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.

When is Stress Unhealthy?

A child’s ability to cope can be overwhelming if the stress or adversity they are experiencing is too strong, too serious, too long-lasting, or too unexpected. Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of stress when they do not have access to enough assistance or the ability to develop healthy coping mechanisms. An unhealthy amount of stress can negatively affect children’s mental and physical health over time. You will not be able to keep your children from experiencing stressful feelings. Nonetheless, you can assist children and teenagers in coping.

When is Stress Beneficial?

The perfect amount of stress, in conjunction with the proper coping mechanisms, can be beneficial to a child’s development. It can help kids rise to the occasion when faced with difficulty. They may find it easier to work toward their goals, concentrate their efforts, and accomplish their deadlines as a result. Children can cultivate the inner strengths and talents that contribute to resilience through experience.

How Does Positive Stress Work?

The temporary anxiety that children experience when they are confronted with a challenge is known as positive stress. It may encourage them to get ready and concentrate. It has the potential to inspire someone to achieve their goals, accomplish things, or attempt new things. Individuals may experience a form of stress that is beneficial to them before an important test, game, or performance. The stress will end as soon as they take on the assignment. Kids can grow and develop more when they are exposed to healthy levels of stress.

What is Childhood Trauma?

As children mature, they inevitably encounter negative experiences in life. Some are more evident than others, such as the destruction of a home by a natural disaster, the infliction of physical harm, or the loss of a parent. Other factors, such as violence in the community or substance misuse by a parent, can also hurt a child’s perception of their safety and well-being. Even something such as being involved in a car accident or overhearing frequent and heated conflicts between a child’s parents can be extremely distressing for some of those children.

A natural component of a child’s maturation is the process of discovering how to comprehend, work through, and adapt in the face of challenges and adversity, even during catastrophic events. But sometimes children get stuck. A child may be left with an overwhelming sense of fear and loss as a result of an experience or series of experiences, giving them the impression that they are not safe and that they do not have control over their lives. These views can grow so severe for certain children that they hinder their continued physical, emotional, social, or intellectual development.

Trauma can have long-term impacts on both the quality and duration of a person’s life, especially if it is not treated. The good thing is that there are several things that you can do to make your child less sensitive to trauma, to identify trauma reactions, and acquire the assistance you need to assist a child in recovering from traumatic experiences.

Some Causes of Childhood Trauma

  • Having to watch their father or their mother’s partner physically abuse their mother in front of them.
  • Sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a kid’s parents, other family members, other children, or anyone else in a position of control or power over the child.
  • Experiencing physical abuse, either at home by parents who use physical abuse as a form of discipline for the child, or outside the house by other authority figures who use physical abuse as a form of discipline.
  • Having their primary caregiver or parent pass away, getting divorced, or being abandoned are all devastating experiences for children.
  • Living with emotional neglect. Emotional neglect is the opposite of abuse or mistreatment; it’s a failure to act or an absence. Living with emotional neglect may be very difficult. When it comes to a child’s emotions, parents often fail to recognize them or respond to them adequately or suitably in an adequate suitable manner. There is either very little or none at all in the way of emotional support or acknowledgment.
  • Being emotionally and physically neglected as a child. This is the case when children are not provided with a sufficient amount of food or clothing, kept clean, or kept warm.
  • Having a parent or guardian who is an addict or who is a heavy abuser of drugs or alcohol.
  • A childhood spent in a home where one of the parents or primary caregivers was imprisoned.
  • Having one or both of one’s parents diagnosed with a mental disease, such as schizophrenia or depression.
  • Having their parents be emotionally inaccessible to them because of their long work hours or their self-absorption is one form of emotional abuse. Another form of emotional abuse involves the parents habitually humiliating, frightening, or verbally abusing the child.

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 emotions. 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.