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Take a Deep Breath and Count to Ten

As any person in the field of therapy can attest to, coping skills are a fundamental tool in reaching goals. Coping skills are essentially tricks and techniques to help a person deal with emotional and behavioral issues in the moment. In simpler terms, a coping skill is something to soothe, distract or reset a person in a time of need. For example, everybody has heard that when you are angry, take a deep breath and count to ten. Although most out there will refute its effectiveness, the fundamental idea behind it is simple and useful. Counting to ten takes the person out of the situation, allows the mind to properly assess the situation and then properly plan how to deal with the situation. The issue with counting to ten comes in its follow through. A prime candidate for this lapse is my younger brother. My younger brother had a little bit of a temper growing up so of course he was instructed to use the counting method. My brother simply saw it as a preliminary step before he would wildly throw haymakers. To this day, I have never heard anyone count to ten as fast or with such focused rage as my 8yr old brother. Obviously, everyone knows a person like this; a person who gets wrapped up in the moment and has a hard time staying within themselves. With the commonality of this raging person comes an understanding of what will calm them down. “Joey is mad he didn’t get a second slice of pizza” “oh just throw him a bread stick, he’ll be fine.”  “Laurie is upset her favorite contestant on American idol got voted off.” “Just put on her soaps she will be fine.” “Tony is pissed the Patriots took 6 offensive lineman in the draft and no linebackers.” “Oh just rub his tummy, he’ll be fine.” People have certain things that will make them feel better, and it simply takes the manipulation of these things to develop coping skills.

When I begin discussing coping skills with children, there are a couple questions I make sure I ask. The first is always if they have coping skills already. If they do, I assess the effectiveness of the coping skill. Coping skills can be ineffective because they are not suited to the child or they simply are overused and thus become “old” or “boring.” After talking about current coping skills, or lack thereof, I move into new coping skills and avenues where skills can come from. I put an emphasis on having the child direct the conversation because it is their skill and they should feel ownership of it. Music, sports and art are the three main avenues where coping skills are generated from. Listening to a favorite CD or writing a song is a great way of dealing with emotions for kids who love music. Anything from playing pick up basketball to simply throwing a tennis ball is effective for kids who enjoy sports.  Simple drawing or photography could be the secret to an artistic child dealing with a tough situation. When trying to develop new coping skills there are two main rules to follow: will it help and is it interesting or fun? A lot of things are one or the other, but the best coping skills are both. It must be effective enough to keep someone from escalating and also interesting enough to be utilized when things are not going well. The point is that although coping skills sound clinical and regimented, they are meant to be soothing and supportive. Anyone can come up with coping skills, it’s just a matter of being honest with yourself and having some creativity. If you have a hard time being honest with yourself and are not creative, you could always just count to ten.

Christopher Curran, MA

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Categories: Uncategorized
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