Teaching Coping Skills to Children
As we all know, growing up comes with a multitude of new experiences and feelings that we may well lack the skills to cope with. This is particularly true of children in the early phases of development. If you are a parent, or a teacher advising parents, you'll want to do everything you can to help your child deal with the powerful emotions they can expect to come up against throughout their formative years.
Mindfulness may have become something of a buzzword in recent years but harnessing the power of deliberate mental control can be incredibly beneficial for children growing up. Learning to sit with intense feelings without letting them overwhelm you is a life skill like no other; teaching it to your child while they are still young will stand them in great stead for the future. So, what are the best ways of doing this?
Open up the channels of communicationTalking out a problem is an essential part of lessening its emotional impact. Learning to cope does not mean bottling up feelings; a person who knows how to productively open up to those around them will be in an infinitely better position to deal with emotional hardship than those who do not.
So, rule no. 1 for raising emotionally resourceful kids is to create an environment conducive to sharing. Even if your days are busy, establish points in your daily routine, such as meal times and car journeys, in which you actively encourage your child to talk to you about what's on their mind. Articulating feelings is an art that requires practice so providing the right opportunities for your child to develop this skill is something they will thank you for throughout their life.
Recognise the validity of your child's feelingsAs anyone with a basic understanding of psychotherapy will know, when we experience hardship, it is unfortunately not possible to skip the emotionally turbulent stage and move straight into healing. Coming to terms with how we are feeling, however difficult that may be, is a vital part of being able to cope with our struggles. Teaching your child to sit with their problems productively so they can move on in a healthy and structured way isn't easy, but with patience and compassion, it can be done. Avoid phrases like "stop crying" and "you're fine". Denying their feelings and experiences is unconducive to building a child's emotional awareness and will make it harder for them to console themselves later in life.
Help your child develop an awareness of mind-body connectionsWhen we panic, the first thing we tend to notice is a change in our bodily sensations. This is perfectly normal but can be very distressing, particularly for children who may not understand what is going on. Teaching them about how the mind can affect the body and vice-versa will help ensure these moments of panic aren't too scary for your child and enable them to develop techniques to self-soothe.
Teach your child mindful breathingAn understanding of the power of breathing and how to harness it is a hugely important aspect of bodily awareness. As anyone who is prone to anxiety attacks will know, breath is a unique weapon against panic and teaching your child how to access it while they're still young is a gift like no other. There are plenty of ways of making breathing exercises child-friendly. For instance, by incorporating toys (having them lay a soft toy on their stomach and watch its movements as they breathe) or counting games. Try out some techniques and see what works for you and your child.
Encourage an awareness of your child's surroundingsAs a part 2 to bodily awareness, a child's ability to take themselves out of their physicality and quietly observe what is around them is an immensely useful distraction technique and an excellent antidote to anxiety.
Sometimes, when emotions become overwhelming, all it takes is looking around and taking yourself out of your body a little to calm down and feel better. Plus, raising a child to be curious and interested in their environment can help avoid excessive solipsism and unhealthy inward looking tendencies as they get older.
They're never too young to meditate!While holding the attention of an excitable child long enough for them to arrive at deep levels of focus might seem like a daunting task, there are ways around this, particularly during the time they're starting to wind down for bed. Seek out meditations specifically for children, ones that harness the power of a young imagination in order to transport and calm them.
Meditation might take a little practice to master but it's well worth persevering; knowing that they have the freedom to retreat into a quiet mental sanctuary is exceedingly helpful for children who are prone to becoming overwhelmed or anxious.
Practice gratitude early onDipping into supplies of gratitude is an excellent coping tool throughout life and its benefits start right from childhood. Get into the habit of encouraging your child to reflect on the things they are grateful for.
While this does not invalidate your child's feelings, it shows them a way to shift their focus away from what is troubling them and onto better, brighter things. Make it something you do together; start each day by each listing three things you are grateful for - it's sure to set you both up for success and calm.
To sum upTeaching your child coping skills might require careful strategizing and creative parenting but in years to come, when they become confident, emotionally healthy adults unafraid of their feelings, you'll be so grateful you put in that extra effort during their early years. Who knows, you might even pick up a coping skill or two yourself along the way.
Ella Burgess is a senior content writer at Tutor House, UK tutoring company specialising in 1:1 online tuition. She writes about a range of topics from alternative education to study techniques.