5 Coping Skills That Help Kids Regulate

How do we help our children regulate when they are melting down, out-of-sorts, or feeling anxious? It’s a question we receive often from readers. Here are some practical tips…

To “regulate” means “to keep under control.” To regulate our emotions means that we keep our emotions in control. Everyone experiences a dis-regulated state of emotions at one time or another. Being in a state of dis-regulation feels like a simmering pot that starts to boil over. We all have to learn how to re-regulate once our emotions are out of sorts. Most of us learn to do this naturally over time but some children may need extra help, especially children who have experienced trauma. After years of learning from therapists, fellow foster parents and teachers, we have compiled an extensive list of coping skills. Today we are sharing five of the ways we cope with dis-regulation at our home. We use these in the car, at school, while shopping and even at the dinner table.

Coping skills work best when we can anticipate the need for them early and implement them as soon as possible. As parents and caregivers we need to watch our children closely to find the triggers that produce a melt down. As soon as you notice that your child may need to re-regulate, practice a skill to help them regain control.

Coping Skill #1- Rag Doll / Robot

This coping skill is great for when a child’s body is beginning to be out of control.

Ask your child to show you what the body of a rag doll looks like, floppy arms, head, legs etc. Now ask your child how a robot moves, stiff arms, legs, neck and torso. The child may choose to do this laying down, sitting up or walking. Tell the child to listen carefully, when you say Rag Doll, the child will become lose and floppy. When you say Robot, the child will stiffen his or her entire body. The caregiver will call out a command and then silently count to 5 or 10. Then call out the opposite command. Repeat 5-10 times.

Coping Skill #2- 54321

This coping skill is especially great for refocusing the mind. My children use this when they are frustrated and cannot stop perseverating.

Ask your child to play this game with you. You may say something like, “I see that you are really frustrated. I am going to show you a game I like to play when I feel frustrated.”
Ask your child:
Tell me 5 things you can see.
Tell me 4 things you can hear.
Tell me 3 thins you can smell.
Tell me 2 things you can feel/touch.
Tell me 1 thing you can taste

Coping Skill #3- Tummy Cup

This skill focuses on breathing. Offer your child an item, cup, toy, matchbox car etc. Ask them to lay flat on the ground placing the item on their tummy. Tell them they will be taking deep breaths in and out while balancing the item on their belly. Instruct them to breath in while silently counting to 4. Then tell them to breath out while silently counting to 4. Repeat this 4 times.

Coping Skill #4- Seaweed

This skill helps the child focus on his or her body.
Instruct the child to plant his or her feet on the ground without moving them, just like seaweed. Tell the child that you will tell them what is happening in the “ocean” around them, then they will move their arms, head and torso the way seaweed moves. For example: “The ocean is calm with just a few waves.” “A big ship just passed by and the water is swirling” “A big school of fish just went by.” “The ocean is calm again.” Remind them to listen carefully to your instructions and help them remember to try not to move their feet.

Coping Skill #5- Pointer Finger / Thumbs Up

This is our new favorite coping skill. You can challenge your child to master this task while secretly helping them use both sides of their brain to re-regulate. As you will see in the video below, my son is really good at this. As you will also see, I am not.

Instruct your child to put both hands out in front. Put the thumb of your right hand up and point the index finger of your opposite hand at the same time. Then switch. Do this slowly at first and then faster as you master the task. If you are like me, your child will begin laughing as you try to beat them at this game.

Question: What are some other coping skills you’ve learned with your children? Share them with us in the comment section below this post. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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