At a Glance
Kids with learning and attention issues may react strongly to everyday struggles and lack coping skills.
Parents can help teach healthy coping strategies, like giving names to feelings and brainstorming stress-relief activities.
Over time, kids will turn to these coping strategies on their own.
“Unpredictable.” “Random.” “Explosive.” That’s how some parents of kids with learning and attention issues would describe how their child reacts to everyday struggles.
You can help your child feel more in control of her emotions and reactions. Use these six stress-relief strategies to help her develop coping skills.
1. Give words to feelings.
Strong emotions can be scary for kids. And they can fuel strong reactions. But when children are able to talk about how they’re feeling and what may be causing it, their emotions can feel more manageable. When she’s upset, gently ask your child:
“How are you feeling right now?” Offer her the words to use: mad, sad, frustrated, anxious, worried, embarrassed, etc.
“Where are you feeling it in your body?” She may say her belly feels tight, her heart is racing, her head feels hot, etc.
“What do you think caused it?” Help her think through what happened right before she started to get upset. You might be able to help her see a different perspective or better understand what occurred.
Kids with language processing issues may find it difficult to talk about feelings. You might use a “How am I feeling?” visual chart to help her identify her emotions.
2. Find your child’s triggers.
Think about which situations are toughest for your child. Then consider how you can change your own behavior to help her cope with them. For example:
Does she yell when you tell her to turn off the TV? Offer five-minute warnings before shutting it off.
Does her stress level skyrocket when you ask her to get dressed each morning? A picture schedule might help her anticipate what’s expected.
Are transitions between activities disastrous? Arrange plenty of downtime between each club, sport and meeting.
3. Encourage healthy ways of coping.
What does your child already do to feel good? Maybe she rides her bike, reads a comic book or texts with a friend. Next time you see her getting upset:
Ask if she wants to take a break with one of these calming activities.
Point out that she already has ways to calm herself down.
Over time, she may turn to these coping mechanisms on her own.
4. Brainstorm specific coping strategies.
If your child doesn’t already have particular activities that calm her down, help her come up with some. For example:
Grade-schoolers: “When I’m angry at my brother, I can jump on the trampoline in the basement.”
Middle-schoolers: “If I’m stuck on a math problem, I’ll listen to two songs and then try it again.”
High-schoolers: “When I’m feeling anxious about college applications, I’ll go for a run.”
5. Be present and understanding.
When your child feels emotional, give her your full attention. If she sees you’re distracted, she may feel even further out of control. What does being present look like?
Focus on her. Open bills and check phone messages later.
Model active listening. After she’s done speaking, restate what she’s just said in her own words, not yours. You might say: “It sounds like you felt Mr. Knight was being disrespectful.” This helps her feel heard and understood.
Ask related questions. Help her work through positive next steps. “Is there anything you think you could tell him tomorrow?”
6. Seek help when needed.
When you rely on the help of others, you show your child that there are many components to a healthy coping strategy. For example:
If your child struggles in math, a tutor can teach new long division strategies.
If you argue every time you take her driving, ask a relative to help her get her permit.
If your child feels depressed, schedule an appointment with a counselor.
Connect with other parents—they may provide some useful tips and support. You’ll find more strategies for handling tough situations in Parenting Coach. With outside resources at hand, you and your child can feel more confident about your coping skills.
Emotions feel more manageable when kids know how to describe their feelings.
When you discover your child’s stress triggers, you can make simple changes to defuse meltdowns.
It’s OK (and healthy!) to seek help from professionals to teach your child coping strategies