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The Development of Coping Strategies in Childhood

As a practitioner in education you are probably fascinated with child development as it can give you some answers as to why children behave in certain ways. Also armed with the information you can support children through the trickier periods of their development and for children where lags occur, you can start to build in practices, strategies and interventions to fill their developmental gaps.

Fagus classifies social and emotional development into 13 different categories.  One of these categories is the emotional & social domain of 'Coping'.  Coping is an essential skill to have as it helps children manage stressful situations leading to better psychological and physical health and enables them to achieve their potential at school and in life as they grow to become independent members of society.

The coping strategies a child chooses are very sensitive to different factors, such as biological factors e.g. brain development and environmental factors, such as the emotional support system a child is exposed to, especially in their younger years.

In infancy and early childhood we are reliant on caregivers to help us ‘cope’. This is because while our ‘feeling’ part of the brain that is charge of the flight/fight/freeze response is fully developed, the ‘thinking’ part of our brain, where we get the ability to reason, is not fully formed. Therefore young children need adults to help them regulate their emotional responses and interpret what is going on around them as their brains are unable to process the information fully.

Environmental factors can also have a significant impact on the way children ‘cope’. Children who do not have an emotional bond with their caregiver in their early life may not have the chance to ‘co-regulate’ and model social and emotional strategies and therefore may miss out on these vital building blocks. As a double whammy, due to incomplete brain development, these children do not have the developmental maturation to calm themselves or understand the fear and the lack of emotional support may lead to an increase in toxic stress in the brain.

Supporting and understanding your pupils' Coping skills

With what we know about brain development, a typical child’s development of coping strategies changes over time.  The child’s current stage of development affects the resources they have available and limits the type of strategies they can enact.  A 'typical' developmental trajectory for acquiring ‘coping’ skills is summarised below:

  • There is a shift from reliance on adults to more self-reliance
  • There is a shift from instrumental action to problem solving
  • As a child gets older they use more distracting cognitive strategies alongside behavioural distraction
  • Older children are able to select different coping methods in different situations, selecting the most effective strategies for specific type of stressors.

 

With this knowledge in the Fagus Developmental Guides we can help our pupils who are 'typical' in their development to execute a sufficient range of coping strategies and support them to use these flexibly and appropriately.   For instance, we may need to help a child in Early Childhood choose from a range of independent voluntary behavioural coping responses such as behavioural withdrawal, self-soothing and/or distraction, while a child in Middle Childhood we may try and teach them less behavioural withdrawal strategies and more cognitive strategies such as reframing etc.

Maladaptive Coping strategies

Some children are delayed in their social and emotional development, often exhibiting behaviours of a much younger child and use maladaptive coping strategies that often do not remove the effect of the stressor.  With Beech Lodge pupils often this reflects an underlying unmet social and emotional need which stems from their difficult early start in life.

With the Coping Developmental Guide and online checklist tool you can you can identify a child's current developmental stage based on their key behaviours.  The checklist tool represents the data by collating a visual 'snapshot' called a Developmental Profile:

 

Using this output and the information in the Coping Developmental Guide, you can you can set SMART developmentally focused goals based on what you would expect next in typical development.  You can also start to create an intervention plan to plug the child's skill gap(s) and review it after a set time-period.  Here are some examples of  ‘plans’ that have been put in place for Beech Lodge pupils' that have shown a delay in their Coping functioning:

 

As well as understanding the developmental reasons as to why children behave in certain ways and for teachers to be reflective in their practice, the Developmental Guides offer a valuable insight into key social and emotional concepts.  For instance, the Coping Guide describes what coping strategies a child deploys at certain age ranges and explains that as a child gets older they develop more sophisticated coping responses.  You can see this for yourself in the examples below:

Coping strategies used in Early Childhood:

Coping Strategies used in Middle Childhood:

For a free sample of our Coping Developmental Guide click here.

 

 

 

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