Thursday, February 27, 2014

Introduction to Coping

Is it a Rock? or Play-Doh Type Problems?

ASCA Standard: PS: B1.4  Develop effective coping skills for dealing with problems

One of my favorite lessons is the "Introduction to Coping" from Gwen Sitsch & Diane Senn's Puzzle Pieces Classroom Guidance Connection, 2007. It teaches children what coping is and what it is not. I adapted the following lesson from "Introduction to Coping" and use the following worksheet to guide the lesson.

Coping is such an important skill for any individual to have. Effectively coping with a challenging situation can change how we think, feel, and/or act, about that event and in effect shape our approach to life.
I use this lesson with elementary and middle school ages. It can be adapted for individual, small, or large group settings. It is a great lesson for any time of year however I always try to fit the lesson in closer to the beginning that way I can refer to the lesson throughout the year.

**Click HERE for a link to the worksheet**

Items Needed: Play-doh (enough for each child to have roughly the size of a large marble) and a rock.

Lesson: Start by giving each student a piece of play-doh with the instructions that they will may shape the Play-doh into anything they want using only their hands and their desk surface. I give them about 3 minutes to do this. While they make their imaginative creations (you may see many "balls", "snakes", and "pancakes") ask students to list of challenges their age group has to deal with; death, illness, divorce, moving, parent changes job, friend moves away, changing schools or grade levels,  Write their answers for the class to see.

*Side Note: You will want to preface the lesson with the "no name rule" meaning in large groups we do not share specific names but students are welcome to do so in private. This will be a time when students may want to share their personal challenges. It is important to acknowledge their experiences however a large group setting does not allow the specific support an individual may need. Work to normalize their experiences and to connect individual experiences to others in the room by asking "has this been a challenge for anyone else or someone you know?" If the individual(s) need more time to share, respectfully redirect them back to the large group and finding an more private opportunity to discuss their challenges.

Ask students to briefly share what they made. Collect the Play-doh to limit future distractions. Next ask for a volunteer (be mindful of the student you choose). Instruct them to use only their hands and desk surface to shape this next object into anything they want. Then give them the rock.

Ask who controlled the Play-doh and how they did this. Go on to talk about how some problems are like Play-doh, they can be controlled by making a change, and some problems are like a rock, they cannot be controlled or changed so you must cope with them. We describe coping as dealing with a problem in a safe, healthy, and respectful way for ourselves and others.

*Side Note: Do to popular culture and various family cultures many students may believe using drugs, most specifically alcohol, is a way to cope with problems. This is a valuable opportunity to teach children that while people believe drugs make them feel better, using drugs will add more problems such as chemical dependency, reduced decision making, increased accidents, etch. Using drugs is NOT coping.

We go on to discuss how coping is a way to help ourselves feel better and take a mental vacation from the problem.

I put this lesson together using Pinterest and Puzzle Pieces by Sitsch & Senn. Thanks to Elementary School for the menu template and to Flourish n Thrive Counseling for compiling a wonderful list of coping skills some of which I used for the "Menu"! I also added the Relaxation Exercises from Taking the Work Out of Blood Work: A Parent's Guide.



  1. Thanks so much for this handout! I have done a variation of this lesson before but your handouts add so much.

  2. It's really important that kids get the help that they need. I was in and out of the school counselors office a few times when I was in Junior High School. It was a real help to me at that time in my life. How many students can one counselor handle?