As parents, it is our responsibility to provide the best possible foundation for our child’s future. Coping strategies are an essential pillar to this foundation and teaches them the skills they will need to handle life’s challenges.
What are coping strategies?
Coping strategies are a range of mental and behavioural techniques or tools for managing reactions to stress, problems, or uncomfortable emotions. These reactions are not just emotional but also physiological, cognitive and behavioural. As such, coping is not just about emotion regulation but also about thinking skills and adaptive behaviour skills.
Why are coping strategies important in children?
Life gets more complicated as we grow up. Children require healthy coping mechanisms as they develop into adulthood so that they can better survive various challenges in life. It is even more pressing in recent years for children to be resilient given global reports of a significant rise in psychological problems among children and teenagers. Research shows that poor coping of adverse childhood experiences may lead to a higher risk of developing psychological disorders as teenagers or adults.
Unhealthy vs healthy coping strategies
There are numerous coping strategies that we use to deal with problems and stressors, some healthier than others. Yes, coping styles can be unhealthy, too!
Unhealthy coping strategies
Actions taken to deal with our problems that maintain distress, leading to psychological (and sometimes physical) harm. In some cases, these can provide instant but temporary relief from a stressor, which may be harmful in the long run. These coping strategies tend to be emotion-focused.
Examples of unhealthy coping strategies:
- Rumination or overthinking about negative emotions may seem like a way to figure out a solution but is so repetitive and unending that it becomes both mentally and physically tiring to the point of depression.
- Explosive emotional expression, such as shouting or hitting a pillow. Escalating emotions is counterintuitive to coping calmly. It can be physically harmful as well.
Healthy coping strategies
Actions taken to regulate our emotions that promote beneficial outcomes such as addressing problems. These are generally problem-focused coping strategies that work on identifying problems and actively finding solutions for them. In some cases, such coping strategies may not provide instant relief from the stressor, but in the long run, will be of immense help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Healthy coping strategies allow children to accept their emotions and learn that active problem solving can help reduce their distress more effectively than to just focus on their emotions. However, some emotion-focused coping can be helpful but tend to be short-term. These include distraction exercises like relaxation, entertainment, physical exercises and engaging in a hobby. As a whole, problem-focused strategies are more efficient.
Tips to facilitate healthy coping strategies in your child
- Start early. Teaching your child to address problems using healthy coping strategies early reduces their chances of having trouble managing their emotions, behaviours and thoughts when they get older.
- Teach your child to identify emotions. Children who are familiar with emotions are better at regulating them. Help your child understand how their emotions come about and how they can be changed. Once they are more familiar with the causes and conditions of their emotions, they get better at regulating emotions themselves. Children who are able to communicate about how they feel are more likely to get proper help with problems.
- Lead by example. Be aware of your own coping strategies. The coping strategies that you use can influence the coping strategies your child picks up. Therefore, it is important for parents to be a role model and practise healthy coping strategies around your child. Feel free to also express negative emotions because they are natural and your child is bound to feel them in life. Normalising emotions can be a tremendous help in your child’s understanding of emotion regulation.
- Focus on progress, not punishment. Create a home environment that encourages and facilitates the development of healthy coping strategies, rather than punishing unhealthy ones. This can include acknowledging your child’s feelings, working with him on seeking solutions to problems, and praising them for being resourceful.
- Be aware of unhealthy coping strategies. If you spot your child exhibiting any unhealthy coping strategies (e.g. avoidance, denial, self-blame), it would be helpful to intervene and provide the necessary training for them to learn more efficient and effective methods.
Remember, coping is not just about emotion regulation. It is also about how we think and behave. Helping you child connect their thoughts and beliefs to their behaviours and emotions can provide them with a sense of mastery of themselves as they grow up. Problem-solving behaviours form effective coping strategies that are essential in life. Instilling healthy coping strategies in children early on does not just reduce risks of psychological disorders in adulthood, but also encourages them to thrive with resilience.