Teaching Teens Coping Skills

Teach Teens to Cope With Stress

Adolescence is a time when lifelong habits are developed. When teens learn how to manage challenges, including stress. This makes supporting the development of healthy coping strategies among the most enduring influences we have over the long term well-being of our children.

Stress is an uncomfortable reality of life. We do what we can to minimize the physical and emotional discomfort it creates within us. How we respond to the discomfort of stress is called coping. Our coping choices can make us stronger or hurt us. Positive choices strengthen our relationships, enhance emotional health, and make us stronger and more resilient.

Negative coping strategies may work well in the short term, but can be harmful in the long run. So many worrisome behaviors are negative coping strategies that offer quick, but dangerous, fixes. We must raise young people with exposure to a repertoire of healthy coping strategies. Among the greatest ways we offer that exposure is through modeling how we ourselves make wiser, healthier choices during challenging times.

Resilience requires a healthy range of skills to cope with stress and overcome challenges.

The 7 Cs of Resilience

Having positive coping skills is just one of the important abilities our teens need to become resilient, thriving young adults. The 7 Cs of Resilience include coping, confidence, competence, connection, contribution, character,and control. These key elements are described fully in Building Resilience in Children and Teens. They are essential for positive youth development and offer parents common strategies for building happy, healthy, productive teens.

These qualities are all interrelated and can be nourished in our children. When used in combination, they empower parents, build strong relationships, and equip teens for future success. We all possess the capacity to build these attributes. Learning to cope requires skills that we must teach and reinforce in young people.

Choose Positive (and Avoid Negative) Coping Strategies

Resilience requires a healthy range of skills to cope with stress and overcome challenges. The emphasis really must be on the word healthy. There are positive and negative strategies to draw from to feel better. It’s not that positive ways work and negative ones don’t. Actually, the negative ways work well — almost too well — by offering quick relief. But they often involve behaviors that break down relationships, fuel addictions, and harm bodies. They may expose young people to situations that may intensify their stress.

Positive coping strategies, on the other hand, enhance well-being and build our teens’ strengths. They may take more investment, but ultimately lead to relief, lifelong health, and success. Positive strategies are also preventive, because teens who deal with stress in healthy ways tend to experience less of it in the first place.

How Parents Can Support Effective Coping

Parents play an important role in supporting the development of positive stress management strategies in teens. Here’s some key ways you can support your adolescents coping abilities.

First, our teens must learn how to manage their reactions to stress. This involves being realistic about the cause of stress and framing it in a way that empowers them to address it. Once they are empowered we can prepare them with skills to overcome it. We want them to have a wide array of strategies and ideally, to make a plan that prepares them to:

  1. Effectively problem-solve. This involves approaching problems with a calm state of mind. It also includes breaking large problems into smaller, more manageable ones. These strategies help lessen the impact of the stress on our teens’ lives, and allow them to gain confidence in their ability to handle it.
  2. Maintain healthy bodies able to manage stress. This is about exercise, relaxation, proper nutrition and appropriate sleep.
  3. Manage (or avoid!) emotions in a healthy way. This includes helping our teens express their feelings through outlets that work for them such as writing, talking, laughing, praying, crying and more.
  4. Know how much they matter. When our teens develop a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, they will learn to see the bigger picture. Contributing to their communities teaches them that they can get through most anything.
  5. Seek help. Teens must be empowered to reach out for support from others in difficult times. This could be you, another trusted adult, or a professional. Seeking help must be seen as an act of strength.

We’ve just skimmed the surface about how parents can support and teach teens effective coping skills. For even more suggestions check out Managing Stress and Coping With Challenges. Or encourage your teens to complete a personalized Stress Management Plan.   When teens design their own coping plans they are invested in their choices because they know what strategies best suit them. An added bonus? As you work with your teens to manage their stress, you’ll reinforce your own coping skills.


Support Teen Coping to Build Resilience

Parents can support adolescents to gain the protection that comes from coping in positive ways with stress.

Download PDF

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit www.fosteringresilience.com.

Read more articles by this author

Get our weekly newsletter for practical tips to strengthen family connections.