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
The news has never been my happy place, but it's been especially upsetting in 2018. From mass shootings in places of worship and schools to mail bombings, our world is a scary place. And obviously, we are all very upset about this.
But why are we not addressing mental illness in this country?!
Sometimes I feel like screaming. There is never enough time in the day to get everything I need to get done. I'm literally running at my highest capacity every minute of every day. I've never felt so stressed in my life.
We are all running on high all day; intensifying and exhausting our emotional and mental capacities.
Our students are feeling the same.
And now, we are both forced into the integrated experience of the classroom, where naturally, our actions and words affect the actions and words of others within the same microcosm of the classroom.
Previously, students could be targeted and remediated on a case by case basis, but with today's prevalence, SUPPORTS MUST BE MAINSTREAMED.
And those supports MUST address our students mental health needs.
Okay, so this isn't going to be simple. And we can start with baby steps.
In moments of heightened anxiety, we can stop, breathe, and re-center ourselves. Similarly, if we insert these moments, forcibly, into our day, including our time with students, where we stop and breathe (i.e. a mindfulness activity, yoga, go noodle, etc.), we can stop running at such a high level, and perhaps, we begin to regulate our emotions as well.
We need to teach this to our students because it does not come naturally anymore. This is the world now. This is us. These are our students.
1. Build a Classroom Community
A classroom community means that students trust and support each other. They feel safe to accept and give feedback and take risks.
Spend the first month and some time each week throughout the year playing a classroom-based community-building game to build trust and problem-solving and cooperative learning skills.
2. Address SE (social emotional) needs
Start your Mondays off right - by addressing your students' social emotional needs!
Welcome them into the week with a friendly morning greeting! Ease them back with some conversation to set the tone... What's one thing you are looking forward to this week? What's one thing that will make you happy this week? What is your goal for this week?
3. Infuse SEL (social emotional learning) into our current content
We barely have time in the day to use the restroom, right?! How could we possibly fit another block of time into our day to teach SEL? Well, you don't have to. Much of our current curriculum lends itself to SE learning skills. Stories in history and ELA, games in Math, giving and receiving feedback, and working collaboratively in the science lab all lend themselves to SE skills. What we do need, then, is professional development on SE skills! Are you listening higher ups?
4. Explicitly Teach Pro-Social Skills
Teach expected behaviors and do it explicitly. State the rule, role play what the rule looks like and doesn't look like, discuss the rule, praise students you see displaying the rule, etc.
AND hold students accountable. Consequences are a natural part of life. Develop reasonable consequences that match infractions AND make sure they are enforceable. Consequences must abide by the school rules, but they also have to be consequences that you are willing to implement. If you say a student is going to stay in for recess, does the school allow this AND are you willing to give up your time to be inside with this student?
5. Make Teacher Self Care a Priority
You are good to your students. Be good to yourself! The saying is true - you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first!
~By Miss Rae
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