How to Talk to Kids about Coping Skills

This podcast focuses on the age-appropriate coping skills that children need in order to deal with stress, anxiety and anger. As these skills don’t always come naturally for children, they need to be taught how to calm themselves down using a variety of different methods to see which ones work during their time of need. Dr. Robyn Silverman and Janine Halloran, M.A., LMHC, have a great discussion about various coping strategies—like calming, physical, distracting– that can be taught to kids at different ages.

Special Guest: Janine Halloran, M.A., LMHC

All children and teens get stressed, anxious and angry sometimes. This is normal. Being able to positively deal with stress, anxiety and anger are important skills to learn so they can be employed at home, in school or other learning environments, and when in frustrating situations with friends and peers. But not all kids learn these strategies naturally. They need a trusted adult to help them learn how to self soothe, calm down, balance their energy and emotions, and process challenging feelings. How can we help our children and teens learn these coping strategies? For that, we turn to Janine Halloran.

BIO

Janine Halloran is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has been working with children, teens, and their families for 20 years. She has been helping children and teens build their coping skills throughout her career in a variety of settings, including schools, mental health clinics and in her private practice. She is the author of the bestselling Coping Skills for Kids Workbook, and the host of the Calm & Connected podcast. Her work has been featured in the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and The Skimm® Newsletter. Janine lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children.

Important Messages:

