Counselor creates materials to help kids cope with anxiety
Several years ago, I was working as a school counselor in an elementary school. At the beginning of the year, all the teachers and staff had to meet individually with the principal and discuss our goals. When my principal and I sat down, and he asked me “Big picture – what do you want to do in our school this year?” I hadn’t had anyone ask me that before, and I wanted to come up with a thoughtful answer. I sat quietly and reflected for a few moments.
We worked in a high performing district, and in my conversations with other counselors working at the different levels, it seemed as though as the kids got older, they were getting extremely stressed out and anxious and didn’t know how to express themselves safely. It was heartbreaking to hear about some of my students who were struggling. I wanted to do some preventative work before my students transitioned into middle school and high school. I wanted them to realize that they can deal with their emotions in safe and healthy ways. I told my principal that I wanted our students to develop healthy coping skills.
My principal was wholly supportive and asked about how I would accomplish that. So, I started working on a lesson plan to do with all the 5th graders before they went to middle school. I modified a coping skills checklist that I’d been using with clients. I had used a version of this checklist successfully with my clients to help them identify what coping skills they already had, ones they have tried and don’t like, and ones they want to try. It worked wonders for helping to identify ways to manage anxiety.
For example, I had one particular client who was experiencing extreme amounts of anxiety. We discussed how to cope at the various points during her day. Sometimes anxiety would happen when she was in school, sometimes on the weekend, and sometimes when her parents were out of the house. So we discussed what strategies to use when. For example, she could do deep breathing using her smartwatch before her class presentation, she could use a grounding technique when she was in the car, and she could listen to her favorite artist to distract herself when she was home alone.
I wanted to do some preventative work before my students transitioned into middle school and high school. I wanted them to realize that they can deal with their emotions in safe and healthy ways. I told my principal that I wanted our students to develop healthy coping skills.
During my class lesson, I had every child complete a checklist, and keep it to use as they finished up elementary school and moved onto middle school. Then we did a couple of coping skills together right there in the room. We imagined our favorite places and shared them, we practiced taking deep breaths together, and we did a simple art activity. It was great to see how their body language changed, and how much calmer they seemed as we were practicing coping skills.
That checklist was the beginning of copingskillsforkids.com. I’ve updated and edited it several times over the years, and my colleagues always asked me to share it with them. I decided to start a website, and share it for free with therapists, school counselors, and parents/family members of kids who were struggling with figuring out how to manage their emotions.
As a mental health counselor, I love books that can help me in my practice. I’ve always focused my work on helping kids identify their coping skills, and I kept looking for a book that had a ton of coping skills ideas in it. Every kid is different, and it’s helpful to have a variety of coping skills to have them try. What works for one person may not work for another. It also depends on the feeling and the location where something is happening. I never found that book, so my husband encouraged me to write it myself. I wrote the Coping Skills for Kids Workbook to give a vast number of strategies to help kids manage their stress, anxiety, and anger in safe and healthy ways.
As time has gone on, the products available at Coping Skills for Kids has expanded. Many times, ideas for new products come from people who’ve used my other products. Customers kept asking for visuals to help kids use the coping skills, so I created the digital cue cards, which are printable visuals that can serve as reminders to kids about their coping skills. Then, people asked for physical card decks, so I started making card decks that can be shipped out. Right now, I’m working on a new book for teens because that is a request I hear over and over again.
The best thing for me is when I get positive feedback. A parent recently wrote to me and said: “Your free printables have been so helpful for us at our home.” A principal told me, “those cards helped my student through a meltdown at school.” A mom wrote and shared: “when my son was having a hard time, he told me he just needed his cards!” These stories bring me joy and help keep me going, so I can share my work with more families and schools.
My goal is to let kids know that they can do something healthy and safe to manage their feelings. Learning coping skills is an important lesson that will help kids as they get older and have to manage more challenging emotions and situations. By teaching them these skills early, we are helping them develop self-regulation and resilience. I’m proud to be able to help kids develop these healthy emotional habits.