Kids and teenagers of all backgrounds have countless emotions and feelings that they experience. Like with anything in life, there’s a lot that needs to be taught when it comes to handling and dealing with these emotions. Coping strategies for dealing with intense feelings, such as anger or sadness, can be especially helpful for children as they learn to navigate their experiences and reactions to situations.
This is true for all kids, but perhaps especially more relevant for children who have experienced significant trauma. Trauma has a huge impact on the developing brain, and oftentimes, children who are experiencing trauma are not receiving the help they need to manage and work through what they’re feeling. Take a look at some tips from our emergency shelter on coping strategies for children — whether you’re a teacher, working in law enforcement, directly working with kids, or really engaging with people in any capacity these coping strategies can be helpful for those around you, and for you as well.
Help Kids Verbalize
One of the most frustrating things that many children — especially young children — experience is not being able to communicate how they’re feeling. Part of this is because they lack the vocabulary or the articulation to express what they’re feeling. The good news is, that’s where you come in!
For kids who are struggling with the words, have them point on a facial expression chart what they’re feeling. Then, when they’ve calmed down a bit, reflect back on how they were feeling (and refer to the chart as needed). State things in a manner of “I feel/felt ________ because ________.”
After, and we mean immediately after, the child has calmed down and stated how they’re feeling, it’s time to discuss and reflect. Talk about their feelings, and also use this time to talk about appropriate or inappropriate behavior. One example might be, “I know you were really frustrated, and that’s very upsetting. I like how you told me what was going on, I bet you feel better from getting to share as well. But do you think it’s OK to throw things across the room? What can you do, or what can we do instead?”
With reflection, it is vital to be calm, to be constructive, and to commend certain behaviors as you see fit. If this time, the kiddo you’re working with screamed, but didn’t throw something, recognize this as growth! If they were mad and pushed someone, but didn’t punch them, again, recognize this as growth! Of course, still talk about the pushing thing, but always look for areas of improvement. Create a space where you can both reflect on their behaviors in a non-judgmental manner, and note that growth is not linear, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it can even feel like you’re going backwards, but don’t ever give up, and don’t ever forget that there’s always something that a child does right (even if that means they didn’t pull the fire alarm, that’s still something).
We’ll continue in our next blog with some more ideas on how you can help kids and teenagers learn to cope with their emotions. The things we feel and experience can be some of the most tricky and complex parts of life, but they can also be some of the most beautiful. AAHN’s Place is a children’s shelter that helps kids in the moments they need it most. We’re always looking for volunteers or monetary support to help us do our work, and to serve the community of Wellington. Learn how you can get involved with our emergency shelter for children, and stay tuned for our next post on a few more coping strategies.