5 Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Children Dealing With Stress and Trauma

Life happens to everyone and stress, trauma, and other life-changing events all evoke a certain response. This evoked response can be either positive or negative and it requires some sort of strategy for people to deal with the emotions that come with that particular life event. This is known as a coping mechanism. Kids also have to deal with stress, trauma (unfortunately), and life-changing events that will evoke emotions, and they’ll need a positive and healthy way of dealing with it.

Why do kids need coping mechanisms?

In the same way adults need healthy strategies to deal with various life events, children may need them even more so. Children feel just about every emotion that adults feel, but they don’t always understand them or have the words to describe how they’re feeling. When they can’t properly express how they feel, this usually results in children throwing a tantrum. Teaching the proper coping strategies will not only help to stop them from throwing tantrums, but it will also teach them healthy ways to deal with life-changing events.

5 Coping Mechanisms for Children

1. Art

Creating art is a popular strategy for children to express their motions. What they can’t put into words, they can put into painting, drawing, coloring, etc. The act of creating art itself can alone help children to calm down and process their own emotions and thoughts. Art therapy is actually a form of therapy used for children struggling with anxiety, ADD, child sex abuse (especially at the hands of the church), and other forms of trauma.

2. Breathing Exercises

Another easy way that children can calm themselves down is to try deep breathing. Adults use this same strategy by inhaling for a few seconds and then exhaling for about twice as long. For children, try telling them to smell the flowers (inhale) and blow the bubbles (exhale). This physiological process helps to relax both their bodies and minds.

3. Calm-Down Kit

A calm-down kit is a collection of things used to calm your child down. This can be things like a toy that makes them happy or sensory toys, such as water beads or kinetic sand. It’s helpful to include things that will positively evoke all senses if possible. Sometimes, kids just need a moment to calm down and regroup, and this is exactly what a calm-down kit can do. A family pet can also have the same calming effect, as pet therapy is used as a method to treat anxiety.

4. Exercise/Yoga

Exercising is a healthy way to release negative emotions. Luckily, most children are high-energy and simple activities such as running or jumping up and down can be a great exercise. Yoga is another more mild form of therapeutic exercise, and even children can participate in it. Simple stretches and, again, breathing techniques can calm them down.

5. Music

Music is another form of therapy that is effective with children. It can be them making music on age-appropriate instruments or something as simple as listening to music. Music and other forms of art have a calming effect on the brain, helping to reduce anxiety, reduce depression, encourage children’s creative processes, and a way to improve mental health.

Coping Mechanisms vs. Defense Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are conscious behaviors to cope with stress, while defense mechanisms occur at the subconscious level. Both are used to protect the individual from experiencing unpleasant emotions, but most of the time, people aren’t even aware of the fact that they’re using a defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms are almost always negative, whereas coping mechanisms can be both negative and positive.


Remember that children may even feel stress from others around them who are going through a rough time. Always talk to them and let them know that their feelings are valid. It’s also important to model positive coping mechanisms for them.