Coping Toolbox

Jen thought it couldn’t be done. She thought her daughter was destined to always have conflict with others because she couldn’t control her emotions. And at home? Wow, it was even worse.

When things didn’t go her way, watch out!

There was yelling, screaming, refusal, and even some hitting. Jen stuck in there and tried lots of things. She truly wants what is best for her daughter and she so desperately wanted to help her daughter have a happy life.IMG_0527.JPG

She also knew that she had to get on top of this now! Learning new ways of coping becomes harder as your child gets older. Family and friends had their doubts but kudos for Jen; she never gave up on her daughter. She stayed strong and made coping skills fun.

This is how…

Coping Skills That Work!

A fun way to engage your kids in using their coping skills is to create a coping box.  Take a simple shoe box and decorate it WITH your kid. Jen’s daughter loves unicorns so she made a unicorn box. Very cute! My son loves monster trucks; that is what we decorate everything with 🙂

Allow your child to decide what they want to decorate it with. Some ideas include pictures, glitter, stickers, or whatever else your child has an interest in! Totally fun!

Time Proven Coping Skills

Time and again I have found these 10 coping skills to help kids who are struggling with their emotions and how to express themselves – even when in the midst of a meltdowns or tantrum.

Jen found that happy pictures, hugs, and visuals work best with her daughter.

You’ll have to decide for yourself what will work best for your family and keep in mind that these interventions work the very best when they are used at the first sign of your child becoming upset. If we wait until a full blown tantrum is underway, it will be more difficult to find success.

  • Happy pictures. What makes your child smile? For mine it is monster trucks and animals. Find pictures that make your child feel happy inside and put them in the coping box. Your child can look at them whenever they feel upset or you start to see them escalating.
  • Drawing supplies and fidgets. Some kids love to draw. When they are becoming upset, tap into this interest and guide them to draw their thoughts and emotions. This will give you some insight into how they are feeling and they will be able to start calming down in the process. Nice! As far as fidgets go…kids love stress balls, gooey items, and anything else they can play with in their hands. Fidgets work as a great redirection tool!
  • Exercise. Research has proven that those that exercise 5 out of 7 days a week have a much better time handing their emotions. Exercise also helps to improve symptoms of anxiety and attention concerns. I think this tool is my all-time favorite! Schedule in outside play and exercise for your child daily! Hint: this works great for adults too so get out there with your kids 🙂
  • Time~One minute per age of your child~ Many have said that time heals all. In this case, I believe that time gives clarity. I base this on my own experience as a parent because it is kind of like a time out for both of you. It gives you time to process as it does your child to find calmness again. Direct your child to sit in the designated time out spot and follow up with a plan for future behavior. Always end with an “I love you” and a hug. It truly is a powerful tool.
  • Positive Self-Talk. Talking ourselves through a situation is extremely empowering. Taking our destiny into our own hands through our thoughts is a long-lasting coping skill that will help us succeed to greatness! Teach your child helpful phrases that they can use when upset. Some examples include, “I know I will be ok”, “I will use my coping box”, “I can ask for help”, “Breathe”. Work with them to repeat their phrase over and over again until they feel better. It seems simple, but trust me, it works!
  • Redirection. Redirecting our children works wonders when we see that they are becoming upset. Showing them something new, changing the subject, and/or telling them a “secret” works really well in getting them to think of something besides what is currently upsetting them. This is a super preventative tool.
  • Empathy. Empathize with how your child feels. It helps them to feel validated and quickly calms them knowing that you understand and are on their side.
  • Visuals. Visuals are huge! This is especially true with younger children and those struggling to follow your directions when spoken to. We know that when we try to use our words during heightened emotional states, we are usually unsuccessful. Use pictures and words on flash cards to increase coping success. Examples include pictures of time out, stretching, exercising, deep breathing, or anything else that is simple to convey and will help your child cope. Also try hand signals such as pointing to items or places that will be calming.
  • Hugs. Hugs work so well because there is no verbal battle. Make sure your hug is super firm because it will make your child feel secure and lets them know that you are keeping them safe while they let their emotions out. For some parents, this is the only tool that works for them consistently. Give it a try!
  • Go somewhere else. Change your child’s environment in order to remove the trigger or stimulating factor. Simply excuse yourself and take your child with you. Do this while you remain calm! This means that you will not give a tantrum, an outburst, or any negative behavior attention.

Back to the box

Remember that awesome unicorn coping box that Jen and her daughter created together? Well, they filled that box with useful coping tools – like the ones listed above. Now it’s time to decide what you and your child will fill theirs with! Always talk with your child about their coping choices and let them have some say in what coping skills they will use.

That said, make sure the coping box contains items that will help your child to feel calm and to think happy thoughts. Some parents find it helpful to paste coping skill options to the lid to remind their child of the steps to take when feeling upset. Use pictures if needed to help your child remember their options.

Whatever You Do…

Don’t give in to your child’s demands. Not only does this create a dangerous pattern of your child using poor behavior in the future to get what they want (I have seen this happen way too often); but it also creates confusion for them. Confusion because they look to us as their parents to set boundaries. When we waiver from this they tend to feel unsettled in knowing what choices to make. Unfortunately, this commonly ends in more tantrums as they try to sort out these uncomfortable feelings. Consistently reinforce your expectations and stay true to your plan. Believe me, it will pay off!

How to Help Your Child Cope During a Tantrum

This is the question that everyone asks. Before we get to addressing that topic directly, let take a short detour so we can all understand tantrums just a bit better. IMG_0650.JPG

When a child has a tantrum, it may be a sign of several possibilities.  Your child may be experiencing strong feelings such as frustration, anger, fear, dislike, anxiety, etc. Another possibility is that your child may not want to complete a task and is trying to escape the activity by using a tantrum. Whatever the case may be, do your best to try to uncover the true need or want behind the tantrum so that your child can be supported to the greatest extent possible with coping skills for each situation. I sometimes had to remind myself of this fact when my children were melting down. There is always a trigger or reason behind their behavior. I had to put my detective hat on to discover what it was.

Truly, when all is said and done, the tantrum should not have helped to solve your child’s problem. It should be you combined with their coping and problem-solving skills that help them achieve their desired outcome.

If your child’s tantrum is rewarded by getting their wants met, be assured that tantruming WILL continue into the future. That is because the tantrum got your child what they were initially after. The tantrum wore you down enough and you gave in. This cycle will go on as long as you allow it. Put a stop to it today!

Think long term.  It isn’t enough to get the tantrum behavior to stop just for the moment, we need to think about long-term learning and coping. That way, we won’t have a grown child who tantrums when things aren’t going their way. Stay calm and think long term.

Catch it Early!

When your children are experiencing strong feelings, try your best to redirect them by pointing out all of the positives before unacceptable behavior occurs. This is one way that will help to encourage your child to see that they can handle their feelings. It also works to build confidence and independence.  It’s a win-win!


Now you can choose your very own coping skills to use at home by snagging a copy of 20 amazing colored coping cards – suitable to all ages!! They can be printed for you and your child to decide which coping skills will work best.  Just message me and I’ll send to you! Easy – peasy!

Together, practice and talk about how you feel after using the skills you choose. Since these cards travel so well, they can be placed in backpacks, in cars, in lockers at school, or anywhere else they may be needed. Having these on-the-spot coping skills to use can be a lifesaver in so many different situations!

In Empowerment,

Barb Roba, LMHC, CPC logo

Founder of Behavior Corner, LLC


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