As a parent, we want the very best for our kids. We want them to be happy, loved, and fulfilled. That’s a reasonable desire. We often think of childhood as that easy, carefree time in our life, but children aren’t exempt from their own unique challenges. One of the best things we can do for our kids, is teaching them how to cope with their emotions during stressful situations. The ability to cope is not an inherent skill, so it’s our job to guide and prepare them for the frustrations of life.
Having feelings is hard. It’s especially difficult for our little ones. Without words or tools to express how they’re feeling, emotions can get really big, really fast. Fortunately, kids are sponges for information, and teaching your child how to cope with their emotions early on can save them from a lot of trouble down the road.
1 in 6 children in the US have been diagnosed with a mental or behavioral disorder. This may be a surprising statistic, but children are extremely vulnerable to the world around them. If they aren’t taught how to cope with their emotions using positive mechanisms, they will find their own, likely unhealthy and maladaptive ways to handle difficult situations. When we teach our children positive coping strategies, they will learn how to manage stress, setbacks, and disappointments. and become more resilient.
Every disappointment our kids face is a learning opportunity to show them that they are strong and they can handle it. Every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. There are also different scenarios where one coping technique might not work as well as another. It’s important to have a variety of tools for them to utilize when big emotions start to arise. Even though they’re children, they still enjoy freedom and options. Giving your child choices in distressing situations, helps them feel like they have some power and autonomy. Below are a few basic skills you can teach your child for when they’re having a hard time. It’s best to teach them when they’re calm and willing to listen.
Destructive, maladaptive, or avoidant behavior are all nonverbal ways our children tell us they’re feeling heavy emotions. Kids aren’t born with the words to describe how they feel, so they act it out, and it often isn’t pretty. Cultivating an emotional vocabulary should be one of the first steps in teaching your child how to cope. You can start by saying things like, “you must be so frustrated”, or “I can tell you’re feeling sad”. This helps them feel seen and understood, and eventually learn how to label their emotions on their own.
Physical coping skills are a great option for anger, but of course they can be used for any emotion. When a child is experiencing some form of stress or anger, it often leads to hitting, kicking, biting and other destructive behaviors. Instead, give them ways they can blow off steam without hurting themselves or someone else. There are some examples below, or you could use any physical activity that they enjoy doing.
Sometimes, exercise and activities that raise our heart rates isn’t the answer. Occasionally it causes overstimulation and escalates tension. Instead, you can try using techniques that help them calm down and self-soothe.
Kids have wildly large imaginations. You can use this to your advantage. Nurturing creativity will not only help them deal with a myriad of emotions, but it’s also crucial for their social and cognitive development. Creativity also fosters growth and gives children experience trying our new ideas and ways to problem solve.
Connection is critical for healthy childhood development. It provides them with a sense of security and belonging. Attention seeking behavior might even be an indicator that they’re looking for connection. Provide them with different ways to cultivate connection that will help regulate their nervous system.
A parent’s job is the toughest job of all. Not only do you have to help and teach your child to manage their emotions, but you must look out for your own as well. Whether you or your child is struggling to cope with big and heavy emotions, it’s important to reach out for help.
Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.