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Helping Kids Cope With Hardships

Tips for helping your child overcome.

Key points

  • Children will face hardships at various points in their lives.
  • When supporting a child through hardship, steps include processing emotions, releasing them in a healthy way, and finding calming techniques.
  • Having an array of coping strategies can give kids the tools needed to overcome current and future difficulties.

As much as we try to shield them from the most difficult of experiences, children are not immune to facing hardship. Whether it be as small as not getting picked at playtime or as large as losing a loved one, these hardships help to shape how a child handles life challenges.

Parent and Caretaker Roles

Finding ways to cope in those moments may prove to be more difficult for young ones, as they are in their formative stages of development, life experience, and social-emotional understanding. Parents and caretakers are integral to a child’s development of healthy coping strategies. They can provide the guidance and support necessary for developing healthy and effective coping strategies in times of hardship. With patience, creativity, exploration, and reflection, parents and caretakers can equip children with coping tools that best match their unique needs.

Areas of Focus

When supporting children through hardships, focal areas should include: (a) processing emotions, (b) releasing them in a healthy way, (c) discovering effective calming techniques, and (d) increasing self-confidence and self-assurance.

Multiple Approaches to Coping

Presenting a multitude of strategies over time to reach these focal areas can be an effective path toward self-driven coping in the long run. It could lead to a better understanding of strengths and self-preference in which one best processes and moves forward. An exploratory sampling of strategies could also increase self-esteem (Rosenthal, 1999) and overall resilience (Shepard, 2004). However, it is vital that strategies are presented in a practical and adequate manner. This means providing time for each strategy to be learned and molded to your child’s unique style, consistency in usage, time to reflect on effectiveness, and teaching new strategies in a staggered manner so as to not overwhelm your child with too much at once.

Garner's Multiple Intelligences

Howard Garner’s multiple intelligences (1983) may be a good foundational point for providing a broad range of coping strategies. As you think about ways to support your child, consider strategies that touch on one or more of the following:

  • Visual/spatial (such as hands-on art in various mediums, visual interpretations, and reading).
  • Linguistic (such as written or oral journalism, poetry or songwriting, and letter-writing).
  • Physical/kinesthetic (such as cardio, martial arts, and dance).
  • Musical (such as creating songs or sound, playing an instrument, and making rhythms).
  • Logical (such as creating mind maps, researching, and problem-solving techniques).
  • Interpersonal (such as discussions, peer groups, and connecting deeply with others).
  • Intrapersonal (such as self-reflection, looking inward to heal, and personal goal creation).
  • Naturalistic (such as nature walks, gardens, and grounding with earthly elements).

For example, you may help your child by asking them to dance to fun music or jump-rope their worries out (physical); color their emotions or write a mantra for coping (linguistic, interpersonal); create sounds to express their emotions (musical); write a social story with you and use it to problem-solve (logical, linguistic); talk it out or perform acts of kindness that connect to the emotion (interpersonal); or take a mindful walk in nature (intrapersonal, naturalistic). Each of these activities serves a different purpose toward the foci discussed above.

While there are infinite creative approaches to take, keep in mind that the strategies chosen should be based on your child’s innate preferences and specific needs in the moment. Do they need to release pent-up anxieties or do they need to process their emotions in the moment? Do they need a confidence-booster or do they need to ground themselves? Are they more interpersonal or intrapersonal in nature? Do they enjoy working with their hands or being outside? Listening to your child will help you to meet them where they need to be met in terms of what they need.

Points to Remember

As you explore coping strategies with your child, it is also important to be patient. Empower your child by allowing them to set the pace, tone, and outcome. Refrain from forced discussion, timeframes, or your own expectations and assumptions in the healing process. Guide your child with directives rather than directions as needed, remind them that there is no such thing as “right or wrong” in this process, and allow them space and time for quiet reflection (Malchiodi, 2012; Wait & Ryan, 2019).

Our children will face hardships at various points in their lives. By providing them with an array of coping strategies in an effective manner, you can give them the tools necessary to overcome current and future difficulties.

References

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Malchiodi, C. A. (2012). Art therapy and the brain. In C. A. Malchiodi (Ed.), Handbook of art therapy (2nd ed., pp. 17– 26). New York: Guilford Press.

Rosenthal, M. L. (1999). The impact of teaching to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences on student self-esteem (Howard Gardner) [ProQuest Information & Learning]. In Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences (Vol. 59, Issue 11–A, p. 4059).

Shepard, J. S. (2004). Multiple Ways Of Knowing: Fostering Resiliency Through Providing Opportunities for Participating in Learning. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 12(4), 210–216.

Waite, R., & Ryan, R. A. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences: What students and health professionals need to know. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com.

Yates, T. & Masten, A. (2012). Fostering the future: Resilience theory and the practice of positive psychology. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470939338.ch32

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