7 Stress Coping Mechanisms for Children

Oh, to be an adult. Is the stress getting to you, too? Working long hours, taking care of kids, taking care of elders, having to feed multiple people multiple times a day every single day, bills, taxes, politics… it’s a lot. Hopefully at the end of a long day, we adults get to unwind and process that stress a little – yoga, maybe a glass of wine, meditation, some deep breathing exercises, the benefits of which we can rationalize and understand. It’s so nice having a fully developed cerebral cortex to be able to process, contextualize, and deal with our stress after a long day!

…What about the kids, though?

How are the kids doing? The older ones, the teens who are on the cusp of adulthood, probably have their own stress management that helps them chill after a long day of zoom school and doomscrolling. They have music, friend text chains, maybe a car to drive around in or at least the autonomy to go for a walk by themselves in the neighborhoods. Older kids most likely have the mental maturity to know what’s going on and how to help themselves through it.

It’s tougher for younger children. The younger children who don’t really understand what a pandemic is, or why they’re suddenly going to school in six hour teleconferences every day. Or the kids younger than that who aren’t in school yet, but are doing that thing kids do where they absorb, amplify, and emit the energy they’re receiving from their family, and that energy is fraught. How do we help those younger children do things like process a stress they can’t even name, let alone understand?

BooginHead scoured the internet for some low-barrier-to-entry, inexpensive, yet creative ideas for helping young kids cope with stress. Not every stress coping mechanism is going to be right for your child, but hopefully our little list of suggestions can help you find your way forward to what WILL work. Let us know what you think, and if you have any ideas we should add.

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #1: Homemade Stress Balls

Do stress balls really work? Maybe. Redirecting your body’s muscle tenseness into a little squishy ball must do something, even if it doesn’t heal your stress completely. But we’ll try anything once, and playing with a stress ball is a pretty low-stakes experiment. Making your own stress balls is also something to do to fill the hours and hours of together time during quarantine! Yes, please. We welcome the distraction of actually making the stress balls, and the potential benefit of using them.

homemade stress balls

All you need for homemade stress balls are a few balloons and some readily-available fillers like flour or rice. Thank you to the awesome website Coping Skills for Kids for the recipe. They have a ton of awesome suggestions when it comes to stress coping mechanisms. We’ll be frequent visitors. 

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #2: Deep Breathing Exercises...with Bubbles

In all the research we did, everyone’s trying to get children to do breathing exercises. It’s such a good idea! It’s so noble! Controlled breathing works so well as stress relief! But if you get two big breaths out of a toddler you know you’re lucky. The attention span, the presence of mind, it just isn’t there. They’re kids! We’re grown adults and we can hardly sit still through 10 deep breaths. So let’s bring in the props.

Back at copingskillsforkids.com, we found deep breathing exercises for kids with the brilliant suggestion to use blowing bubbles as a sneaky breath moderator. You can’t blow too hard or you burst the bubble tension in the wand. You have to blow bubbles gently and with consistent speed to get them to form, which means conscious, thoughtful control of the breath. Truly genius.

baby using pacifier clip playing with bubbles

Babies looooove bubbles

Also, never discount the power of distraction. If you can refocus a kid in a downward spiral, you’ve won. Bubbles are a repetitive, easy task that are enchanting and ephemeral, focusing a kid’s attention on something vastly different than what might have preoccupied their minds only seconds before. According to Amazon, some of the best reviewed bubbles for kids are Fubbles Bubbles, with 3,000+ positive ratings.

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #3: Deep Pressure Therapy

It’s easier than you may think. If you know anything about Autism and Neurodiversity advocate Temple Grandin, you probably know she invented a hug machine that did wonders to alleviate her anxiety as a person on the autism spectrum. She was utilizing Deep Pressure Therapy, which is the same concept behind swaddling babies. It’s also where all the weighted blankets came from.

Temple Grandin

The semi-autobiographical movie about Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, is excellent.

Deep pressure therapy, or deep pressure stimulation, is firm but gentle squeezing, hugs, or holding that relaxes the nervous system. So how can you apply deep pressure stimulation to your anxious little ones? Give them long, firm, sustained hugs! It’s easy and good for the soul. You can also wrap them tightly in blankets like little burritos, or even invest in a weighted blanket that can give them deeper, more peaceful sleep at night. BooginHead’s Marketing Manager, Jacky, has a four year old who uses a weighted blanket at night and it truly has made a difference in his quality of sleep.

