Coping Strategies for Middle School-aged Children

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There is no doubt that we are facing one of the most stressful times in history. Seemingly overnight, parents are being “hired” to help facilitate their children’s instruction while possibly working full-time or even facing a sudden job loss. Students are being asked to display time management and self-discipline skills that may not be fully developed. Meanwhile, many educators are delivering instruction entirely remotely for the first time. No matter how you look at it, this has the potential to be a recipe for disaster.

One bright spot in this cloud of stress, that does not seem to be parting any time soon, is that we are not navigating these uncharted waters alone. Yes, our boats may be missing an oar and taking on water so to speak, but everyone’s boat is a bit beaten up right now. We truly are “in this together” as we keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are different types of coping strategies to help get us through stressful times: Appraisal-focused strategies, Problem-focused strategies, and Emotion-focused strategies.

Strategies to Relieve Stress

Appraisal-focused strategies help us to change the way we think about a situation. Gratitude journals and pro/con lists are ways to reframe one’s outlook and thereby decrease anxiety and distress. The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, recommends writing down 3 things that went well that day just before going to bed. This could be as simple as noting the weather was pleasant today, my Amazon package arrived, and I finally had time to finish a chapter in my book. Anything that brings you joy is worth noting no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Problem-focused strategies help us to change the way behave about the stress such as gathering additional information about the problem or learning a new skill. In this instance, it could include checking the Center for Disease Control for recommendations on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It could also mean learning how to order groceries online for the first time, figuring out how to host a meeting over Zoom, or watching a YouTube tutorial on how to cut your own hair…if you dare!

Finally, emotion-focused strategies help us to change the way we feel about a stressful situation. This includes distraction and/or relaxation techniques such as reading a novel, talking to a friend, exercising, meditating, taking a warm bath, getting a good night’s rest, or watching a movie. All those self-care activities that are calming and help to release a bit of emotional distress come into play here.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to relieving stress. Most of us will employ multiple coping strategies to help make it through the day or maybe even to help make it through the hour. The best type is the strategy or combination of strategies that works for you.

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, help is available 24/7, 365 days a year through the Disaster Distress Helpline. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Written by: Angela Murray, counselor grades 6-9 | LSU University Laboratory School


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