MountainStar Health - March 20, 2020
by Jessica Poe

With so much going on in the world today concerning the coronavirus crisis, we could all benefit from learning some new skills to cope emotionally. But more than ever, it’s important to be aware of our children’s mental health. While smaller in stature, kids feel big emotions and are most likely new to navigating them.   

That said, it can be difficult to know what our children really internalize and what they’re feeling. Sometimes emotional stressors don’t transfer into daily life until our kiddos pass the breaking point and lay in tears on the kitchen floor. During this time of increased environmental stress, the key is to talk about, demonstrate and teach emotional coping skills on a regular basis.

Here are some emotional coping techniques to help children stay calm and process what they’re feeling:

  1. Create a safe spot—Designate a special area where it’s always safe for kids to share what’s going on and what they’re feeling. When you’re in the moment, try to let the child navigate the conversation and express what’s going on. It’s important not to interrupt them or tell them what they are feeling. If your child is having difficulty, let them know its okay to take a moment to think.
  2. Invite calm—When feelings elevate in intensity, invite peace into the home by turning on calming background music, lowering the lights and/or providing a comforting blanket or toy. Parents can talk in quiet, slow voices as they guide children through deep, restorative breaths – long inhales that fill the lungs and tummy and slow exhales that release tension. There are many resources online for mindfulness and meditation for children that can be helpful.
  3. Communicate—Putting feelings into words helps lessen the intensity of those feelings. It’s also helpful to have children identify and describe where the feelings show up in their body, and what the sensations feel like. For example, if a child says they feel sad, ask if they feel can feel the sadness in their head, heart, lungs, stomach, etc. Then find out what it feels like for them. Does it feel tight? Does it throb? Labeling emotions and the physical sensations associated with them, can take the fear out of the feelings. 
  4. Control your own emotions—Children look to us as examples of how to act and how to process. Though parents might be dealing with their own anxiety around the coronavirus, children need an understanding adult’s support. This means, trying your best to model calm and positive coping in front of your children. Additional stress won’t help them, but a composed, supportive and unconditionally loving parent will.
  5. Stay active—Exercise is an effective tool to lower stress. If you haven’t before, try practicing yoga with your kids. Not only does it increase flexibility, strength and body coordination, but it also builds emotional health. Great for all ages, yoga involves deep breathing practices and managing moods through movement.
  6. Allow time to cool down—If an outburst of feelings occurs, it’s ok to provide time for emotions to settle down before discussing the situation. And remember, the true reason for the outburst may not be visible on the surface. In fact, the child may not even recognize why he/she flipped out. So once things cool off, try having a heart-to-heart by asking open-ended questions that will reveal the root of the problem.

Learning new coping skills can take time and practice, and each child will connect with certain strategies better than others. Plus, just like in a diverse toolbox, particular coping tools will prove most useful while working on specific feelings. So, introduce a variety of tactics and discover which ones aid your child best in different scenarios.  

As we practice and implement coping skills on a consistent basis within our families, our children will have the capabilities to develop healthy emotional habits that will serve them throughout their lifetime.

For additional resources, take a look at “How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the COVID-10 Crisis”