Learning and practicing coping skills can help children manage their fear
The world feels like a really scary place right now and as much as we try to protect our children, they are also sensing the chaos and fear. It is important to give our children tools and resources to manage their fear.
This article will give you some specific coping skills that you can teach and practice with your children. I am also including a fun craft printable activity at the end that will create a visual reminder for your children to use and practice the coping skills you teach them.
Being afraid is a normal response to scary times
It is important to understand that fear is a very normal response to these times. Fear is also a normal response to many everyday situations such as learning to sleep alone in the dark, confronting a large dog that is barking or worrying about bad guys getting into the house.
Many children struggle with these common childhood fears. As a parent, you can choose to shame or trick them out of their fears – which does occasionally work. Or, you can teach them how to respond to fear so that they learn to move through their fears.
Really, fear in and of itself isn’t a problem. It is our response to fear. Children (and adults alike) can often get stuck when they feel afraid. For example, a child struggling with nighttime fear may have a hard time sleeping and get stuck in a pattern of dreading and fighting bedtime.
Falling into these fear patterns can have a downward spiral effect where every time something triggers the fear it begins to feel bigger and scarier.
The good news about this unique time in history is that we have the chance to really teach our kids how to handle fear which can translate to any other fears they may end up having throughout their lives.
Coping Skills Help Alleviate Fears
The term “coping skills” is a therapeutic term for activities that a person does to help them manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to specific situations or thought patterns.
Coping skills can be one of the best ways to manage fear. Learning some of these skills can help stop the spiraling thoughts that can stem from fear. Using coping skills can also help children manage scary situations and push through them to do whatever they are needing to do.
For example, deep breathing is a coping skill that works really well to help children manage bedtime fears. When children practice deep breathing at bedtime, it can help them focus on their breath rather than their scary thoughts which can result in them being able to fall asleep on their own.
Coping Skills Activities that can help you feel braver and less afraid
There are many different types of coping skills. Choosing which skill(s) to teach your children can really depend on their personality and on the situation that you are trying to manage.
As an example, my oldest son is a very active kid. He does best with learning and using skills that allow him to burn off excess energy and funnel his attention towards physical expressions to work through emotions.
On the other hand, my youngest son does really well with creative and artistic coping skills that allow him to use his imagination and come up with creative solutions to his problems.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep Breathing can be an easy and very effective skill to manage fear. Taking a deep breath helps to calm down the body and focus the mind. Because deep breathing is an easy skill to teach, I often recommend this as a great introduction to coping skills for kids.
You can check out this article here for some different deep breathing techniques for kids. There are instructions and tips for teaching and practicing deep breathing.
Physical exercises are another great coping skill. Two popular categories of exercises include ones to burn off excess energy and ones to help the blood flow return to the brain.
Exercises for burning off excess energy work really well for kids who struggle with behavior around feeling frustrated and angry. They can help children funnel some of their frustration into a positive outlet rather than into acting out with negative behaviors. Examples of these types of exercise would include: jumping on a trampoline, doing jumping jacks, having a dance party, running in place, or doing push-ups.
The other important category of physical exercise focuses more on restoring blood flow to the brain. These are important because when big emotions start to take over, the blood actually rushes out of our brains and makes it harder to make logical and reasonable choices. Helping the body calm down and returning the blood flow to the brain helps bring back rational thought.
Examples of blood flow exercises include the downward dog yoga pose, laying upside down off a couch, or doing a full-body muscle relaxation/body scan.
Distraction can be another really helpful coping skill. You hear a lot about this these days when people talk about staying off of social media or turning off the news.
For kids, I find that scavenger hunts and laughter tends to work the best. A great scavenger hunt to use for distraction is the ABC scavenger hunt. (Find something that starts with A, find something that starts with B, etc.)
Laughter and playfulness are another great distraction technique that can really disrupt negative thought patterns or behaviors. I wrote this article about using playfulness to stop a temper tantrum and it is a great resource for finding ideas to bring playfulness and laughter in as a coping skill.
Using the 5 Senses
Using our 5 senses can be very grounding and really help kids step out of their scary thoughts. My favorite coping skill that utilizes the 5 senses is a 5 senses scavenger hunt. You can download this free mini coping skills card deck that has instructions or check out the full printable coping skills card deck here.
Another great exercise that brings in the 5 senses is to imagine a favorite place and then think about what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you can feel, what it smells like, and what tastes you may experience there.
Helping Kids Use Coping Skills
Once your child learns some coping skills, they need to practice the activities in order to have them work consistently. There are a lot of ways to help children practice coping skills. I like to incorporate the practice into our daily routines. For example. we practice deep breathing at bedtime.
Creating something that can act as a reminder can also help reinforce coping skills. I love these deep breathing posters that I hang in my son’s room to help remind him to practice his deep breathing.
I also love using a bravery shield with kids. This is a fun little project that you can do with your kids.
To start, download the bravery shield template here.
Then, have your kids write in different skills that they can use to help them feel brave (coping skills). They can come up with 1 skill for each section or write multiple skills in each section.
Then, have your children color and decorate their shields as much they would like.
I think these are a great thing to hang up in their bedrooms, on their bathroom mirror, or anywhere else where they will see it frequently and be reminded of the skills they can use anytime they need help feeling braver.
In conclusion, being scared is a normal emotion. Coping skills are a great way to help children manage their fear so that they feel brave rather than scared
Check out these other articles on Coping Skills: