Positive coping strategies for students

Emotional literacy is one of the social, emotional and learning topics in the DET program of Respectful Relationships. In light of challenges and uncertainty facing students (and teachers) right now, below we share past Tip of the Week HPE (TOTW) #108 from Nicole Comelli, a secondary teacher and volunteer development officer at YMCA, that provides some positive and practical coping strategies to help improve our students’ social-emotional wellbeing – something we can all use right about now.

There is little doubt that the development of wellbeing is associated with many positive outcomes in children and youth. Within the VC:HPE, wellbeing is presented within the Personal, Social and Community Health strand, with personal strategies to improve health and wellbeing explicitly stated in both sub-strands and is evident in several focus areas.

Positive coping strategies are actions you can take to manage and reduce stress in your life, therefore improving your wellbeing. In almost all reports that have been released during remote learning, the key areas affecting young people are social connection, employment and mental health.

You can read the report released by Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) and YMCA here. It is important that schools support young people in learning about social-emotional education practices, including positive coping strategies, and how this can support them in working with the current climate of the world.

Positive coping strategies for young people

During such a time of change, it is important that young people are equipped with the knowledge to reregulate their bodies and mind when things get a little overwhelming. HPE teachers will be familiar with Respectful Relationships education, which is now a core teaching component in schools and incorporates aspects of VC:HPE. The Rights, Resilience and Respectful Relationships (RRRR) resource packages for each level provide easily implementable activities and worksheets on topics around social-emotional learning, such as:

  • Emotional Literacy
  • Personal strengths
  • Positive coping
  • Problem-solving
  • Stress management
  • Help-seeking
  • Gender and identity; and
  • Positive gender relations

The following positive coping strategies are found within the RRRR resource, targets students at different levels are really easy to implement, even in the comforts of the home! Particularly with some students needing some strategies when facing the struggles that come with remote learning, you could tweak one of the scenarios or activities to apply to a real life issue your students are currently facing.

Levels: Activity ideas:
Foundation, Levels 1 and 2
The balloon breathing game:
In this game, we pretend to be a balloon. First, we breathe in to fill up our lungs with air. Then we hold our breath. Then we let the air out with a big whoosh. Is everyone ready? Breathe in like a big balloon - Hold it - Let it out with a whoosh. Now let’s rest the balloon. Then we will do it again. (repeat) Now we have tried this a few times, we will pretend that we are an angry balloon. When we fill up with air we feel angry. Then when we let the air out with a whoosh, we let go the angry feeling and we feel calm. Let’s try that. Now pretend that you are a shiny, floating balloon. There is a soft breeze and it is blowing you slowly, softly around the room. See if you can float yourself in slow motion around the room. Now settle in one spot. Take a big breath, and let all the air out.
Levels 3 and 4 
Five techniques for controlling anger:
  1.  COUNT FIRST: Before you do anything – you count to 10 in your head. Then you tell yourself to calm down. Then you choose what to do.
  2. SQUEEZE: This is when you squeeze a stress ball or hold on tightly to an object. You grip hard and then slowly let go, letting go the tension at the same time
  3. ROBOT TO RAG DOLL: Scrunch up tight and hard like a robot, then slowly let go to turn yourself into a floppy rag doll.
  4. TAKE A WALK: This is when you go for a fast walk around the room, or the yard to get yourself calmed down.
  5. BALLOON BREATHING: Imagine you are going to blow up a balloon. Take a big breath in and then breathe out slowly. Do this five times until your ‘balloon’ is full. Then imagine you have let the balloon zip away and lose all its air. Imagine that it is you losing all your angry feelings.
Levels 5 and 6 
Self-talk scenario:

Scenario: After struggling through a maths test in which she could only do nine of the 20 questions, Lan was looking forward to inter-school sport because she was playing her favourite sport, soccer. She went to get her lunch out of her bag, but it wasn’t there. She had forgotten to pick it up off the kitchen bench. Luckily her friends shared their food. The school team was playing a tough match. It was the final minute and the score was 3-3. Lan stopped an attack from the opposition, but the ball flicked from her hand and then disastrously into the other team’s goal. The siren sounded and her team was defeated.

