18 Coping Skills: Strategies for Children and Teens

Coping skills have been a pretty popular topic for discussion over on The Helpful Counselor Facebook Page. So many great ideas were shared that I thought it would be a good to write a coping skills blog post to have them in one place. :)

Here are some of the great coping skill strategies (in no particular order):

Homemade Stress Balls (w/Playdough):

During my counselor training, I was told that you should never ask your students to do something that you have never tried yourself. This is very sound advice as it allows you to work out kinks and reduce frustration.

So, when I heard about making stress balls out of playdough I thought I had better try it out first. After making a huge mess the first time around I was able to tweak my method.

Homemade Stress Balls Feelings Elementary Counseling

Tips for making homemade stress balls with playdough:

  • Work over a table to catch bits of playdough.
  • Half of a can of playdough makes a stress ball the perfect size for my elementary kids.
  • A third of a can (green stress ball) is great for really small hands or for pinching. <- Excellent for kids working on their pincer grasp!
  • Roll the clay into small “snakes” measuring about 2 inches in length. The playdough will fall down to the bottom, versus having to push it through the opening…which is where I experienced the most mess.
  • Wait until you have finished stuffing the balloon with playdough before you try to squeeze it from the opening to the main part of the balloon. The playdough inside helps keep the air hole open.
  • I think creating these stress balls would be therapeutic for my older kids (4th grade +), but I will make them ahead of time for my little ones.

Taking care of yourself:

Do you have students whom seem routinely unkempt? While lack of resources, such as soap, shampoo, or even running water can lead to a student looking disheveled. A lack of grooming can also be a sign of depression or severe stress.

Teaching students the importance of taking care of basic needs can help them feel better both physically and psychologically.

Personal basic needs:

  • Healthy food
  • Drinking water
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Grooming oneself (showering, washing hair, using deodorant, wearing clean clothing, etc.)

Worry Stones:

I’ve always used polished river stones for worry stones with my students, but I’ve been seeing a lot of counselors making worry stones out of clay. I love the idea of having the students involved!

Deep breathing:

Everyone says to take deep breaths, but not all breaths (even deep ones) are equal. Expanding the diaphragm is important to get the full effect. I love the Teacher Tipster’s Hot Chocolate Breathing technique!!! Not sure if I love using the technique to teach deep breathing or that I get to working in a delicious cup of hot chocolate (when appropriate…sometimes we just pretend).

Figure 8 Breathing:

For those of you that are into Brain Gym, there is figure 8 breathing. Figure 8 breathing can be very helpful with “centering” oneself in stressful situations, especially if steps are taken to be mindful of where they are at on their figure 8.

Blowing Bubbles:

Another great technique for teaching about controlled breathing. Have you students try different lengths and speeds of breaths to blow bubbles. Deep steady breaths win every time!

Bonus: Kids can pop their worries (aka bubbles)!

5 Senses:

List/think of two things for each of our senses.  2 things you see, 2 things you hear, 2 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 2 things you taste.

This activity can be very intense when used to explore traumatic events. I prefer to use it for them to revisit a happy memory.

For instance my happy memory is going to the cabin with my kids:

  • 2 things I see: sunsets and my kids jumping off of the dock
  • 2 things I hear: the waves of the water and laughter
  • 2 things I feel: the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the water
  • 2 things I smell: suntan lotion and fresh cherry pie
  • 2 things I taste: hamburgers cooked over charcoal and (did I already say) cherry pie

Ahhh…I feel better already! :)

Finger Crochet:

Being a big fan of crocheting myself, I will definitely have to work this one into my bag of tricks. What a great way to use up my old yarn!

Painting with Water Colors:

Use preprinted mandalas to allow the child to stay in the moment and focus on the act of applying the color. Very soothing!

You can print some from the Hello Kids website.


Have you ever heard of zendoodles? I really enjoy making them and so do my older students.

The best part of zendoodling is that it consists of repeated shapes. Even the worst drawer (*raises hand*) can do it. I’m the queen of stick figures at my school. Seriously, I think my students feel sorry for me when I try to draw.

Proof that anyone can do it:


My doodle. Proof that anyone can zendoodle!

You can find a great intro to zendoodles here.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Visualization:

This video is an excellent example!

Create a Coping Skills Booklet:

Easy Peasy Steps:

  • Cut two sheets of plan paper into 1/4 sections
  • Draw things or activities that make the child feel better…older kids may like to include positive quotes.
  • Staple along one side to create a “book”.

You can also hole punch along one side and tie the pages together with yarn, but I would classify that as more “fancy smancy”, rather than “easy peasy”. ūüėČ

Breathe to Relax App:

Displays relaxing pictures and sounds while the user takes deep breaths.
coping skills app

Fluidity App:

Use your finger to make the shapes move and change colors. Very soothing!coping skills app

Mini-Pillows with Lavender Stuffing:

Cut two hearts out of felt. Sew around edges, but don’t forget to stuff the pillow with lavender scented oil before closing. ¬†I vanilla or sandalwood would also smell lovely!

(Gotta make some of these!)  

Enjoy Nature:

Coping Skills Enjoy outdoors

My youngest during International Mud Day!

Create a List of Positive Behavior Choices:

Cognitive behavior theory (CBT) dictates that our thoughts affect our behavior, which put together, affect how we feel. In keeping with CBT, we can use positive behavior to hijack our feelings.

Do things that you enjoy = feel better.

The trick is to create a list of activities when the child is calm. Try to have a child articulate what would make them feel better in the middle of a crisis is not going to work. When kids are in crisis they are not rationale and nothing will seem likely to work for them.

Younger kids may benefit from a visual list of activities. I like using my coping skills deck with my students to identify possible ideas. I then print them up and attach them to a ring for them to keep at their desks.


Learn to Laugh at Yourself:

You know that saying, “You either have to laugh or cry.”? Well, I choose to laugh. I’m always doing goofy stuff. Sometimes it’s intentional, while other times it’s more of a “what the hell was I thinking” sort of moment. Ah well, whatcha gonna do?

Me rock’n it out at a Maroon 5 concert with my 11 yr old!

Love to hear your favorite coping strategies in the comments below!

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    • Heather says:

      I use an IPad and go through the Apple Store for my apps. I’ll keep my eyes peeled the next time I’m browsing the Google Play Store.

      Please let me know if you find something comparable. :)

  1. Caz says:

    I have Dyspraxia and when I get really muddled I get panic attacks. I’ve found that having a certain audio book (which has worked for my insomnia all my life) on me at all times really helps. There’s something about just concentrating on one thing that really clears my head and allows me to get on with my day.

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