Teaching Children Coping Skills

We live in a world of such relentless change we not only need to teach our children new knowledge, research approaches and ways of communicating, we also need to teach them skills to cope with whatever situations arise. Coping skills involve how we think and what we do to manage various circumstances and they help children develop strong mental health and well-being.

I spent some time learning about these skills during the holidays when I was staying in a community that suffered significantly from the floods of ex-cyclone Debbie. The children and adults who had some coping skills seemed to manage the situation in a resilient manner while those who didn’t have strong coping skills required far more support. Not everyone will experience trauma through a severe weather event, but we all experience life’s ups and downs and times of sadness and anxiety that require good coping skills. Coping skills can include:

  • Managing strong emotions
  • Thinking positively
  • Talking to friends
  • Problem solving
  • Breaking tasks into manageable chunks
  • Taking some time out
  • Seeking help when needed

There are many ways to teach children coping skills but they learn most quickly by following the examples set by the adults in their lives. Therefore, it is important for us to demonstrate and model positive coping strategies. It is also important for adults to listen and talk to children, helping them to identify their concerns and acknowledging the way they are feeling.

The KidsMatter website (www.kidsmatter.edu.au) provides further recommendations to help children develop coping skills:

  • Comfort your child
  • Prepare your child for change
  • Encourage children to solve their own problems
  • Teaching children when to ask for help
  • Provide positive encouragement when talking about your child’s attempts to cope
  • Promoting helpful ways of thinking

It is very important to teach children to understand that the way we think affects the way we feel and how we behave. The way we think also affects the way we cope with challenging situations. If children understand and use positive ‘helpful thinking’ rather than ‘unhelpful thinking’ they are more likely to be resilient and better able to cope with challenging situations. When adults demonstrate and encourage ‘helpful thinking’ it greatly assists the children in developing good coping skills.

So, when your child tells you, ‘I can’t do it’, your reply could be, ‘You can’t do it yet, but it will get easier the more times you try.’  or if he/she says, ‘Nobody likes me.’ You could remind them that it might seems like that but this is unhelpful thinking and other people do not think the same thoughts. Obviously, the conversation in both examples above needs to continue with further comfort and encouragement provided. The key point to remember is that we shouldn’t just leave a conversation agreeing with the negative thoughts of the child. We need to provide them with positive coping skills and strategies to use moving forward.

A number of teachers have been completing study through Harvard University School of Education this year and the focus of their study has been on visible thinking and teaching children how to think for deep learning and understanding. The routines being learnt also promote the development of coping strategies. It is very rewarding listening to the way in which the students are now speaking about their thinking and how they are learning. I am looking forward to seeing how well our children’s thinking continues to improve throughout the coming terms. We are keen to help all our students develop strong coping skills as part of the holistic education they receive at St John’s.