Building a Coping Kit
Helping a child to build a coping kit can empower them to work through their worries. A coping kit is simply a list of skills and strategies a child can use when feeling anxious. It helps to practice these strategies when the child is already calm. Sometimes children can memorize their list of strategies but others may need to have them written down.
Remember anxiety occurs when the part of the brain called the amygdala interprets something as being dangerous or a threat. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for the freeze, flight or fight response. Its main goal is to protect us. The amygdala is a doer, it does not stop to think.
Coping skills help the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex regain control. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for thinking. It understands cause and effect. It is able to think of more than one solution to a problem and it allows us to think of problems from another person’s perspective. It helps to regulate our bodies. Our brains function best when the prefrontal cortex is in control.
What coping skills work will vary with each child depending on their temperament and their interests. It is good to have a variety of strategies to use because not all coping skills will work in every place or situation. For example, if you prefer to take a walk as a coping skill, that might not work on an airplane. One way to identify possible coping skills is to complete a coping skill checklist. Mark off the ones that a definite no, circle the yes ones and then mark the ones that are a possibility to try. Encourage your child to be brave and try new skills.
Possible Coping Skills:
- Deep breathing. We sometimes refer to this as belly breathing. Put your hands on your stomach, with each inhale your stomach should expand and with each exhale it should retract. If your child is struggling with this, have them lay on the floor and place a stuffed animal or another object on their stomach. With each inhale, the stuffed animal will go up and with each exhale, it will go down.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Start at your toes and squeeze them for five seconds and then relax for five seconds. Then move to your calf muscles and do the same. Continue up your body doing the same squeeze and relax in your thighs, stomach, shoulders, arms, hands and neck.
- Mindfulness. This is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment while calming acknowledging your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations without judgement. There are several great apps for mindfulness including calm and stop, think, breath.
- Squeezing a stress ball. Some children benefit from the repetitive squeeze and release sensation provided by squeezing a stress ball. You can purchase stress balls in retail stores and online or you can make your own.
- Write it out. Journaling can be an effective coping skill. Children do not have to journal in any specific format, just writing about their feelings can be a helpful release.
- Talk back to worries. Children can talk back to their amygdala. They can remind their amygdala that they are safe and there is nothing threatening here. They can tell their amygdala that they are in charge.
- Reframe thoughts. This can be especially effective in older children and teens. Reframing thoughts is taking a negative thought and restating it in a positive. For example, instead of thinking “I am going to fail this test”, they may think “I have done everything I can to prepare for this test. I studied, had a good night’s rest and ate a good breakfast. I am going to do the best I can do”.
- Take a walk. Any type of physical activity, taking a walk, doing jumping jacks or running, can help your body use the adrenaline which is produced during the fight or flight response.
- Do wall push ups. Any type of physical activity that provides proprioceptive input, such as wall push ups, wall sits or bear hugs can be calming because the proprioceptive system plays an important role in regulating the nervous system.
- Draw or color. Using your artistic abilities activates another part of the brain. In addition, focusing on one activity (coloring) removes our focus from our worries.
- Listening to music. Music can have a significant impact on our mood. This can be especially effective with teens who relate strongly to music.
- 54321 Grounding. Using your senses to redirect your focus. Going through your senses name five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
In addition, making sure a child is getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, having downtime, drinking plenty of water, spending time playing outside and daily exercise is vital to their mental health.
If you feel like you need assistance helping your child build a coping kit or you feel your child needs more than a coping kit, you can contact us at (217) 203-2008 to schedule an appointment.
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