Big life changes, tension or instability in the home, peer pressure, school, world events — they can all add up to a lot of stress for kids and teens. And if that stress isn’t dealt with in healthy ways, it can negatively impact children’s mental health, and their physical health, too. That’s why it’s so important for kids and adolescents to develop coping skills that help them regulate their emotions and behaviors.
Signs of Stress in Youth
Stress doesn’t look the same for everyone, including children. It can show up in a number of ways, such as:
- Changes in behavior, such as acting out, becoming more argumentative, or withdrawing
- Having trouble sleeping
- Eating too much or too little
- Neglecting responsibilities more often
- Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches
Learning coping skills can help kids and teens identify, express and regulate their emotions during stressful times, which helps them navigate those situations now and sets them up for better mental health in the future.
Coping Skills for Children and Adolescents
Struggling to regulate emotions can be a combination of temperament and environment. Some kids just naturally have a harder time of it. Those with ADHD, anxiety or learning disorders may also find it difficult. If their parent or caregiver also struggles with self-regulation, it’s much harder for the child to learn how to cope with difficult situations.
The Children’s Services Fund supports a number of Jackson County organizations that help kids and teens develop healthy coping skills. Not every skill works for every child, but equipping them with a variety of tools lets them find what works best for them.
These are calming activities that help relax the mind and the body. These can include:
- Deep breathing
- Using the imagination to visualize a calm or happy location
- Grounding techniques, such as the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique (What are 5 things you see? 4 things your body feels? 3 things you hear? 2 things you smell? 1 thing you taste?)
Focusing on other, more enjoyable things can help break thinking patterns or help kids feel more calm so they can be ready to finish a task or face the problem.
- Playing a game
- Doing a fun activity
- Creative expression
Big feelings often bring big energy into the body. And sometimes the body needs attention so the mind can concentrate better.
- Big movements include jumping rope, riding a bike, roller skating, etc.
- Small movements include rolling the shoulders, squeezing play dough, flexing and pointing the toes, or using a fidget spinner.
- Drink some water or eat a snack. Dehydration and hunger impact the brain and can make it harder to think clearly.
Sometimes being with other people, doing something fun and/or familiar can be calming.
- FaceTiming a friend
- Playing with a pet
- Playing a fun game
- Sharing feelings with someone they trust
Understanding what they’re feeling is key to regulating those feelings.
- Explore feelings by naming them, noticing where they feel things in their body
- Describing feelings with colors, shapes and sizes can help younger children who may not have the vocabulary
- Identifying what they can control – and what they can’t
- Making a plan for dealing with future stressful situations
Helping Jackson County Kids Learn Coping Skills
The 2019-2021 Community Health Improvement Plan for Eastern Jackson County found that 27% of Jackson County adolescents reported school or work disruption due to some form of depression. 14% feel hopeless often or always. And there’s only 1 mental health provider for every 490 Jackson County residents.
That’s why the CSF supports organizations that have a direct impact on Jackson County kids, a number of which help children and teens learn healthy coping skills. Such funding partners include The Family Conservancy, providing in-school early childhood mental health support and outpatient counseling services; and Center School District, helping them increase the number of school counselors available to students.
In 2021, we awarded more than $3.8 million to 22 organizations with programs that help children and youth build resilience through services that develop social-emotional skills, enhance coping skills, strengthen relationships, and increase community engagement — ultimately decreasing the likelihood that they will develop substance use and mental health issues.
We all want our kids to grow up healthy and happy. Learning healthy coping skills when they’re young can help them do just that.