Coping skills are ways for children (and adults) to regulate their brains and bodies when their emotions start to take over. They can be adaptive (such as deep breathing or taking a break) or maladaptive (such as screaming, hitting, or eloping). Coping tools may be actively sought out or passively facilitated. While some children may seek out appropriate coping skills, others may need more guidance or support to access appropriate coping tools consistently.
A simple way to approach coping tools with children is to discover which tools help calm their bodies down, and which tools help wake their bodies up. While we may easily think of strategies that we use during moments of frustration or anxiety, it is equally as important to have strategies to use when we are tired or bored. Below are some examples of calming and alerting strategies to trial with your child:
- Deep Breathing: Make it fun by pretending to blow a dandelion, birthday candles, cup of hot chocolate, or fire breaths like a dragon!
- Linear Vestibular Input: Rhythmic, back-and-forth swinging, bouncing, or jumping: Use a trampoline, yoga ball, or swing to facilitate linear vestibular input, as this usually has a calming effect on our bodies.
- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Technique: What are five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste?
- Calming Space: Create a calming space with reduced visual and auditory stimulation, such as a fort, closet, or corner of the bedroom. Fill it with visuals and items that are calming for your child, such as a bean bag chair, sensory bottle, or a feelings poster. Encourage your child to access their calming space when they feel overwhelmed and are in need of a calming break.
- Size of the Problem: Ask your child: is a small, medium, or big problem? Our reaction size should always match the problem size. Small problems are problems that children can typically solve on their own, while medium problems may require an adult’s help. Big problems require help from community helpers such as a doctor, firefighter, or emergency response personnel. Your child may benefit from a visual to prompt for this – try making a “size of the problem” poster together!
- Eat crunchy or sour snacks, chew gum, or suck through a straw
- Rotary or inverted vestibular input. Use a sit ‘n spin or spinning chair or spin around in circles while standing. Facilitate going upside-down through yoga, animal walks, or laying backward off the couch. Be cautious with this if your child typically experiences motion sickness.
- Play loud and upbeat music (i.e. freeze dance) and turn up the lights!
- Wrap Therband around the legs of your child’s chair to kick or have them bounce on a ball while seated for school work
- Use alerting essential oils such as citrus or mint