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December 21, 2020 Coping Skills for Big Feelings

Dates to Remember:

December 29- Morton County 4-H Ambassadors, Zoom

January 12- Diabetes Prevention Program, 5:15- 6:15 pm, Zoom, series begins

Coping Skills for Big Feelings

By Jacey Wanner, Region 7 Parent Family Educator for NDSU Extension

I recently attended a webinar presented by Phyllis Phagel on building a coping toolbox. Google her; she’s an amazing counselor, journalist, and author.

I left the webinar inspired by all of her techniques to deal with stress and thought: “Why didn’t I know about these techniques sooner? These strategies are simple and effective, and they could help kids and adults.” A few of her techniques for dealing with strong emotions follow.

  1. 1.     Write Down Three worries, Count to Three, and Rip Up the Paper.

Phagel described this exercise as a way to not have our worries have control over us. We give our worries power when we keep them inside of our head, so by writing them on a piece of paper, we can give our worries less power and less of a hold on our thinking. Plus, ripping the paper is a satisfying way to deal with worries that are often bigger than ourselves. Younger children can complete this exercise by drawing pictures of things they’re worried about and ripping them up.

  1. 2.     Have a Worry Box

Phagel has a mailbox and a deck of index cards next to it, where children can come, write down a worry, and place it in the box when they need to take a break from thinking about a stressor for a while. Phagel made sure to emphasize that this activity’s intent was not to dismiss anyone’s worries, but it was simply a concrete way for kids to take a break from their worries.

  1. 3.     What Would You Tell Your Friend?

For this technique, kids talk about things that are bothering them. Then Phagel asks them, “If a friend came to you and told you what you just said to me, what would you say to them?” This gives children a way to look at the situation from a different point of view and puts some space between themselves and the problem with which they’re struggling.

  1. 4.     A Magic Wand

In the webinar, Phagel said that she uses the magic wand in her school to help her see what is going on inside children’s heads. She gives them a wand and asks them, “If you could make anything magically appear, what would you pick?” This creates an opportunity to mention that while some of their wishes might not come true, they might have something else that they can do instead. For example, a child might wish to go to Disneyland. While that might not be something their family can do, the family could watch a Disney movie together with extra snacks.

We have lots of ways to deal with stress. Phagel’s workshop was focused on naming and acknowledging the stressors in our lives instead of keeping them hidden. This naming and acknowledging process, according to Phagel, helps us start to cope with our stressors in a healthy way.

As adults, we are encouraged to share with the children in our lives how we handle big emotions. Children learn from us, and for them to know that adults have big feelings too, is OK, and showing them how we handle those feelings in a positive way is OK.

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