Within my counselling work I often find that children find it difficult to tell me about what they can do to take care of themselves, or help to soothe themselves, when they are experiencing stress;
Despite the fact that all children experience a variety of stress-inducing worries, very often around conflict with peers, conflict within their families, academic pressures, pressures to fulfill other people’s expectations, or adjusting to circumstances that don’t go according to plan.
I find that having age-appropriate conversations about stress and ways of coping, paired with making use of visual cues such as social stories, can go a long way towards reminding them about the many coping strategies they have available and their ability to make choices around how to take care of themselves.
Below are some of my favorite strategies that I use with my 4-year-old son, to teach him how to identify and cope with stressful feelings. These can be adjusted to suit children of any age.
1. Creating a visual story about what stress is, how it effects the body, and what helps us to keep our
body calm. Some of the things that I include in my social story are:
a) Discussing the situations that may trigger an experience of stress,
b) Discussing the changes that happen within our body, that give us energy to “run away” or “fight,”
whether we are in a challenging situation or just thinking worrisome thoughts,
c) exploring ways we can help the body to calm down again…
2. A Simple Card sorting game:
a) A simple game that I often play with my 4-year-old son involves sorting pictures of what we can do
when we feel “upset” into those that are allowed vs not allowed (even though we may feel like we
want to do them), or helpful vs not helpful…
b) This makes for a great reference point for those times when he has a moment of behaving
inappropriately, we can then go back to our pictures and problem solve other ways of appropriate
3. Coping Bingo.
A more complex version of the above sorting game is turning into a “bingo” game, where each player is given a board with six coping pictures.
4. Strengths book.
Having the ability to tap into their sense of self worth is essential to a child’s resilience when it comes to coping with adversities. There are many times children’s self-esteem can be tested, whether due to criticism from other children and adults, experiencing interpersonal rejection, or stumbling across a difficult challenge.
There are plenty of free resources on the internet such as affirmation cards for children, that can be included in making their strengths book.
Something I like to make for my 4-year-old is a photo book of some of the things he can do by himself, such as vacuum, trace around a dotted line, pack away toys; as a way of reminding him of his abilities. I mix it up with positive affirmations such as “I can do many things well.” Children LOVE talking about all the things they can do by themselves! :-).
Using opportunities to help children label how they feel and problem solve coping strategies (making use of simple resources to help make them aware of the many ways of coping), reminding them about their self worth, and the hardest one of all… modelling positive ways of coping and self care ourselves, can go a long way towards supporting their emotional intelligence and resilience.
"I regard (parenting) as the hardest, most complicated, anxiety-ridden, sweat-and-blood-producing job in the world. Succeeding requires the ultimate in patience, common sense, commitment, humor, tact, love, wisdom, awareness, and knowledge. At the same time, it holds the possibility for the most rewarding, joyous experience of a lifetime, namely, that of being successful guides to a new and unique human being."
With my Best wishes,