Coping mechanisms vs. coping strategies


00:00:01    Alyssa

You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 205. In this episode, we're diving into coping tools. We're looking at coping mechanisms versus coping strategies. I'll go into what the difference between these two are, and how we can support kiddos in building coping strategies. So they don't just have a toolbox full of mechanisms to numb their emotions. And instead it can work toward processing their emotions and regulating their nervous system. This is one of the most crucial steps in emotion processing. It's knowing how to regulate our nervous system. Stay tuned because next week we are opening up our free one week self-regulation challenge. You can sign up next week. The challenge will be from January 10th to January 14th, it's totally free. You can sign up at, we'll have a little banner right at the top. You can also find sign up in your email, or over on Instagram for our self reg challenge January 10th to the 14th, come sign up starting next week on January 3rd. All right, folks, let's dive in. 


00:01:26    Alyssa

Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, Alyssa Blask Campbell.  


00:01:56    Alyssa

Hey, everyone, welcome to Voices of Your Village. Today is all about coping strategies. So here's the thing. We often use the term coping mechanism, and I think that we don't really know what that means. I know I definitely did not until I started diving into this research, and really what we want to be doing for coping versus what some of us are doing for coping. So I'm going to dive in kind of full force about what I learned about coping. And it's that coping mechanisms are different than coping strategies. So coping mechanisms are things that we might be doing to help us work through something or to make us not feel what we're feeling. But it's not necessarily what we want to be doing. I'm going to give you some examples of like what, as adults we might do as coping mechanisms. We might scroll through social media, when we're having a feeling, we might start texting random people or people we know, we might have a drink, might wait for that glass of wine, or use a substance, we might exercise excessively, we might start working extra, we might compulsively clean or check and make sure things are safe in a way that we convince ourselves is for health and safety, we might start playing video games, we may go shopping, we might eat, we might take care of someone. So all of these are like, okay, that's fine. Right? Like obviously, we go to work. It's okay to have a drink. It's a healthy to exercise. Cleaning is a necessity, eating, we have to do that taking care of other people. Let's get real. We're all doing that all the time. But it's when we do this to try and make ourselves feel better about something. That's what we kind of want to avoid. They're almost like a non-conscious habits. So what do coping strategies look like? I think of coping strategies in two ways. One is preventative and one is reactionary. So there are some things that we do to help keep us in like a healthy mindset. And those are also fall into the coping strategies toolbox. This might be like a meditative practice, or going to therapy, going for a walk, or hiking in the woods, or turning to prayer, might be cooking or sewing or breath work, exercise, alone time, visual or writing arts expression, musical expression, reading, organizing things, talking to a friend or a loved one. There are a number of things that we do here that we can use preventatively that can help keep us in healthy mind frame that can help keep it endorphins pumping. But it's when we start to use these things excessively, or if we start to kind of obsess over them, that's when they can move out of our coping strategies toolbox into like a coping mechanism. So now that we have like a rough idea about what coping mechanisms and coping strategies are, and we'll dive in more to this as we go, I want to share with you the five phases of emotion processing that Lauren Stuable and I created. Lauren is my co-creator of the CEP method. And she and I are writing the book  together on the CEP method to share with all of you. And she is, she's a brilliant woman who I have had the privilege of collaborating with through research and our work together. And as we were reading research and creating our method, we developed five phases of emotion processing that everyone's going through when they process emotions. So I'm going to walk you through these bad boys. So the first step is just allowing yourself to express or allowing a tiny human to express. This is just letting the tantrum happen, or letting yourself cry letting yourself feel. This is something that down the road we often stifle at like work, or in social events, for me, just try and hold back tears. How many of you have used that expression? I know I sure have just last night, somebody texted me and said, "I've been holding back tears as I've been watching the Kavanaugh hearing, but thinking of you" and my response to her was, don't hold back those tears. Thank you for thinking of me. But please don't hold back the tears. We have to let ourselves express and feel first and then without trying to fix it, just letting ourselves feel. And then we pair vocabulary with it. So this might be, personally it might just be figuring out like, what am I feeling? Am I sad? Am I mad? Am I disappointed? Let me scared. Am I excited? Am I happy? Am I nervous, and with the tiny humans as well.  I'll often pair an emotion for them. I know there's a lot of discussion and controversy around this. It's like, what if we say that they’re mad, but really they're sad. I've had kids correct me once they get older. When I say, oh, it sounds like you're mad. I've had kids say, no, I'm sad. Okay, sorry, they'll let you know when they get older, but I think it's really important for our younger ones, our infant-toddler kiddos to be giving them this emotion vocabulary, so that they're hearing these emotions. And then eventually we want them to be able to identify them on their own, to know what mad feels like in their body. And to know a disappointment feels like and embarrassment. 


00:07:45    Alyssa

And of course, we don't really want them to know, but realistically in life, we know they're going to know, and we want them to learn what that, what it feels like. So then they know what to do with it. So the third step is security. And this is a deeper level of emotional intelligence. This is the ability to really feel secure in what you're feeling, because you know that it's on a continuum of emotions. What you're feeling right now is like clouds in the sky, and this one is overhead, but it won't be there forever. It will pass. This is where down the road. If someone's stuck in a feeling, this is where we're seeing like anxiety or depression, or when you you can't see beyond this feeling, and it just it becomes all-consuming. So our goal here is to provide tiny humans with the notion that this is just one feeling, and it won't last forever, and they will feel other things. Once you have that security, it's easier to let yourself feel. Coping is the fourth one. And that's what brought us here today. I think this is the most missed phase in emotion processing, I think, oftentimes we let kids feel something, and we might even pair vocabulary with it telling them I hear that you're mad, and then we often jump ahead to problem solving and trying to solve their problem. And what I really want to do is slow down. Let them be in that feeling, even when it's uncomfortable for us, even when it's inconvenient for us and building those coping strategies so that they develop the tools to get out of the feeling. It's one thing to know, yeah, I feel bad, and it's a whole different ballgame to know. Okay, what do I do with that? How do I not wind up in bed for days? How do I not sob all over the place? How do I not yell and scream at someone? Because I'm angry? How do I not throw something or hit them? Because I'm angry, what do I do with feelings of shame and guilt? It's one thing to know what you're feeling, and it's a whole different ball game to know what to do with those feelings. This is where coping comes in. This is where the rubber meets the road. I feel like my dad would say. My goal for tiny humans. And for me, this starts in infancy, is to help them develop at first. I would say, I really use coping mechanisms for a lot of kiddos. And then I want to move to coping strategies. So what that means for me in terms of tiny humans, is, I think, like I think about it as if they were at work one day, and they got mad, what tools would they have in their toolbox to turn to, to deal with that anger? So if, when they get mad, we give them a pacifier, they're not building their toolbox for what to do when they don't have a pacifier anymore. This is where down the road. We can see kids really hitting kicking, biting, bullying, saying, rude things doing or things because they never developed the toolbox for what to do with that feeling. Let me get something straight here. I am not anti pacifier. I think they can be a great tool specifically in infancy, as a coping mechanism for kids to suckle and to have something to help their body feel calm. My goal, though, is that by 18 months, they're not using a pacifier to help them feel calm anymore. But there are other tools in their toolbox to pull from when they have a hard feeling. So we'll hit up step number five, real quick. And then we'll dive into some of this. Step number five is conflict resolution or moving on. This is where we are problem solving, and where we are working with kiddos to find a solution or help them find a solution. But we shouldn't be getting there until they have really processed the emotion until they're in a rational brain and able to problem-solve with us. If they're still in their amygdala brain, we're not ready to problem solve for me. This is like, if kids are whining, if kids are still crying at me, because it does feel like they're crying at me sometimes if they're still yelling or crying or expressing their emotion, we aren't. We have not gone through the coping. We still need to do work before we solve the problem. Even if I know I can very quickly solve their problem, I'm not going to. It's not in their best interest if I do. All right. So let's dive into some coping questions. I got a lot of questions about pacifiers and lovies and blankets. And first of all, I think they are great coping mechanisms. Notice that I said coping mechanisms here, because down the road, they won't be using a pacifier or a lovey or a blanket to help them find their calm. So these are things that they're going to use. These are tools they're going to use right now to help them find their calm, and then going to help them move out of that by building coping strategies that are long-term so that they can process their emotion. Because here's the thing guys. We often talk about social emotional development. But really, we're talking about social development most of the time we're saying, we want kind humans. We want respectful humans. We want empathetic humans. And believe me, I agree. I also want kind, respectful humans, but they have to learn how to process their own emotions. They have to know what it feels like to feel that feeling, they have to know, this is what sad feels like in my body. And here's how I move through it in order to bring themselves as a social being to somebody else in a kind, respectful, empathetic manner. If they are sitting with a pile of emotions right on their heart that they can't work through, it's really hard to show up for somebody else. So it's got to start here, folks. Have you ever gone through the day where you'd have this lingering emotions? I was teaching in a classroom with sweet friend of mine colleague, whom I loved so dearly, and she was just being kind of rude, to be honest, she was snippy. She was short, I kept racking my brain for like, what did I do? What is going on? Like, why is she angry with me? I can't think of anything that I did, and I'm going around in circles. And finally, I just said to her, like, hey, what's going on? I feel like you're being rude to me, and she paused, and she was like, oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry. I got in a fight with my partner last night, and that's just been on my heart like I am carrying that with me. We have all been there. We've all been there where we have carried an emotion for far too long, and now we're taking it out on somebody else. Here's the thing, we do it to our tiny humans, and they do it to us. This is why, if we can focus on building this emotional development and building these emotion processing tools so that they can work through their emotions, then we're not talking to a tiny human who has a million emotions sitting on their heart that they haven't worked through. We're not talking to a tiny human who is feeling sad from something that happened to preschool today. We're not talking to a tiny human who is feeling mad, because they didn't get what they wanted for breakfast, even though it's dinner. Now, we're talking to a tiny human who was processed those emotions so that they can show up fully. And that is a beautiful gift. 


00:15:46    Alyssa

So how do we build coping strategies? Well, I will start by identifying an emotion, allowing those kiddos to express and validating where they are and what they might be feeling. I hear that you're sad your mom left for work, and you really wanted to keep hanging out with her, and then I pause, and I let them feel that and take that in, because sometimes we overload them with information in, and it's just too much to process. Then, after a pause, I asked them, I wonder what could help your body feel happy, and I pause. And if they don't have these tools in their toolbox yet, then I'll offer up two things. Would you like a hug? Or would you like to go read? If they don't respond to either of those? Then I will say, I'll give you some space. Let me know if I can help your body feel happy. What we're doing here is letting them know that. Oh, that there's another feeling that exists, happy, that they don't have to feel sad, but they don't have to get stuck in sadness. And then I'm encouraging them to tap into some coping strategies, reading a book, taking space, asking for a hug, when we're consistent in doing this. And let me tell you a consistency is key. Then they will build these coping strategies. They will learn what helps them feel calm or feel happy. I really love the word calm, use it a lot. You'll hear it a lot. I don't know. I just think of it as a thing that I want to feel a lot of times. And sometimes I'm not really going for happiness. Sure, like happiness is a great feeling. But sometimes I'm just like, I just want to feel calm again, right? Like I don't want to feel like I'm in a state of disarray. So it's a word that I use a lot, one tool that I love for this are the Todd Pars, feelings flash cards. You can get them on Amazon, just FYI, there's no frustrated card, and there is a mean card, which we don't use when we're talking about the CEP method. Because mean isn't a feeling, you might act in a mean way, because you're having a feeling, you might be feeling mad. So you do something mean, or you might be feeling sad. So you say something mean, but mean isn't a feeling. So we pull out that card. I actually just start with some basics, and you can kind of navigate what what works for you. But I like to break it down to about five emotions and stick with some some basic ones. They're the first five that I use with kiddos that I try to identify are happy, sad, mad, scared and calm, then I'll add in excited. And then it just kind of grows from there. But I wanted to be something that they that's not too big and intense for them. And being that I understand that like mad has different things with it right, like he might actually be disappointed, or you might be feeling guilty, or you might be feeling embarrassed or whatever, and we'll build those later. But it's a lot to throw it kids right away. So with infant-toddler, I stick with some basic ones, and then we kind of add to them as we go. But Todd Pars feelings flash cards have one emotion on one side, and then the opposite on the other. So if sad was on one side, happy would be on the other. And I love this because I can show them the sad side and then flip it over and ask them what they could do to help their body feel happy again. It's tangible for them, and then they can go and grab the card on their own. We had some kids who would carry around the flashcards for their feeling. And I love that this, again, just lets them know like they're not going to feel this way forever and triggers the like em. How can I help my body feel that way for not afraid of getting stuck in a feeling? It's easier to be at peace with the emotion that we have that moment. So I'm going to provide two options for coping for a little while. Another thing that I love is, so if your kiddo is in like a coping mechanism field right now, if they're using a lovey, a blankie, a pacifier, anything that's like just something they can go grab to help their body feel calm. That's fine. It's awesome that they have something so that they're not getting stuck in the feeling, and that can help them move through it. I would just be starting to work on. If your kiddos over 18 months, I'd be starting to work on these coping strategies. Mostly I'd start it before then, but it's got to be paired with language development too they go hand-in-hand. So when we're making this shift, we do it gradually I would never suggest doing cold turkey, because can you imagine, like if a pacifier helps you feel calm, and it's what you know that helps you feel calm, and all of a sudden it's just gone and you have no other tools that would be terrifying. And so I don't want to do that to a tiny human. Instead, what I'll do is let them turn to a pacifier for a minute until it like, calms them immediately. And then I will say, all right, can I have your pacifier? And then I can help them feel calm, or I might even like switch them out. So a pacifier here for me is different than like a lovey or a blanket, because it affects the oral motor development. We have an episode coming up specifically on pacifiers, because I get so many questions about them. And I interviewed an SLP and a speech language pathologist to dive into this, to talk about the oral motor development and the that pacifiers can have on speech and language, because I had a lot of questions that we're coming in from you. And then I also had personally that I didn't have the answers to. So I turned to another expert in our field, and she was really helpful and that episodes coming out for you soon, but I would try and move kids away from pacifiers and into the lovey game so that they at least have something they can like hold in their hands while they're developing another tool that isn't affecting their ability to talk back to you, to communicate with you through this and isn't affecting their oral motor development. So do it gradually. 


00:21:46    Alyssa

I would be building these coping strategies and offering things like a hug or space or reading, or art expression. If you are open to like a place, they could go draw while they feel calm, or to just build with legos for a minute, some things that they can just turn to and do to help their body feel calm. I would be using the flash cards during this as well. And then another thing that I have used that I absolutely love is a feelings bored. So I will give you an example I took, we had a little girl who loved her pacifier, and she was having a really hard time processing emotions and would get her pacifier. But then once it was out of her mouth, she's still in a tough spot, which started to show us that the pacifier wasn't helping her fully process. So we created this board for her. I literally guys it was nothing fancy. I took like an old box, like an Amazon box and cut a piece of it. So I had a piece of cardboard to work with. And I put two strips of Velcro on there. And then I took pictures of her with different things. We took a picture of her with her lovey. I took a picture of her getting a hug from a teacher. I took a picture of her drinking her water. I took a picture of her reading her book, and we just made these like, and I printed them and laminated them and velcroed them and put them on this board so that she, when she was having a hard feeling, I would just hand the board to her and say, I hear that you're so mad, how can you help your body feel calm? Would you like a hug? And I would point to the hug picture, or would you like to find your lovey? And I point to the lovey picture so she could tell us us what it was she wanted, and it gave her the tools to communicate and like work through these. And it was another tangible thing for her to go grab. And then we just made it accessible for her. And within a few weeks, she was using it very freely and on her own, and she would bring us a picture of like her lovey. And I would say, oh, you want your lovey? Hmm. Can you help me find it? And we would go on a hunt for him. We'd go look for it, and it's like empowered her to feel like she could communicate with us about her needs and what could help her feel calm? So I think that using something like that again, it doesn't have to be anything crazy fancy, but just giving them something to communicate. And sometimes it's enough for kiddos. If you're just using language and saying, oh, would you like your lovey or a book? And then they could go week, you could like, go do that together and find it. If I could give younger Alyssa one tool that I didn't get until my 20s, it would be coping strategies. They are invaluable. So often we find ourselves getting through the day and the emotions  add up. And then we're like, Oh, by 5:00, I am done. And then the tiny humans are challenging because we're done. We haven't processed our emotions all day long. We were just trying to survive them. And now we have to manage our tiny humans emotions, who maybe also weren't processing them all day long and ends up in this giant explosion. And I'm just here to tell you it does not have to be that way. It can be so much easier. And I think coping strategies are the key to raising tiny humans who can process their emotions. So here are some things that are really important to me personally when it comes to coping. And this is how I know tiny humans are not ready to problem solve. If they are yelling or kicking, or crying, or screaming, or hitting or whining, they are not ready to problem-solve. So even if they whined at me that they can't get their shoes off, I'm not going to go take their shoes off. Instead, I'm going to say, I can't understand that voice, and I might point to my ear here. I can't understand that voice. I would love to help you when you're ready. How could you help your body feel calm so that you could talk to me? We all need these reminders. Sometimes we can all get whiny and cranky and bratty and rude and sassy. And I think it's a beautiful gift. When somebody slows us down and says, hey, I'm not gonna let you talk to me like this. It's essentially the message that we're sending them. But really what we're doing is helping them process that emotion. They're feeling frustrated. They can't get their shoes off. And if we just jump in and solve their problem, they did not have to work through the frustration in those little moments learning to work through that frustration, or that anger or that sadness. Any hard feelings in the little moments make the big moment easier to tap into those skills. 


00:27:04    Alyssa

I feel like this episode might have a bunch of questions. So I am going to open up a post on Instagram for you to pop over and throw your questions at me, participate. So head on over to Instagram and stay tuned. Thanks for being on this journey guys. Can't wait to see you on social media. 


00:27:30    Alyssa

Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag to let me know your key takeaway. If you're digging this podcast, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. We love collaborating with you to raise emotionally intelligent humans.


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