The Importance of Building Healthy Coping Skills

By Allison Finder, Prevention Educator/Counselor

Wanting young people to be successful, whether academically, athletically, or socially, is a common desire for parents and educators. Generally, we want what’s best for the young people in our lives, and we tend to look to the markers of success that are recognized by our communities – having a high grade point average, getting into a good college, making a varsity team – as indicators of whether or not they are thriving. However, while supporting children in their endeavors is not in itself harmful, there is a wealth of research that reveals that when adults focus too much on certain types of achievement for the young people in their lives, children internalize those attitudes in ways that are detrimental to both their wellbeing and their ability to be successful.

Learning healthy ways to cope with challenging feelings is an integral part of emotional health, and students who are better able to manage stress and uncomfortable emotions are more equipped to tackle problems both socially and academically. Without effective coping strategies, young people are often left feeling overwhelmed, confused and in emotional distress, looking for a quick fix that will magically disappear all of their stresses. These “quick fixes” often come in the form of risky behavior; vaping and juuling, overindulging at a weekend party, pushing themselves to the point of illness and injury. While it is important to acknowledge and celebrate your child’s external achievements, supporting their inner worlds and emotional realities is tantamount to overall wellbeing and sustaining your child’s positive contributions to their communities.

Modeling healthy coping skills in the face of stress or difficulty will encourage your child to do the same. It is important to allow your child to see you make mistakes; it is even more important to show your child that these mistakes do not define you as a person or determine your self worth. And the next time you come home after a stressful day, perhaps consciously demonstrate to your child that not only are your feelings normal and valid, they are merely moments in time that will pass. Gaining mastery over our emotional experience and responses is challenging, but it is not only possible, it is critical to the healthy development of our adolescents.

Shifting our ideas around success and mistakes is not a quick process, but it is critical to our children’s long-term health. Below we have listed some reflection points and considerations for parents and caregivers. If you want more information or to attend/host workshops on these topics, reach out to us at info@hallways.org.

Reflection Points for Parents:

Consider your own attitudes toward success, and evaluate whether those are the attitudes you want to pass down to your child.

  1. What does success look like to you? Are any of the wellness dimensions missing from your definition?

  2. Who taught you about success? What are some of your earliest experiences feeling successful? Feeling unsuccessful?

Consider your own self care practices and coping skills; are these tools that you hope to pass onto your child? Why or why not?

  1. What does “wellbeing” look like for you? How do you strive for or maintain a sense of balance?

  2. Evaluate your own capacity for tolerating distress and uncomfortable emotions. Stress and discomfort are normal parts of life but should be addressed appropriately

Create opportunities for you and your child to tackle a low-stakes project together, allowing error to be part of the process.

  1. Often, children who are overly focused on achievement are afraid to ask for the help they need, because they want to appear competent.  Help your child understand that seeking help is a strength and not a weakness.

  2. Do I allow myself to make mistakes? Do I acknowledge publicly when I do? Do I allow my child to see me make mistakes?

  3. What is my recovery process like after a mistake or error is made? Do I tend to linger on what went wrong rather than strategizing for the future?

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