Dear Miss Rae,
How can I help a student who has ZERO coping skills?
My student is a sweet girl who greets her teacher with a hug every day. She can follow routines. She rarely shuts down in class, but when she does it is around academics. When things are hard for her, she completely gives up. Her shutting down is crying and quiet. She will cover her face with her hair, but she does not ask for help. She does NOT like making mistakes. Help me so I can help her! Because the truth is I don’t know how to help her!
Approximately 4.4 million students, aged 3-17 years, have been diagnosed with anxiety (Ghandour, et al., 2018).
So teaching coping skills in schools is a must!
Coping means to make a conscious effort to solve problems and master, minimize, and handle stress or conflict!
Here are some coping strategies that I teach to my students:
ONE: Deep Breathing!
Oxygen helps our bodies relax. Have students breathe in through their nose, expand their bellies, and then, breath out. Try using a pinwheel or bubbles! As students breathe out, get the pinwheel to spin or make some bubbles float into the air!
TWO: WRITE ABOUT FEELINGS!
Writing helps students get their feelings out and learn from them. Give students time to free write about their feelings. This is a private place to confess how they feel. Writing down anxious thoughts helps take them away and allows students a chance to vent their frustrations. Through writing, students are able to connect and listen to themselves as well. This self-reflection allows them to evolve and gain control over their own thoughts.
Try these writing activities for stress:
*Keep a worry journal. Have students write down the worries they are feeling, but then, end with one positive feeling. This helps to break the negative thinking cycle!
*Start a feelings journal. Students write one feeling (i.e. happy, mad, sad, scared) on a page. Students should then think of something that gave them this feeling. Write or draw about what happened.
*Write and Rip! In this activity, students write or draw their worries on a piece of paper. They can read them to themselves, a teacher, counselor, or peer (if they choose). Then, rip up the paper and throw it away.
*Use a question and answer activity to help students process and reflect on their stress experiences.
Three: FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE!
Get students to change their thinking! Oftentimes, when we are anxious, we engage in negative self-talk. How we talk to ourselves affects our outlook on the world. So help students change their mindset!
Teach positive self-talk! Brainstorm ways to revise negative talk.
I can’t make this any better.
What can I improve?
I can’t do this.
I have to practice.
This is too hard.
This may take some time.
I’m never going to get this.
I’ll use a different strategy.
I made a mistake.
Mistakes help me learn.
Create lists! Students can create gratitude lists of things they are thankful for. They can also create favorite lists. Creating a list of things students love to do gives them choices when they are stressed out.
Four: GET MOVING!
Exercise releases endorphins. These are natural painkillers that the brain releases. This helps to reduce stress. So get your kiddos moving! Students can walk in place, run in place, dance, do jumping jacks, stretch, take a walk, or do some yoga all in their classroom!
Relaxing helps students to calm their minds and thus, regulate their emotions.
Create a calming corner within the classroom. This gives students a place to go to for some relaxation time. Students can ask to go to this safe space within the classroom. Once there, they can use a sand timer to track the length of their stay. Then, they can engage in relaxing activities that are all available within the calming space. This could be fidgets, coloring books, clay, books, a mini sandbox, and more. Teach your students how to use these tools to relax prior to introducing the space.
Teach students a trick to release this stress from their bodies:
Tense all of your muscles in your body (really tight...make fists even). Hold your muscles tight for five seconds. Release. Notice how you feel. Repeat two to five times.
You can also teach tensing one muscle group at a time, holding for five seconds, releasing, pause to notice how you feel, and then, moving to the next group.
Let students create a character that represents their anxiety. Have them talk to their character about ways to feel strong and deal with their anxiety. Practice visualizing talking to this character. This will help students use this strategy in a moment of anxiety.
Have your students create video game remote controls for their anxiety. Each button can be a strategy that works for the student. Practice pressing a button and using this strategy.
Create a worry box for the classroom. Decorate a box for the classroom. Students can write their worries on a piece of paper and place them in the box.
Seven: TRACK THE DATA!
We use data to motivate our students in their academics so why don’t we do this with their stress. Students can track their stress in a notebook in order to analyze it. Does their stress have a pattern? Conference with your students to help them gain a deeper understanding of their stress. What was the catalyst for the student’s stress? What was the antecedent to the stress? What was the consequence of the stress? What can a student do to prevent this pattern from continuing
For the most severe cases of students who lack coping skills, teachers can help them by creating IEP goals for them!
Sample IEP Goal:
Given direct instruction, XXX will develop coping skills and strategies to manage frustrations in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
1. XXX will be able to use calming strategies when frustrated (breathing exercise or counting backwards) in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
2. XXX will be able to verbalize difficulties and accept when no further help can be offered for completing tasks or tests in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
3. XXX will put forth effort when confronted with perceived difficult tasks in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
Coping skills are skills that our students need to be successful in life - no matter where their journey takes them. Let’s help them to have success in life!
By: Miss Rae
Ghandour RM, Sherman LJ, Vladutiu CJ, Ali MM, Lynch SE, Bitsko RH, Blumberg SJ. Prevalence and treatment of depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in U.S. children. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018. Published online before print October 12, 2018