  • Coping strategies: What works? For example, tracing patterns. You can do it on paper or even on a rug- very sensory. Pencil drawing- or in another material like in sand or a rug. Soothing.
  • Starting point: Have the relationship. Connection. “This is what I’m noticing. This is what I’m seeing. And I’m wondering, how do you deal with these emotions? How do you manage this? What works for you? Would you like some more help? Expand ways of coping and dealing with things?
  • Can’t be so formal- “Let’s talk about coping skills.” That can lead to “I don’t know” or Shut down.
  • “Let’s try this thing. I learned about it from somebody else. We can try it here and see if it works for you.”
  • DO IT TOGETHER. If you want kids to engage in a new technique- do it with them to put them at ease- both doing it- both are weirdos! Do it together. Don’t just let them do progressive muscle relaxation and then watch them- no- that would be weird! Do it with them.
  • Chocolate. Sensory. Mindfulness. Teens- how can we introduce them? “Let’s have some chocolate together.” Be mindful of how it feels, tastes, what’s going on in your body while eating it. APPEAL to teens and children. Meet them where they are. (Telehealth- sent a box of chocolate to do mindfulness together).
  • Different kinds of coping skills- calming, physical, distracting. Kids gravitate towards different ways of coping.
  • How does your body calm down? Some people like something physical- like dance.
  • Different kids gravitate towards different ways of coping. You have your kids who love to draw. You have your readers. But you also have your movers and shakers—the ones that needed to have their bodies moving to get that energy out. It’s good to try different kinds of coping styles but kids tend to gravitate towards one or the other just based on their personality. Just like they have different learning styles, they have different coping styles.
  • Coping skills change over time. Different ages- morph as kids get older.
  • Different coping skills in different ways as kids age.
  • Start with deep breathing- physiologically impact you- get out of fight, flight and freeze and get back to rest and digest. Introduce different ways of breathing. Little kid: Put stuffed animal on belly and watch it go up and down as you breathe. But for the 15-year-old boy, try something else. Look for gifs or videos- has a shape- expanding or shrinking shape that they can breathe with when they are stressed. They don’t want to look odd.
  • Physical skills: Wall push-ups for little kids. Older kids- take a walk and get a drink. “The Halloran Walk”- go down X hallway and get a drink. Go down Y hallway and get a drink. Go down Z hallway and get a drink. Then go back to class.
  • Calming coping skills: Imagination. Imagine their favorite place. A place that is calming, The bedroom, beach, Grandma’s house. Fluffy clouds- unicorns. Imagine what that place is- involve as many senses as you can. What does it feel like, sound like, what are things that you taste while you are there? Get them to take a mini vacation wherever they are. Nobody knows that a child is using a coping skill. A little kid can draw it or have a picture of it to prompt. Use it and when educators or parents are seeing that a child needs it, they can say “you can take a mini vacation. If school is driving you nuts today, you can take a few minutes and go on your mini vacation- and then go back to class.”
  • Cue word so that not embarrassing child is front of the class.
  • Catching the child before they go over the edge. Prevention!
  • Physical social skills:  Big body movements- but also small body movements. Squeeze play dough between your fingers. Theraputty- different resistance- different colors. Gravitate during different stuff, Mad matter. Satisfying.
  • Meet the kids where they are.
  • Sometimes need a distraction technique- because you’ve talked through it all. Don’t want to go back to the top of the spiral again—don’t want it to be like “Give a Mouse a Cookie” book!
  • Break the spiral of anxiety. Use play. Natural stress reliever for kids. Process so much stuff through play. Board games. Draw. Imagine. Play with cardboard. Build. Think about things in different ways.
  • How to process feelings? Start with feelings- being able to name it. Dan Siegel- “Name it to tame it.”
  • Talk about emotions. (1) Recognize- feelings come and go. Adults get mad and sad and happy. Talk about kids on TV. Book character. Kids feel this way. So this situation made me feel this way. (2) Interesting. If I know I get anxious in this situation, if it comes up again, what should be my plan? What should I do? (Words to express and find the correct solution to cope with that emotion).  Plus camaraderie. Don’t want to feel alone. Feel supported.
  • Family makes you feel cared for at home.
  • Self care. Nothing like Covid to highlight the need for self care.
  • Self care is like coping skills for adults.
  • Recharge batteries. Re-energize. Instead of self-care. You wouldn’t allow the battery on your phone to be depleted- that makes you anxious. Or let the gas run out of the car. So you can’t let yourself be depleted or go on empty. It doesn’t need to be going to the spa for 3 days. What brings you joy? That you enjoyed doing as a child? That give your brain a break. Drinking tea in a closet? Going for a walk? Listening to music? Reading a book? Exercising?
  • Re-reading books- you already know what’s about to happen.
  • Top tip: We need to take care of ourselves as well- so we can be good role models for our children, our students. When they see us using coping skills- powerful- sometimes we have bad days and we can deal with them! We have power over how we feel. We can mitigate the issues.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Different kids gravitate towards different ways of coping. You have your kids who love to draw. You have your readers. But you also have your movers and shakers—the ones that needed to have their bodies moving to get that energy out. It’s good to try different kinds of coping styles but kids tend to gravitate towards one or the other just based on their personality. Just like they have different learning styles, they have different coping styles.”
  • “Just like kids have different learning styles, they have different coping styles.”
  • “Your coping skills will change. What worked for you when you were 10 will not work for you when you’re 16. Some might stay- but it’s good to know that you can add to your skills because when you become an adult, you still need them!”
  • “You can use a gif or a video that shows an expanding or shrinking shape that a teen can breathe with—but they are breathing in a way that won’t make a teenager look odd. If they are looking at their phone, nobody knows that they are looking at this breathing gif and breathing.”
  • “I’m all about prevention. As much as we can do to talk about and practice skills when kids are calm so we can use them and be able to catch it early before things escalate and it’s hard to rein it in!”
  • “I don’t want kids to ignore their feelings, or deny them or suppress them. But there are times when you are so overwhelmed that your brain needs a break from being that stressed, overwhelmed or anxious. And there are other times that you’ve talked through it all- so you come up with something to keep you distracted so that you don’t go back up to that spiral again.”
  • “There’s nothing like Covid to highlight the need for self-care.”
  • “Self-care is like coping skills for adults.”
  • “Children and teens need coping skills to deal with stress, anxiety and anger because we want them to be able to deal with stress, anxiety and anger as adults as well. We want them to have good relationships and good work skills- be able to manage what life throws at them in a safe and healthy way.”

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