- Developing helpful coping strategies in children enhances resilience and reduces stress as they work through worries and challenges.
- Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope by discouraging unhelpful strategies and encouraging effective ones, such as seeking help and staying calm.
- Encouraging children to talk about their troubles with adults and teaching them to identify and label their emotions are effective ways to build emotional agility.
- Allowing children to experience and process negative emotions rather than avoiding them is essential for their emotional development and coping skills.
Children who develop helpful coping strategies are more likely to become resilient by working through their worries and reducing stress. Coping strategies are what we do and think to get through difficult situations. For children, those stressful situations can present themselves as having to say goodbye to a parent or through interactions with their peers.
Helping children cope with these kind of worries will give them the tools to later deal with the stresses they’ll face during their adult life. Likewise, it helps reduce the risk of mental health problems.
How can parents help?
Psychologist Erica Frydenberg from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education says parents can help their children learn to cope by discouraging unhelpful strategies and encouraging helpful ones instead. For example, parents can discourage blaming oneself, but encourage and model asking for help and staying calm when faced with a problem.
Encouraging children to talk to an adult about their troubles is particularly effective, especially when it leads to dialogs about coping strategies.
“What parents can do is acknowledge the upset of children and talk about the different ways children can deal with a situation”, says Frydenberg.
Psychologist Susan David, author of the book Emotional Agility coined the term “helicopter parenting” to describe when parents intervene by not letting their children experience a negative emotion. Parental strategies like rushing to the rescue or minimizing either the emotion or the problem, don’t allow a child to learn how to cope.
Dr. David offers four useful steps for helping a child go through, rather than avoiding, a negative emotion.
- Feel It. Don’t push away or avoid negative emotions; feel and recognize them!
- Show It. Show all emotions –some families have rules around them, where some are acceptable to show, and some must be hidden.
- Label It. Labeling emotions is a critical skill set for children, so they should learn to identify and name them.
- Watch It Go. Even the hardest emotions eventually pass. Help your child notice that.
Remember that parents are their children’s first and most important teacher. Modeling helpful coping strategies themselves will go a long way!
- Teaching children how to cope with life’s challenges. (2016). Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.psypost.org/2016/09/teaching-children-cope-lifes-challenges-44995
- Dell’Antonia, K. (2016, October 4). Teaching Your Child Emotional Agility. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/well/family/teaching-your-child-emotional-agility