It’s important to teach kids and teens mental health coping skills so they can grow into healthy adults[*].
Young people experience different negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety due to the challenges they face. Whether they’re struggling with a mental health issue or are simply dealing with a stressful situation, having the right skills can prevent these emotions from escalating out of control and interfering with their daily lives.
This article defines the different types of coping strategies for mental health and provides specific examples for stress, anger, and depression.
What are Mental Health Coping Skills?
Mental health coping strategies refer to thoughts and behaviors that reduce the intensity of a distressing situation or transform how people react to these situations.[*].
For example, if a child or teenager has recently moved to a different school, meeting new people and finding their way around can be exciting and stressful all at once. Making sure they get quality sleep the night before class and keeping a positive attitude (telling themselves, “I can do this”) are two ways they can handle their first few weeks at school.
Coping skills are divided into four categories[*]:
Problem-focused: This involves activities that remove the source of stress. For example, a teen who wakes up feeling irritable due to sleep deprivation can overcome the problem by going to sleep earlier and having a soothing evening routine.
- Emotion-focused: Instead of solving the problem, emotion-focused strategies focus on changing your response to the problem. This is helpful for situations you have no control over, such as how a friend treats you and your past actions.
- Meaning-focused: This is another coping strategy for situations that are difficult to change, such as a chronic illness, health crisis, and natural disasters. It involves looking for the “silver lining” that aligns with your personal values[*]. For example, instead of focusing on your sickness, you shift your attention to the good things in your life.
- Support-seeking: Getting support from a parent, teacher, or friend you trust can beat stress, reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and prevent you from engaging in maladaptive behaviors.
Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals can teach young people any of the mental health coping strategies from the list below. Also, keep in mind that some strategies will work better for them than others, so be patient with the process.
Mental Health Coping Skills for Stress
1. Take a break - A short 15-minute break can help them refocus and stay on task.
2. Make a gratitude list - This can include their best friends, hobbies, and being able to go to school.
3. Eat healthy food - Eggs, salmon, and nuts are good sources of protein, which provide amino acids for brain neurotransmitters[*].
4. Deep belly breathing - Also called diaphragmatic breathing, deep belly breaths help to lower their heart rate and relax their bodies.
5. Read a book - It’s also a great way for them to wind down before bed.
6. Use positive affirmations - I am enough. I accept who I am. Every day is a fresh start!
7. Talk to a trusted adult - This can be a parent or a school counselor.
8. Limit your caffeine intake - Caffeine is found in coffee, chocolates, and energy drinks.
9. Play with your pet - Chase bubbles. Do frisbee. Play “find the treat.”
10. Color, draw, or paint - Art therapy minimizes negative mood. Plus, this doesn’t require any skill.
11. Watch a comedy - A good laugh makes it easier for young people to handle difficult situations.
12. Cry it out - Crying is an emotion-focused coping strategy that helps a person experience relief[*].
13. Look for the good in a difficult situation - Even on the worst day, it helps to think about one thing to be thankful for.
14. Focus your mind on your goals - This could be finishing the project they started or mastering a new skill.
15. Play an instrument - Focusing your mind on something enjoyable relieves stress.
16. Enjoy a hobby - Skills to develop outside of school include cooking, sculpting, scrapbooking, photography, and origami.
17. Stretch or do yoga - The best yoga poses include “the child’s pose” and “cat and cow.”
18. Write about it - Let them put their thoughts and feelings on paper. They don’t have to share this with you if they don’t feel comfortable.
19. Spend time with positive people - Have a children’s tea party. Pack up a picnic. See a good movie.
20. Get outside - Evidence suggests that being exposed to nature reduces stress and mental fatigue[*].
Mental Health Coping Skills for Anger
1. Stop and breathe - They can close their eyes and imagine smelling their favorite flower until they feel more relaxed.
2. Squeeze a stress ball - Applying pressure on a stress ball will reduce their nervousness. They can squeeze it in a “calm down” corner or before nap time.
3. Have a “calm down kit” - Make a box of the things they like that make them feel better. It can contain art supplies, plush toys, and story books.
