how to practice self-care — that is, learning to pay attention to and meet the needs of their body and mind — should start at an early age with the help of parents and should be continued in the classroom.
3. Take a Break to Move
When students take a moment to move, it helps them refocus. Try letting students take a lap around the room, get a drink of water, or move to a standing desk. Small and large motor movement activities can help students cope throughout the day.
Other ways to incorporate movement into the classroom and at home include spinning, jumping on a mini-trampoline, swinging, yoga, and calisthenics. These are great activities to use to overcome any school-related anxiety kids may have.
4. Stimulate Through Manipulation
If you have ever watched an anxious child, you may notice fidgeting, shaking, rocking, or other behaviors even when the student is not aware of them. For these students, provide access to manipulatives in the classroom to help ease emotions. Manipulation ideas include fidget toys, like spinners.
5. Outside of School Strategies
Kids are only in the classroom for part of the day. How they cope with emotions outside of school is just as important as when they are in school. Parents can start teaching coping strategies to kids before they even reach the classroom. As they grow, so can their coping strategies.
Hobbies, playing sports, and joining clubs are examples of extracurricular activities that help cope with emotions. Even activities like Sphero mini-golf provide the right amount of fun and learning to help kids learn ways to cope.
Teachers and parents can act as role models by sharing their activities. Personally, I will even go so far as to use social media to share my adventures with students, as a means to encourage them to be adventurous and to teach them to balance work and play.
6. Feel the Music
Music can change a student's mood. If a student feels sad, a happy song can make them feel better—even if only temporarily. Listening to music is not the only way to cope with emotions, however, some kids may prefer to play an instrument, write lyrics, or dance.
Music must be age-appropriate and inspire positive emotions to work as a coping strategy. In the classroom, you can create an area where students can listen to music using headphones. At home, children can turn on music and dance around their room. You can even write songs with your kids about the emotions they felt during the day, allowing you to be a role model for communicating about feelings.
7. Engage the Brain
The brain is responsible for feelings of anxiety and stress. However, the brain seems only to be able to focus on negative emotions when those feelings abound. As parents and teachers, you can help children engage their brains in various activities that will redirect their thoughts to something more positive.
STEAM activities like brain teasers, reading, and coding robots are great ways to ease worry, anxiety, and stress.
A difficult task for teachers and parents is talking to one another about a child's need for improved coping skills. Open communication between the two can lead to more significant benefits for the student.
Teachers and parents are two of the most influential people in a student's life. Talking between the two should happen regularly. It should be open and honest while keeping the main goal in mind: the student's success.
Here are some helpful pointers:
- Being direct and supportive has always been a good strategy
- Start with identifying the areas of strength that the child does have
- Use reflections that begin with: "I value…," "I appreciate…," "I have observed…," and "I am proud of…"
- Identify the need for coping strategies with specific examples from the classroom
- Work together to brainstorm ideas to help the child "grow" in managing stress and anxiety and avoid falling behind at school
- Look at connecting school to home with similar strategies
- Include other support members, like guidance counselors, administration, other teachers, or peers, as part of the plan
Teaching Coping Skills to Students
You may not think teaching and learning coping strategies for kids can be fun, but it can. Students will retain information learned when they associate it with fun, happy memories. There are also ways to prevent students from feeling embarrassed during the process of learning. Below are a few of my favorite ways for making it fun for students.
Create challenges for students so you can examine how they respond under stress. The Sphero Hungry Hippo game is a great example. Students are in a competitive mode to create a structure that sits atop the Sphero robot to capture cups from the center of the arena. This activity early on allows me to observe my new learners and their ability to cope with anxiety and stress. As a whole group, we take breaks to breathe and reflect.
Failure Is Okay
Teach children that failure is okay. It's a learning experience that can also teach healthy coping skills. I use challenges to introduce the F.A.I.L. mode of learning. To FAIL is just our First Attempt In Learning. These activities allow us to learn to acknowledge and celebrate the ways we grow in learning, managing the stress along the way.
Be Supportive and Set an Example
Let your students know how they're doing and show them how you would deal with a situation.
If I am struggling with technology, a difficult science concept, or even a misbehaving student, I will let my students know that I need a moment to calm down, breathe, and refocus. I will verbalize my thinking process in front of students with comments such as: "I'm feeling…," "I think…," "I'm trying to decide how to deal with…," "My reservations…," "I'm concerned." Honesty works to show them that we all struggle, and we can all move on from that struggle in healthy ways.
There are numerous ways to teach coping strategies for kids. We've given a few examples, but you can get creative with finding the activities that work best for your classroom or home. There are ways to cope, whether it is for social anxiety in children or stress due to family problems. The key is to introduce children to various activities and techniques. They will hold on to the ones that work.
Kids are great observers, making you a teaching tool. How you model coping strategies may influence children to do the same. So, take time to practice self-care, challenge yourself, and have some fun.