Updated: Jun 16
Introducing coping skills to manage emotions is a good starting point in counseling. It allows time to develop healthy rapport and provides a solid foundation before exploring deeper emotional issues and triggers. Additionally, children experience immediate success in being able to manage their emotions, which generally results in hopefulness and motivation to keep working.
I usually introduce coping skills in four categories: exercise, breathing techniques, calming activities, and thought processes. Kids need to have a plan to use at least one skill from each of these categories for success. Here is why each category is necessary:
Exercise - Pent-up energy from anger and anxiety needs to be expelled in some way. Intentional release of this energy can result in kids feeling in control of their emotions and experiencing the health benefits of caring for their bodies. If they do not release this energy in a healthy way, they are ticking time bombs for emotional explosions.
Breathing techniques help to turn off the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is vital for regaining control of the brain when triggered. Learning about the brain and how it impacts their bodies is a necessary part of overcoming negative emotional cycles.
Calming activities - Kids who ruminate on negative thoughts are going to feel upset and struggle to shake it off. Calming activities can get their mind off of intrusive thoughts and refocus on things that bring peace. This could be fidget toys, sensory bottles, books, games, movies, or just about anything that breaks the negative thought cycle.
Thought processes - Once the child is calm and able to think clearly, it is important to process the situation and bring awareness to the thoughts and beliefs involved in why there was such a big reaction. This involves growing in communication skills, emotional intelligence, and learning cognitive behavioral therapy skills.
The following are several coping skill activities to help children learn coping skills and to remember to use them when needed:
by Pathways to Peace Counseling
I almost always start counseling with a new kiddo off assembling a coping skill toolbox the child can take home. It offers hands-on tools for the kids and printables for parents to have a starting point to help their children when big emotions come. These toolboxes can include any combination of coping skills. I like to include a sensory bottle, playdough, a notepad or journal, a fidget toy, and several printables. Click the link above for more details.
by Counselor Keri
This would make a great take-home activity for kids to do with their parents. Even if it is done in session, it still provides something tangible for parents to see so they can be more engaged in the therapeutic process and know skills to use with their children.
by Tot Schooling
I like the pictures on this wheel, allowing it to be used with younger kids. It offers a good variety of skills for kids to pick from.
Related Article: Round-Up of Emotional Regulation Activities and Resources
by Pathways to Peace
I like to make these cards for kids to include in their coping skill toolboxes. They provide good reminders for what to do when triggered. Kids tend to forget their skills once they get upset!
by Pathways 2 Success
Fortune tellers make learning coping skills so much more fun! It seems like my third graders always want to make these. You can use the link above to print out the template or simply grab some paper and start folding. The key is to cut the paper into a square then fold the corners toward the middle of the page. Then you flip it over and fold it toward the center again. Then you are ready to decorate and add your words.
by Elsa Support
This is a handy free printable to offer many ideas for ways to cope when upset.
Related Article: Breathing Activities for Calming Emotions
by He's Extraordinary
This is a fun activity to work out the wiggles and pent-up emotional energy. The animals should help kids remember the different exercises.
Progressive relaxation is helpful for kids who need to let out their energy but have to sit still at school. These exercises can be done while kids are sitting at their desks. It can be used anywhere! It is also helpful for releasing muscles that have been tense due to anxiety.
It helps to have a wide variety of coping options available for kids. What they need one day may differ from what they need the next. I hope these ideas helped broaden the scope for your practice. Thanks for reading!