Updated: Feb 10
According to Psychology Today, “The Stress in America report found that American teens report stress levels higher than what they believe is healthy (5.8 on a 10-point scale, a healthy level is 3.9). As you may imagine, school was rated the most common source of stress for American teens. Some 83 percent reported school as a significant source of stress.”[i]
With so much stress facing children and teens, it is crucial that they learn coping mechanisms to help fight the lure to escape through drug use. Here are a few ways to help your child cope.
LIST ACTIVITIES YOUR CHILD ENJOYS
Cognitive behavior theory (CBT) dictates that our thoughts affect our behavior, which put together, affect how we feel. In keeping with CBT, we can use positive behavior to hijack our feelings.
Do things that you enjoy = feel better.
The trick is to create a list of activities when the child is calm. Try to have a child articulate what would make them feel better in the middle of a crisis is not going to work. When kids are in crisis they are not rationale and nothing will seem likely to work for them.
Younger kids may benefit from a visual list of activities.[ii]
When children learn that they have the power to talk back to their worry brains, they feel empowered to cope with anxiety-producing stressors. Teach your child that anxious thoughts make us feel powerless, but talking back to anxious thoughts gives us control over the situation.
Boss back: Have your child practice saying, “You’re not in charge of me, worry brain! I know I can handle this!” Help your child create specific scripts to target certain triggers.
Thought stopping: When intrusive thoughts overwhelm kids, they go into fight-or-flight mode. Teach your child to stop anxious thoughts before they snowball by saying, “No! That’s not true!” This technique interrupts the anxious thought cycle.
Create a character: One thing that helps young children is creating a character to represent the anxiety. It’s easier to talk back to a character they can visualize in the moment.
Childhood anxiety can feel overwhelming for both the child and the parent, but it is treatable. If your child’s anxiety is pervasive and negatively affecting her ability to sleep, attend school, and other areas of her life, seek an evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner.[iii]
TALKING IT OUT
Talking gives kids practice in verbalizing feelings, helps them feel validated, and can serve as a springboard to problem solving. Help teens identify several people with whom they feel comfortable discussing their problems. For kids who aren’t yet comfortable airing issues out loud, journaling can provide another outlet for confusing feelings. For parents of teens who won’t talk or journal, make sure that your child knows that you are available to talk anytime without judgment. Also, pay attention to their behaviors and moods so that you can identify when they are stressed.[iv]
MOVEMENT AS A COPING SKILL
Movement is a powerful way for kids to play! Movement can calm kids, help them get rid of excess energy, or energize them. When children are starting to get antsy or irritable, often a change of scenery and a little movement can help.
Research on physical play shows that movement can re-energize and reset a child’s nervous system. This reset means that they are more able to concentrate on challenging tasks, which is incredible![v]
[i] 5 Tips for Helping Teens Cope with Stress, Erlanger A. Turner Ph.D., accessed 16
[ii] 18 Coping Skills and Activities, Editorial Staff at The Helpful Counselor,
accessed 16 December 2019, <https://www.thehelpfulcounselor.com/18-coping-skills-strategies-for-children-and-teens/>
[iv] Developing Coping Skills in Teens, Editorial Staff at Middle Earth, accessed 16 December 2019, <https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/developing-coping-skills-in-teens/>
[v] The Power of Movement, Janine Halloran, accessed 16 December 2019, <https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/the-power-of-movement>