Creating a Coping Toolbox for Stress
If you are like us, you’re probably wondering why in heck your kid (s) are doing some things during this pandemic. We’ve been hearing from lots of clients about toileting accidents, baby talk, clinginess, constant requests, irritability, refusal to do common tasks, and binging on technology.
I’ll tell you the most likely reason you are seeing a whole host of new, or reoccurring, behaviors is due to stress.
When children have to adjust to a completely new routine, or are sensing anxiety around them, the brainpower this shift requires can be too much. Kids then put all of their internal resources to managing the new requirements or emotions and something else goes.
Toddlers may began having potty accidents. School-age kids might become clingy or revert to toting around comfort objects or speak in baby talk.
Don’t worry, this is to be expected, and once things begin to resolve, much of these regressions will turn around.
Kids are not always able to tell us that there how they’re feeling, that they are anxious, that things feel weird, or they feel confused, or uncertain. Not only are they not always able to tell us, often, they are not really aware of how they’re feeling themselves. Instead, kids might have big reactions to apparently small things, resist even minor transitions or changes, or complain more than normal about small injuries/hurts. They might become more aggressive, oppositional, and irritable. Difficulties falling asleep, more frequent wake ups, and nightmares are often present.
As parents, is important for us to realize that these behaviors aren’t just randomly occurring. They are not really about the small frustration, change, or irritation. Instead, these behaviors stem from their anxious feelings brought on by big changes in the world around them, and the feeling of insecurity that results.
This is true for little kids all the way up through teens and even adults.
Older teens and adults may revert to poor coping habits, excessively using TV or phones to escape from their current reality, and even over eating or using substances.
So what to do about it? Well one of the best things to do is to reduce your expectations and lean into compassion. Recognize that at a time when most everything is out of our control and we feel powerless, our kids feel the same. They are not trying to be difficult, but may not have another way to cope with this very challenging situation. Any opportunity you have to provide a sense of control, choices, or stability is recommended.
Another tool that we LOVE, for all ages, is creating a coping toolbox. This is a great tool to help kids cope at home. It’s inexpensive and can be a fun activity to do with your child.
The coping toolbox helps kids use coping skills to handle BIG feelings. Grab a box or a basket and pick some items to include in the box.
It’s helpful to think of items that hit the different senses. So, for example, lotion or essential oil spray for smell. Gum, candy, or a crunchy food for taste. For visual, consider colorful items, beautiful items, or items that move. There are tons of soothing ideas to hit the tactile sense. Don’t forget about sound!
Here are a few suggestions of what you can include in your coping box:
1. Pictures of family, friends, or a beautiful/fun scene
2. Books about emotions (check out our IG posts with some of our top recommendations)
4. Fidget Spinners
5. Small pad of paper and pen
6. Journal or coloring book
7. Calming Jar (check out the podcast interview link for directions)
9. Stress ball or putty (Aaron’s Thinking putty is great)
10. Headphones for music
11. Sound machine
Keep the box handy and pull it out when you notice your child getting frustrated, anxious, or angry. Help them learn to use the items to cool down and regulate. Keep it in an accessible place, maybe even in a homemade “chill out” spot.
Consider making a coping toolbox for yourself too, and include items that help you feel calm and grounded. Then, you and your child can practice relaxing together.