Does your child get overwhelmed by stress? Does the slightest disappointment send them spinning out of control? Are there emotional meltdowns when they don’t get their way? Many children display a loss of self-control when situations change unexpectedly. These children may get “stuck” when unplanned changes arise and may not have any strategies to help them adapt or cope with their new circumstances. In this edition of our Beyond Games series, we give you strategies to help a child who doesn’t get their way. Here’s how to improve your child’s coping skills in stressful situations.
Ease in. Teach a variety of coping strategies for different situations. Help your child understand this by teaching deep-breathing methods for relaxing before an exam or by using counting strategies to delay his reaction when angry or frustrated. Modify experiences so as not to overwhelm his coping mechanisms. For example, a child who is extremely self-conscious should not be asked to read in front of the class. That same child may be able to excel at a team sport such as soccer, where individual attention and pressure are not the primary concern because the team works together and absorbs some of the attention from bystanders. Discuss the goal of increasing skills and taking on new challenges. Set gradual and age-appropriate goals such as being able to stay at home alone for an hour, calling friends or relatives on the phone, ordering food at a restaurant, or applying for a summer job.
Move. Learn and practice subtle, unobservable exercises. Certain gentle movements can be practiced to use in anxiety-provoking situations such as a test or a presentation. The practice of isometric exercises (squeezing one’s fingers into one’s palms for a count of 10), the “turtle” (tuck chin into chest, placing the head on the desk and arms around the head to regain composure), and simple yoga postures such as the tree (stand on one foot with the other foot resting against the standing leg and raise the arms overhead to regain balance) could be helpful for regulation of affect. Subtle tense-and-relax strategies that are held for 10 or more seconds such as pushing one’s toes into the bottom of one’s shoes, tensing one’s calf muscles by pointing one’s toes to the sky, and making a tightly-squeezed fist can all be done while sitting at a school desk.
Relax. Learn relaxation training for anxiety-provoking situations. Your child could benefit from the use of relaxation techniques to assist in developing coping skills. It will be important to help him learn to identify anxious feelings as well as his physical responses to anxiety. After he learns how to use relaxation as a coping mechanism, have him practice the skills prior to and during anxious situations, acknowledging and verbally reinforcing his attempts to cope. Techniques for relaxation for a youngster who is artistic or particularly visual might include having the child draw an image that is a reminder of a peaceful time. The child could then visualize that image whenever confronted with a stressful situation to access calm feelings. Some youngsters benefit from quietly humming to divert their attention and refocus. Simply focusing attention on the sound of one’s own breathing can have a calming effect, as well.
Laugh. Diffuse difficult situations through laughter, humor, and making light of them. Use humor generously and model making light of frustrating situations. Be careful not to make fun of your child when he is angry but use humor to distract him, introduce a new idea into the situation, and encourage laughter as an antidote for anger. Model humor as a coping strategy for stress and as a way to control emotional reactivity.
Featured image: Flickr user Steven Depolo