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #4: Utilize the Power of Scent

The science is compelling: There’s no better way to switch gears in your brain than activate your nose. Smell is the closest sense tied to memory, and it’s deeply engaged with your brain’s processing centers, making it a great tool in the stress management toolbox to hop a new track when things are going off the rails. According to Marilena Aiello, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy, “There is a partial overlap between the areas in our brains which deal with olfactory perception and those which process emotions.” How do we make use of this nasal superpower as a coping mechanism? We have one idea. If your young kid is starting to exhibit signs of unmanageable stress, may we suggest… a Smell Hunt?

  • Can you help me find something that smells sweet?
  • Something that smells like flowers?
  • Something that smells stinky?

chocolate chips cookies from oven

This smell would lift anyone's mood

If your child is a little older, maybe send them on a Smell Hunt that requires interpretation, like:

  • Can you find a smell that reminds you of your birthday?
  • Of all the spices we have in the cupboard, what's your favorite?
  • Can you find a smell that gives you a happy memory?

If your child is old enough to do things with matches and ovens, there’s other ways to engage their sense of smell. Light a candle, bake some cookies, or even ask them to invent something new by boiling different spices and citrus fruits on the stove. It could be a fun experiment for them – offer them things like cinnamon, lavender, cloves, lemons, limes, and oranges, and challenge them to create a new scent. Do it together, and it could become a bonding moment that you can fondly recall every time you smell lemon and lavender.

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #5: The Calm-Down Corner

This one is sweeping the internet. It is first meant as an alternative to punishment – it is not the same thing as putting a child in time-out, and we are totally on board with that. It has great potential as a stress management tool – because what is bad behavior but externalized stress?

“A calm-down corner is an area where a child who is experiencing heightened emotions may go to engage their minds, calm their bodies, and release strong emotions in a safe and controlled manner,” says Donna Housman, Ed.D, clinical child psychologist and founder of the Boston-based Housman Institute, on Parents.com.

calm down corner examples

A few calm-down corner examples from weareteachers.com

So how do you create the perfect calm-down corner at home? It’s unique to your family. As long as it’s a space that’s removed from the chaos and noise of the rest of the house, the sky is the limit. Your child’s favorite books, soft blankets, a tumbling mat, a chalkboard, a fidget board – whatever you know works to help calm and center your child goes in the calm-down corner. It’s the perfect stress coping mechanism for children!

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #6: Take a Sound Bath

You probably don’t need us to tell you that music can be calming, distracting, and restorative. Researchers at Stanford University have said that listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication in many circumstances, at a one-day symposium called “Brainwave Entrainment to External Rhythmic Stimuli: Interdisciplinary Research and Clinical Perspectives.” SCIENCE!

So how do we non-academics release stress through the power of music?

Just turn it on.

press play button

Press play.

The trick in reversing a stress spiral is to turn on something that stimulates and soothes at the same time, that doesn’t ask too much of your mental processing centers, which is why researchers at University of Nevada, Reno, recommend “sound baths,” or what you may call spa music or ambient music. Here’s one of their sound bath recommendations called Weightless by Marconi Union which claims to help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower levels of the cortisol stress hormone. It has almost 57 million views on YouTube.

This is the kind of low-impact, easily attainable stress relief we’re here for. Young kids probably won’t even notice a sound bath playing in the background, lowering their heart rate. Pair it with some deep pressure sustained hugs and a lit candle and you’ve practically turned your home into a day spa for toddlers. Do be careful with this one if your child is neurodiverse, though – some sounds for neurodiverse individuals can be overstimulating.

And finally…

Stress Coping Mechanism for Children #7: Model Good Stress Coping Mechanisms

We saved the hardest for last, which is that your young kids need to see YOU managing your stress in healthy ways. No matter how young or old your kids are, they’re more inclined to try deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and other stress management tools if they see you doing them, too. They’re more likely to try these low-impact suggestions if you are participating as well. If you’re making your own homemade stress ball, if you’re blowing bubbles WITH them, if you’re letting them help you pick the ambient music, stressed out kids will be much more likely to engage with the techniques. And you’re worth it, mom and dad. Don’t forget, in 2021 we’re taking Me Time, so let’s all make stress management a daily part of our lives for ourselves, for our kids, and sweep the dust of this wretched year out the mental door.

We’d love to know what stress coping mechanisms you use and what you have used for your kids! Message us on Instagram or Facebook @booginhead or email us at info@booginhead.com

BooginHead is a small, independent, woman-owned business, and a portion of our monthly proceeds are donated to COVID-19 relief local and nationwide, and to the fight for a more just and equitable world. See our BooginHead Blog for details on that and our other philanthropic efforts!