My last blog post was an introduction to emotional intelligence for children and teens. If you have not read it yet or forgot the definition of emotional intelligence, feel free to click here or the “previous” button just above this text and check it out! To quickly review, in order for children and teens to be able to succeed in developing and improving their emotional intelligence, they need to be able to first, label emotions. I recommend caregivers support their children and teens by helping them label emotions, talk about emotions, validate and accept emotions, learn where emotions are sitting in the body, and use emotions as a way to connect.
So, what comes after all of this you ask? Learning healthy coping/regulation skills and how to implement them is the next step to improving emotional intelligence. My first recommendation, especially for children, is to make learning and practicing as fun as possible. What I mean by this is, incorporate play, art, movement, and music in order to increase these skills. One question I hear from caregivers of young children is, “Can my 2-/3-/4-/5-year-old learn and understand these skills?” My answer: Absolutely!! If we want older children and teens to be able to recognize and regulate their emotions, they need to start practicing young. emotional
Here is a list of some of my favorite healthy coping skills:
1. Body Scan- This technique is helpful because it allows us to practice increasing our attention to not only our emotions, but how they feel inside of our body. I recommend starting at either the head or the feet, then shifting awareness down or up one section of the body at a time. I find that children and teens like this technique because they learn how their body can be a powerful way to communicate emotions to themselves, and they learn ways to “catch” their emotions before reacting in an unhealthy way. Here’s an example: If your finger twitches when you are angry, that is your body’s way of communicating “Hey, you need to pay attention here!”
2. Deep Breathing- The beauty of this technique is that children and teens are already experts because they breathe automatically! Deep breathing includes increasing awareness to the breath and then breathing deeper and more slowly. Doing so helps relax muscles, increase oxygen, and lower blood pressure. When the body is relaxed, the brain can re-focus more effectively. One way to make this more fun for children is to pretend their fingers are birthday cake candles. They will need to focus on their breath in order to blow each one out! For teens, placing one hand on their chest and one hand on their stomach can make this technique more effective.
3. Exercise/Movement- Incorporating movement is a fun way for children and teens to regulate their emotions. I encourage them to do some jumping jacks, sprint a couple of times back and forth, or do some random shakes in order to reconnect with their system. This technique not only works when experiencing difficult emotions, but also to calm and re-focus if overly excited.
4. Grounding- This technique is most effective when incorporating all five senses! To do this, encourage your child or teen to focus on 5 things they see, 4 things they hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they smell, and 1 thing they taste. This technique is similar to deep breathing in that it helps the child or teen to calm, or ground their system and helps the brain to re-focus.
Although this is definitely not a complete list of healthy coping skills, it can be a start if your child or teen does not have any tools in their tool box. Here are some extra tips for caregivers: First, model these coping skills as much as possible! Children and teens are already watching you, so when possible, show them the skills you want them to be using. Second, help your child or teen practice these skills when they are calm. You read that correctly! When a child’s or teen’s brain is dysregulated, the “thinking” part of the brain is essentially turned off or can be more difficult to access. It will be harder for them to remember these skills in the moment, so practicing when calm increases their chances for success. Finally, children and teens, and young children especially should not be expected to successfully master these skills when in isolation. Difficult or big emotions can be very overwhelming for children and teens. If we go back to that idea of connection, they need your presence in order to remember and implement these skills. If your instinct is to send your child or teen to their room, first try taking a deep breath yourself and then prompt them to use a healthy coping skill! Happy coping!
Here are some resources on healthy coping skills:
Written by Candace Hanson, MA, LMFT
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