Coping Skills: Why Are They Important to Learn as Teens?

When a child is raised in a high conflict home, it can be difficult for them as they develop into adults, carrying long-term effects. Large levels of stress in one’s home environment can impact kids in a variety of ways. Research has recently found that these impacts extend further than originally believed. Learn about the impacts of stress and conflict in the home on developing adults, and the impact healthy coping skills in teens can have on one’s health as an adult.

Key takeaways:

When it comes to experiencing stress at home, kids and teens react in various ways. There are those who process their feelings and emotions and find a lesson or something positive to take with them from the experience. Then there are others who are unable or unwilling to process their feelings and choose to bottle everything up inside.

Those who continue to do this into their teenage years and are unable to process their feelings and emotions are more likely to continue with the same avoidance and internalization patterns into adulthood. Research shows that the way stress and conflict are dealt with as teens can have long-lasting effects on one’s blood pressure and immune system into adulthood.

A deeper look into the research

A research study conducted at Penn State examined teenagers’ abilities to process stress and emotions. Those who did not process how they were feeling and held everything inside experienced higher rates of inflammation, weaker immunity, and higher blood pressure than those who processed their feelings and emotions in the face of stress in their home environments. These health impacts did not appear immediately, but rather developed later in life when the teens were adults. Having these decreases in health also makes them more susceptible to developing diseases such as cancer over time.

The research findings show that kids and adolescents who live in high-stress home environments have a greater need for mental and emotional support from a therapist or counselor to help teach them how to develop healthy coping skills so that they can better function in life and at home while managing stress. Seeking therapy to develop these skills has such a big impact on one’s future that it’s imperative for kids to learn healthy coping skills before they develop unhealthy habits they will carry into adulthood.

What are healthy coping skills?

Healthy coping skills include ways of processing events, feelings, and emotions in healthy ways that support positive mental health, stress reduction, and functioning in life. There are a variety of practices that may be considered healthy coping skills. Some of these include practicing yoga or meditation, exercising, getting enough sleep, engaging in self-care practices, processing your feelings and emotions with a trusted friend or therapist, finding a creative outlet such as writing, art, or music, or being able to think positively in the face of stress or adversity.

Everyone has their own preferred methods of coping. Some unhealthy coping skills to avoid include eating in excess, using drugs or alcohol, overspending, engaging in other self-destructive behaviors, and bottling things up inside to avoiding facing your feelings and emotions.

Ways to teach kids healthy coping skills:

In an effort to set your child up for greater health as adults, it’s important to teach and model healthy coping skills for them. When children and teens are able to process and identify what they are going through and cope with how they are feeling in healthy ways, they will be more likely to carry these healthy skills into their lives as adults, and experience greater health and well-being as a result.

There are a variety of ways to instill healthy coping skills into kids. While teaching them the following methods, it’s important to be mindful that you are also setting a positive example by displaying healthy coping skills yourself when it comes to stress.

Explain how to identify their emotions

When dealing with stress or conflict at home, it’s important to process your emotions. This starts with identifying the emotions being felt and why they are occurring. This is also a great way to help increase their emotional intelligence.

If your child is struggling with identifying their emotions, it may help to give them a list of feelings. There are a variety of feelings lists available online, and some include hundreds of different emotions. Choose the sheet that is most appropriate for your child’s stage of development. Once a child is able to identify their emotions, they can begin processing them and learning to manage stress in a healthy way.

Give them an active and/or creative outlet

When your child or teen is having a stressful or emotional day, it can help to have an active and/or creative outlet to turn to. Whether it is an extracurricular activity such as a sport or music classes, or access to art supplies and writing materials, anything that they can focus their energy into that they enjoy can help them to decompress in the face of high conflict or stress. If a child or teen is shy and/or doesn’t want to talk about what is going on, having a creative outlet they can use to express their emotions is a great way for them to process how they are feeling, be it through writing, music, art, theater arts, dance, etc.

Have them engage in talk or play therapy

Depending on the age of your child, play therapy can be a wonderful way for children to explore their feelings when they are learning how to process emotions and develop their emotional intelligence. Once a child is older, talk therapy may be a more appropriate route. Most schools have an on-site counselor or therapist that students may speak with. If this is not a good fit for your child, a licensed therapist, counselor, social worker, or psychologist can assist them in exploring and processing their feelings while developing healthy coping skills they can use to manage anything stressful at home or beyond. There may also be an after-school program or support group that your child may attend.

Teach and model positive thinking

Having positive thought patterns is a great way to manage conflict and stress, but not everyone is able to easily think about things from a positive lens. Oftentimes, we let negative thoughts get into our heads and if we believe them enough, they begin to form a narrative about life that includes repetitively negative thoughts and ideas about ourselves and the world. A therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help challenge the negative thought patterns and help your child train their brain to think more positively about everything that comes up in life.

This isn’t to say that your child will have unrealistic ideas about the world, merely more realistic ideas in comparison to their negative lens, with the ability to see the good and positive in all situations. It is also important for parents to model positive thought patterns. If a child’s parent is consistently expressing worst-case-scenario thoughts in the face of stress or conflict, they are unknowingly teaching their children to do the same.

Practice emotional intelligence exercises

In addition to teaching your children how to identify their emotions, there are a variety of other things you can do to help increase their emotional intelligence, which will lead to healthier coping skills. Not only will they be able to cope with stress and conflict easier, but they may also become more successful in school and in their careers as adults. Some methods to help increase emotional intelligence (EQ) include:

  • Visualization. Teach them empathy by having them visualize themselves in another person’s situation.
  • Delayed gratification. Teach them to resist the impulse to take an immediate reward and wait for a more valuable reward.
  • Get involved. Encourage them or participate with them in volunteer work and acts of charity.
  • Express gratitude. Have them say what they are thankful for each day to increase their gratitude and optimism.
  • Let them learn. Allow them the space to make mistakes or become frustrated when trying to solve a problem, as this is when true learning happens, and problem-solving skills are developed.
  • Healthy eating. Ensure they are getting a balanced diet with all the nutrients they need.

Living in a high-conflict environment or experiencing high levels of stress can be difficult for adolescents and kids. Managing their emotions can be a struggle, but with some attention and support when it comes to learning healthy coping skills, they will be equipped with the tools they need to manage stress and conflict in healthy ways, and experience good health and greater success into adulthood.

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