4. Avoid violent TV shows and video games - These can desensitize teens and increase their likelihood to engage in aggressive behaviors[*].
5. Imagine a calm place - It can be a real or imaginary place, like the beach or your recent family trip to the mountains.
6. Listen to music - Instrumental music or nature sounds can help heal one’s emotions.
7. Creatively express angry feelings - They can draw, paint, cook, sing, or dance.
8. Tear your own anger to pieces - Let them write their feelings on a sheet of paper and expel their energy by tearing it up.
9. Squish playdough - This is a safe way to release strong emotions.
10. Dance it out - Encourage them to dance until their anger disappears.
11. Remind yourself of the consequences of uncontrolled anger - Uncontrolled anger affects people in different ways. It can lower self-esteem, increase violence, and result in health problems.
12. Count to 100 - This prevents a child or teen from acting on their anger. While they count to 100, they can take slow deep breaths.
13. Jump up and down for a minute - Any form of physical activity will help them deal with anger healthily.
14. Replace an angry thought with a helpful thought - Also, teach them to avoid using words like always, never, should, no one, and everyone.
15. Tell yourself, “Be calm.” - Additionally, let them visualize themselves in a calm state.
16. Tell yourself, “I’m not going to let this get to me.” - It’s also helpful for them to accept the fact that certain things in life just can’t be changed.
17. Run until you’re tired - Running is a healthy way to release their emotions. It also increases feel-good neurotransmitters[*].
18. Yell into a pillow - This offers a temporary relief from anger without stressing others out.
19. Take a cold shower - Swimming or immersing yourself in cold water may help improve mood[*].
20. Notice signs of anger early - This includes speaking fast, crossing their arms, clenching their fists, and their heart beating faster.
Mental Health Coping Skills for Depression
1. Engage in enjoyable activities - Good activities include taking the dog out for a walk, making a collage, and rock climbing.
2. Set daily and weekly goals - These goals should be relevant and beneficial to them.
3. Use a relaxation app - Apps that support mental health include Calm and Headspace.
4. Unplug from electronics - Spending too much time on electronic devices can exhaust their brains.
5. Eat a nutritious diet - At the same time, avoid foods that are high in sugar.
6. Spend time in nature - Here are a few fun ideas to try: Paint rocks. Build sandcastles. Go on a leaf counting hunt.
7. Identify three things you’re grateful for - Gratitude neutralizes sadness and improves a person’s satisfaction with life[*].
8. Let go of things outside your control - Encourage them to focus on what they can control, such as their effort, actions, and ideas.
9. Connect with your family or friends - Spending time with people who matter will reduce feelings of loneliness.
10. Tell yourself, “I don’t have to be perfect.” - Study shows that maladaptive perfectionism makes an individual vulnerable to depression[*].
11. Tell yourself, “I may not feel well now, but things will get better.” - This allows them to look at their challenges with a sense of hope.
12. Tell yourself, “I can treat myself with kindness and compassion.” - Also, let them practice it. This includes spending time with friends who build them up and learning to say no.
13. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to ask for help.” - Remind your kid or teen that asking for help demonstrates strength, not weakness.
14. Say yes to social opportunities - It’s tempting to say no, especially that depression makes people want to isolate themselves. However, social opportunities can increase their sense of joy and fulfillment.
15. Get a good night’s sleep - A lack of quality sleep can worsen the symptoms of mental health problems.
16. Use essential oils - Try lavender oil, ginger oil, or rose oil.
17. Join a club or sport - These are social activities that reduce their risk of engaging in unhealthy, harmful behaviors.
18. Follow an exercise routine - Exercising for just 30 minutes a day can lighten their overall mood.
19. Make a playlist of feel-good songs - Let them focus on songs that make them feel inspired. For example, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera[*].
20. Do journaling - It’s a good way for them to identify their daily stressors and practice positive self-talk.
Download our Mental Health Coping Skills Worksheet
Interested in more coping mechanisms for mental health? You can download our 9-page printable poster set that includes a happiness iceberg, a list of self-care activities, and happiness mindsets, and more!