Helping Kids Learn Coping Skills

by Jeff Veley & Chris Scheufele | Chris in the Classroom Podcast

It’s true that coping skills are becoming a popular topic of conversation, as we seek to reduce stress and find our happy places, once again.  In an era where adult coloring has become a fad and millenials are opening coffee shops where you can pet cats while sipping your latte, it’s clear that we’re desperate for new ways to cope. Not knowing how to release stress can be detrimental to one’s health.  World-renowned therapist James Lehman said that “Only 20% of suicides are caused by depression.  The vast majority are caused by a lack of coping skills”.  An article by The New York Times reports that more teenagers are suffering from anxiety today than ever before.  After reading this and thinking about the rise in school shootings and teen suicides, I think you’ll agree that “coping skills” should be taught in every home and every classroom.

Four Steps to Cope with Stress

1. Acknowledge Your Elephant

Identify the thing (or things) that are bothering you.  Call them out and stare them in the face.  You cannot form a plan of attack until you know what you are dealing with.


2. Recognize What You Can/Cannot Control

Often we stress outselves out trying to change or control things that we no control over.  This kind of thinking leads to frustration and failure.  The path to positive mental health begins with recognizing which part of the mess is on your side of the fence and only working on that.  Avoid the temptation to “jump the fence and try to fix things at the neighbors”.  Instead, stay in your yard and take responsibility for what you can control.  In the next step you can release the rest. You may find it helpful to review The Serenity Prayer.

3. Create a List of Coping Skills

Make a list of your go-to coping skills.  This is a brain-dump sort of exercise, so don’t pause for reflection or edit your list as you go.  Simply write them down.  Now, seperate your list into positive and negative coping skills.  It’s important to recognize the negative ways that you cope,  as you may defer to these, which could worsen the situation.  Acknowledge that they are there and then cross them out. Finally, seperate your list into two columns…

In the Moment Stress Relief (Anytime/Anywhere)

  • Deep breaths Stretching
  • Recalling a favorite memory
  • Applying hand lotion (soothing)
  • Listening to music
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Drawing/Doodling (stress scribbling)

Planned Stress Relief (Routine Self-Care)

  • Playing Guitar
  • Riding a Horse
  • Knitting
  • Dancing
  • Painting
  • Running
  • Playing Basketball

4. Limit Stressors

Do what you can to set boundaries and create distance between yourself and the things that are stressing you out.  Going back to the stressful neighbor example (from above), you may need to build a fence between you and your neighbor, if he/she is your stressor.  This may also look like cutting things out of your schedule, unplugging from electronics/media, and making a “me time” appointment each week to release and recharge.

If setting boundaries is an area where you struggle, you may want to grab a coping of the book, “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend or download the audiobook.