Little Kids and Big Feelings

Teaching kids to recognize their feelings with Coping Skills for Kids

By Sara Yaniga, Macaroni Kid Chicago Midtown publisher August 7, 2020

Who else has had some BIG feelings in their homes over the last few months?  I know we certainly have.

2020 has not been east on any of us and our kids are no exception.  "Normal" has evolved into something very different in the past several months. 

In our home, we transitioned from traditional school to homeschool after a teacher strike.  Then came extended family travel, during which we encountered a "shelter-in-place" order which delayed our return to Chicago by more than two months.  We were kept apart from friends, family, and learned how to simultaneously conduct work and school from the same kitchen table. We suffered the grief and loss of a grandparent and the sadness of having to stay apart from other close friends and family.  We learned to wear masks and wash our hands properly.

Then in a brief flash of new "normalcy", we returned to Chicago only to watch it turn into something out of a movie with civil protests, riots, and violence within 48 hours.  Since our return, we have had many conversations about our health, our race, privilege, and what the future may look like for work, school, and our relationships with friends and family. The world is getting bigger and more complex for all of us.

Can you identify all of the emotions experienced in the last week, let alone the last several months?  I can't and I can't expect our 8-year-old and 4-year-old to be able to either.

Luckily we have help.  A toolbox of sorts, from Janine Halloran a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, who has been working with adolescents for fifteen years.  She is also a mother of two, so she sees the need for helping kids learn to cope with stress not just in her work with other children, but within her own family as well.  She knows that teaching our children healthy copings skills at a young age makes for a resilient, and healthier, adult.  I was lucky enough to receive a set of Halloran's Coping Skills for Kids workbooks and activity books for kids and couldn't wait to share them with other Chicago parents!  I reached out to local experts in the social-emotional education of children and we held a small group session all about Big Feelings and Little Kids and teaching coping skills that can last a lifetime.  

Erin Bracco, co-owner of Buddha Belly Kids Yoga, and Arielle Ruby, Bubbles Academy educator and psychologist, are already familiar with the materials from Coping Skills for Kids and blended Hallaron's lessons into a class with yoga, story, and art. We also provided each family with a mini "coping toolkit" with some of the Copings Skills for Kids resources, pinwheels, and bubbles to practice their breathing exercises at home.  

For my family, we have all found the relaxation techniques in the Relaxation Round Up activity book to be very helpful.  Moving our bodies, focusing on our breath, has an amazing ability to help calm our minds and reduce stress.  Yes, we all utilize these techniques, from the 4-year-old to the 40-year-olds.  We have also started using the My Happiness Journal with our 8-year-old because I love how it builds a collection of what makes him happy.  Focusing on the positive and happiness can be so powerful in times of stress and worry.

Some of the resources you can find from Coping Skills for Kids offers three activity books and two workbooks:

  • Processing Feelings - helps identify various feelings, such as sad, anxious, overwhelmed, jealous and more.
  • Relaxation Round-Up - guides kids through different techniques they can use to cope with different feelings and help to identify which ones work best in different situations
  • My Happiness Journal - divided into three sections to allow your child(ren) to build their own personal collection of happiness
  • The Ultimate Playdate Guide -over 50 play ideas, designed for two children, and conveniently indexed by social skill, mess level, indoor vs. outdoor, and age range. Playdate ideas include pretend play, arts & crafts, indoor & outdoor games, and board games and card games made for 2.
  • Coping Skills for Kids Workbook - has more than 75 easy and ready-to-use games and activities, designed for school counselors, therapists, or anyone who runs social skills groups. This rich resource includes reproducible, step-by-step plans for how to play, alternatives to each activity, and debriefing questions to reinforce learning.

Also available are Coping Cue Card decks, a workbook for teens, Social Skills for kids, and more!  Many resources are available in print or as downloadable files.  You can see them all in the Coping Skills for Kids online store.