Our tweens and teens have skills we could never have dreamed of at their age. They research on the Internet, communicate with kids in other countries, take photographs with cell phones, “burn disks” of music and microwave their afterschool snacks.
These high-tech skills may allow them to cope with duties more easily—but maybe not with life. In fact, kids today often have more trouble handling frustration, sadness, disappointment and stress because they live in a fast-paced, drive-through world where gratification is rarely immediate—nor is the answer easy.
Coping skills are just as, if not more, important than technological skills. Without them, kids can become overwhelmed and act out their feelings in disruptive or self-destructive ways.
Help your child weather life’s ups and downs by teaching and modeling these coping skills:
• Deal with your feelings. Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away—they come out later in some inappropriate way. For example, a teen who doesn’t express his grief over the death of a pet might get a stomachache. The child who says he “doesn’t care” when his best friend turns against him may end up picking a fight with his sister. Teach your child to identify, accept and express his feelings in a healthy way.
• Adjust your attitude. Our experiences are created by the way we perceive them: Is the glass empty or half full? One child will see getting a small part in the school play as positive. Another child will be upset because it’s not the lead. Our feelings come from our thoughts. Teach your child to choose her thoughts wisely.
• Discover your choices. There are things we cannot change, but we still have choices. A child who sprains his ankle the night before a basketball game can sit home feeling sorry for himself or go to the game and cheer on his team. He can choose to complain about things he can’t change or choose to do what he can.
• Accept imperfection. Kids whose self-esteem takes a nose dive after every mistake need to change their attitude. Teach your child that mistakes are inevitable. Point out your own mistakes and those made by other role models. Teach her that mistakes signal she has tried to accomplish something—which is admirable. Healthy coping means learning from our mistakes, letting them go and moving on.
• Take breaks. Pushing too hard causes stress. When we get tired and stressed, we breathe more shallowly, limiting oxygen flow to our brains. Help your child learn to pace himself whether he is writing a paper, cleaning his room or practicing for the track team. Taking breaks helps us to think more clearly.
• Take one step at a time. Breaking down tasks into small parts helps keep us from becoming overwhelmed. Thinking about all of her final exams at once may send your child into a panic. Focusing on one chapter at a time makes the task more manageable. Help your child remember: “It’s a cinch by the inch, but it’s hard by the yard.”
• Be nice to yourself. Beating himself up over mistakes only increases a teen’s discouragement. Calling himself “stupid” because he’s having trouble learning algebra won’t help him learn the concepts any faster and makes him feel like a failure. Teach him to be gentle and patient with himself.
• Plan ahead. Planning ahead keeps us from becoming overwhelmed. When they learn to think ahead, kids can plan the steps to reach their goals—whether it is finishing a science project or trying out for the swim team. Help your teen schedule tasks ahead of time.
• Ask for help. Asking for help is sign of wisdom, not weakness. Your daughter may be able to deal with a classmate who has a crush on her and follows her home from the bus stop, but if an adult stranger does the same thing, she needs to seek help from a trusted adult.
Adults need coping skills just as much as kids. Working on these ideas as a family will reinforce the concepts. Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 21 and 25. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722. She is the author of The Coping Skills Workbook. The book, aimed at 7- to 12-year-olds, helps children learn these nine coping skills. The book is available from Childswork/Childsplay publishers at (800) 962-1141.