In General Knowledge for the Family, Physical & Mental Health

Children and Emotion Focused Coping

Pre-teenagers and teens begin to expand their worlds at about the same time that they begin to experiment with their perceived “power” in their circles of friends and peers. Some of these children may, because of situations in their families, engage in bullying behavior with peers they perceive to be weaker than they are. How the targeted bullying victim responds and deals with the bullying relies greatly on their coping skills. They need to use both emotion focused coping, as well as problem focused coping skills.

What Is Emotion Focused Coping? 

In a nutshell, this is any skill that allows someone to manage their intense feelings about a situation they are experiencing. A complete emotion focused coping definition should include that the skill helps the person to reduce their intense emotional reactions to a point where they can think through the issue, according to the University of California, San Francisco’s Research Network on SES and Healing. They may view the situation as something beyond their control – for instance, they may feel limited in their ability to respond directly to a stressor by rules, morals and values, according to Dr. Sharon Galor. Until they can find a potential response to their situation, they may rely on using psychological skills.

As an example, they may be targeted by a clique of students at school. Because school regulations prevent them from responding in an abusive or harmful way, they can’t do anything to stop the targeting. Instead, they vent to their friends, go for a run or listen to some of their favorite music so they can get a grip on their feelings, suggests the Education Portal. Once they are under control emotionally, they may be better able to think through the situation and find a workable solution

Examples of Controlling Reactions by Developing Alternative Skills 

Developing new skills to address a negative social situation means different things to different people. One person may choose to go for a fast run in the park while someone else may choose to listen to industrial metal music or classical music. Other emotion focused coping examples include:

º Massage

º Spending time with a friend or two

º Creative expression

º Writing or journaling

º Relaxing in a bubble bath

º Watching a funny movie and laughing at the plot

º Self-soothing – “it’ll be OK”

º Prayer or other spiritual response

The responses above are positive responses. Maladaptive practices to handle feelings include denial, substance abuse, smoking and emotional eating, states Dr. Sharon Galor.

Using such skills should help the person to change how they respond to a situation or a stressor, according to the Education Portal.

Teens, both younger and older, can learn to use emotional focused coping skills. If a teacher or parent spends time with their children, discussing situations that could anger or frighten them, the children can teach themselves to find different ways of looking at a situation as they begin to strategize possible solutions, according to Stacey Lynn Bradbury, author of Adolescent Coping Strategies for In-Person Bullying and Cyberbullying. (pg. 10) As the teen faces their situation, their skills in handling their emotions should help them to get their feelings under control and reduce their stress back to a healthy level.

How Children and Teens Use New Strategies 

Because pre-teens and teens are still developing psychologically, they need to learn how to use positive new strategies so they can begin to move past the initial shock and anger and develop solutions to their situations. The Education Portal points out that, when someone doesn’t believe they can do anything to change their situation, using some form of emotional recognition of the issue can change how they handle the stress they feel.

Some teens may prefer to “hide” from the situation, using a “head-in-the-sand” approach. This avoidant approach could include isolation or literally hiding from others. These teens will soon find that the situation or people they are dealing with won’t go away – the situation won’t be resolved in a way that allows the teen to begin feeling better about himself.

Looked at in a different way, using a new skill to address their problem can be viewed as either approach or avoidant-focused. Approach coping uses methods that work to reduce the situation and its effects while avoidant coping only works to remove the teen’s attention from the stressful situation, writes Bradbury. (pg. 11)

Teaching Children and Teens to Use New Psychological Skills 

Parents who begin teaching their teens and pre-teens to cope with stressful situations also need to remind them that their new skill won’t remove the situation – it will only help them to improve their point of view so they can begin to brainstorm possible solutions to the issue itself.

In the beginning, parents begin to teach their children to begin handling their issue emotionally. One teaching method could be to model new strategies to deal with an issue, such as staying busy or discussing the situation with others.

Because parents deal with work stress and toxic coworkers or supervisors, they can use these to demonstrate to their children some of the healthiest methods they use. As they do so, these parents should point out that, eventually, they are going to have to begin to find and use solutions to change the stressors and deal with their supervisors or coworkers.

If a teen begins to use negative skills to address bullying, their parents or a mental health professional should begin showing them how to use more beneficial skills, according to the UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program. These will depend on the teen’s temperament and could include:

º Humor

º Relaxation or meditation

º Support-seeking from family and friends

º Brainstorming and problem solving

º Expectation adjustment

º Physical release of stress

º Venting

According to the Children’s Safety Network, a study, authored by the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology said that pre-teens cyberbullying victims who use healthy skills to address bullying were markedly different from children who had not been bullied. These preteens, aged 11 and 12, were also different from bully-victims, who have been bullied and who in turn, bully others.

Teens and Preteens Coping with Cyberbullying 

Pre-teens and teens who learn how to use beneficial mental health behaviors may place themselves in a stronger position as they work to stop their bullies, according to Edutopia. As they learn about these skills and begin using them, these children are able to maintain their focus on family, school, sports and friends rather than allowing the bullying to distract them.

Parents and instructors in the child’s life who help teach effective mental skills help them to change how they regard and feel about their issue.

Teachers and other school professionals can focus on specific skills to address bullying:

º Cognitive restructuring

º Stress inoculation training

º Behavioral self-management

º Social problem-solving skill training

º Training in social skill development

How Emotion Focused Coping Differs from Problem Focused Coping 

Once the teen has acknowledged and dealt with their feelings about being bullied, they need to turn to problem focused coping. Here, they work to address the bullying itself, which will reduce the amount of stress they experience, according to the Education Portal.

Edutopia defines the second skill as changing the relationship between the teen and the bullying. This is quite different from using mental health skills, which work to change how they react to being bullied.

According to Bradbury, a problem-focused approach may be the most effective technique the teen can use as they work to deal with the bullying and stress they are feeling. (pg. 13) If they actively seek ways of dealing with their bully or bullies, the teen is less likely to try and either externalize or internalize their problems. That is, they are less likely to blame themselves and turn their feelings inward on themselves. They’re also less likely to blame the blameless. Instead, they realize that they can deal with a negative social issue, which leads to increased self confidence.

In some instances, using a problem-solving approach may not be effective. When the teen is dealing with family issues, such as parent-to-parent conflict, they may experience less positive adjustment to the bullying situation.

Children in grades four through six are less likely to try to solve bullying issues. Because they are more likely to see peer-to-peer interactions as beyond their control, they may try to avoid dealing with the situation.

Parents and educational or mental health professionals need to be mindful of how children in this age group perceive their ability to control various situations. It may be that, for these children, teaching them to use healthy mental health skills may be more realistic. Then, parents and teachers can help them to solve the bullying issue.

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