Dec 13, 2021



4 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Handle Stress

4 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Handle Stress

4 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Handle Stress

by Olivette Petersen

child sitting on a hill looking at the mountains
child sitting on a hill looking at the mountains
child sitting on a hill looking at the mountains

Today is National Stress Awareness Day, and while we all experience stress from time to time, it can lead to some serious health concerns if we let it go unmanaged. Physical problems like high blood pressure and a weakened immune system as well as mental health problems like anxiety and depression can all be linked to stress. And it’s not just adults who are affected — kids and adolescents can suffer the consequences of stress buildup, too.

But there’s good news: even though stress might feel overwhelming, there’s no need for you or your kids to feel discouraged tackling it! Coping skills to handle stress can be learned and built up over time.

In general, coping skills can be broken down into two main categories: emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping. When using emotion-focused coping, you’ll focus on handling your reactions to a stressful situation. When using problem-focused coping, you’ll handle your stressor directly to try to minimize the problem itself. No one approach is better than the other — it just depends on what you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re stressed out because you simply have too much on your plate, you might engage in some problem-focused coping by thinking about how you can rearrange your priorities to get everything done. If the circumstances of your stress are beyond your control, emotion-focused coping can help you handle and manage your feelings around the situation.

If your kids are experiencing a lot of stress or struggling to deal with some difficult emotions, talking to them about coping strategies can make a huge difference in helping them manage their mental health. You might sit down with your kids and create a coping toolbox together, or simply set aside some time to talk through different ways they can handle stress in a healthy way.

Here are 4 strategies you can use to help your kids cope with stress:

  1. Practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment and grounding yourself in the here-and-now. It can really help to take a step back from your racing thoughts and find a sense of calm in the middle of a stressful situation. If this is new territory for you and feels unfamiliar, no need to worry. There are several concrete strategies that you can use to get started! One mindfulness trick, sometimes called the 5–4–3–2–1 method, uses your five senses to help clear your head. If your child feels like their thoughts are spiraling, try having them name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can feel, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. This should help them focus on what’s physically going on around them by engaging with their senses and shifting their focus away from their stress.

  1. Put Strong Feelings Into Words.

Understanding and labeling exactly what we’re feeling can help us sort through our emotions when they get overwhelming. Why? Because it helps us to become more aware of what exactly feels so hard to overcome and what unhelpful thoughts might be contributing to our stress. Plus, stopping to analyze our thoughts will help us determine what we might need to address and what we might need to let go of. Once we’re more aware of where any negative emotions are coming from, it’s much easier to come up with a solution. Encourage your kids to journal about their thoughts and feelings or even to draw out what’s on their minds. This might help you and your child identify any negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions, too (& for more info on how cognitive distortions relate to anxiety in kids, check out our module “Teaching kids about anxiety” in the maro parents app!).

3. Use Positive Self-Talk.

So, maybe your kids have taken the time to ground their thoughts with mindfulness and they’ve journaled things out so they know exactly what they’re feeling. What now? Becoming aware of any thoughts or feelings that are contributing to stress is a huge part of managing negative reactions, but sometimes you have to go a step further. To balance any negative thoughts, teach your kids to counteract them with positive ones. You can encourage them to try thinking something like: “I’m having a really hard time right now, but I’ve gotten through tougher times before. I can do this.” Help them remember and celebrate their strengths when they’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, and identify some mantras or affirmations that they can fall back on when times get rough. Try something like: “I know this will pass. I’ll be okay. I am strong.” Encourage your kids to use these mantras as soon as they begin to feel out of control; that way, they can help stop negative thoughts in their tracks.

4. Release Some Energy!

Exercise has lots of benefits for our physical and mental health, and it can help relieve stress, too. If you’re finding it hard to shake off any negative thoughts and feelings, sometimes the best thing to do is step away from your stress altogether and let off some steam. This doesn’t mean you should have your kids do a HIIT workout if they’re nervous about an upcoming math test — using physical activity to help sort out stress is much simpler than that! Encourage your kids to take a break and go on a walk, do some jumping jacks, or play some upbeat music and dance around for a while. This will not only serve as a fun, enjoyable distraction from stress, but chances are, your kids will return feeling a lot more clear-headed and more prepared to tackle their stress head-on.

For more information about how to talk to kids about mental health, check out Maro for Families.

Additional Sources:

“Pediatric Coping Skills” from the Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“Self-care for kids: 6 ways to self-regulate” by Amanda Morin for Understood.