Activity: Ask students to think of some negative self-talk Lan might have in response to one of the things that happened. Draw Lan’s face with a negative thought bubble on one side, and positive on the other. Map the negative self-talk into one thought bubble.
Which statements could Lan use as positive self-talk to help her deal with the situation and her feelings? Map this positive self-talk into the other thought bubble.

Levels 7 and 8
Positive self-talk coaching:

A good coaching method for creating positive self-talk is made up out of three parts: (write this three-step model on the board.) 

  • I am ______ - you say something to yourself about one of your strengths. (Examples: I am patient, fair, determined.) 
  • I can ______ - you say something to yourself about what you are capable of. This might be something you have done before, that relates to the challenge you are facing now. (Examples: I can give it a go, stick at it, do it even if I think I won’t be perfect, put up with something even if I don’t like it, get along even if I can’t get my own way, make a plan, take the first step, try again.) 
  • I will ______ - you say something to yourself about what you actually will do, or the action you will take. (Examples: I will: turn up, do my homework, smile at people I don’t know, tidy up, ask for help, say sorry, own up.) 

Share an example of your own with the class using this method. This is a chance for you to positively role model how to approach a challenge (e.g. I am reliable, I can mark papers even when I feel like watching TV, so I will get started and record my favourite program to watch at another time.)

Ask each student to write a formula for themselves. Suggest this could be a strategy to help them get work done in the subject they find most challenging, or to help them carry out a positive resolution, such as tidying their room, or starting a get fit plan. Share one of your own as an example. Invite volunteers to share one if it is not too private.

Levels 9 and 10 
Mind traps and escape hatches: 

What kind of a mind-trap of negative thinking is each person getting into? What sorts of positive/optimistic thoughts could they use to argue back with as an alternative way of looking at this situation? Use following scenarios and brainstorm their ‘pessimistic mind traps’ and their ‘optimistic escape hatches’.

  • Party time: Jinni is stressed about her upcoming 16th birthday. Her parents want her to have a party, but she is not sure. What if no one comes? What if they come and have a really boring time and then all leave early? What if her parents hate her friends because they behave badly and then ban her from seeing them? What if everyone thinks her house is a dump? 
  • Secrets: Harry is really upset because his friend borrowed his bike and damaged it. He didn’t even say sorry. Harry thinks he can’t even bother asking him to get it fixed because his friend does not care. He thinks he can’t tell his dad in case he gets mad about him lending his new bike. He has been trying to hide his bike from his dad so it doesn’t get noticed. 
  • Try-outs: Trent wants to get into the middle school soccer team, but he was never in the junior team because he missed the try-outs when he was sick. If he goes to try-outs he might look bad and not get picked – and then everyone will know and call him a loser. He doesn’t know if he is good enough or if the coach already has favourites from last year. So, he is thinking maybe he shouldn’t bother.
Box breathing method to re-regulate:


A simple strategy for teacher wellbeing: HOT DRINK MINDFULNESS

In the current climate, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by our thoughts, whether they are irrational or not. A really simple mindfulness technique that utilises the senses is 'hot drink mindfulness'. With this practice, you can use your senses to draw attention away from your unhelpful thoughts or stressors, and instead bring them to the present moment.

By feeling the warmth of the mug in your hands, noticing the aroma of the hot drink, observing the texture of the liquid in your mouth, and observing the colour and patterns on your mug, this multi-sensory mindfulness technique is a really great one to use during the school day when little things are overwhelming you.

The great thing about mindfulness is that you can easily implement practice in your everyday life without having to make it noticeable to the people around you. The added bonus with hot drink mindfulness is that you can sneak in an extra tea, coffee or hot chocolate in your work day! Also, considering students are currently working from home, this could be a great technique to teach students, particularly those in high school!

Want more?

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We hope the information above is of some help to you and your students at this time. If you need further support, please get in touch.