What is Self Management and Why are Coping Skills Important? — Better Kids (2023)

What is Self Management and Why are Coping Skills Important? — Better Kids (1)

by Emily Kaiser

As parents and educators, it is our role to ensure that our children stay safe and keep others safe. Frustration is part of a child's daily life, whether because they are restricted from getting something they really want such as ice-cream for breakfast or because they are not able to do something yet developmentally, like how to ride a bike or if they are a toddler learning how to walk. Frustration can cause anger and difficult behaviors and not being able to achieve their goals can cause anxiety and self-doubt. These emotions can also make it difficult for children to play well with others, share, and take turns. By teaching coping skills to our children, they will be better able to manage their reactions and behaviors, grow their confidence, and build positive relationships.

What is Self-Management?

Self-management, put most simply, is the ability to manage one's emotions. The Collaboration for Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes two elements of self-management:

  1. The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. In order to effectively manage our emotions we first need to have self-awareness, the ability to recognize and identify our emotions. Without being able to recognize what we are feeling, we won’t know how to manage or cope with the emotion.

  2. The ability to achieve goals and aspirations. CASEL shares that “this includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.” Self-management skills that align with this element include self-motivation and resilience.

Self-management is a lifelong skill that takes time to practice, such as with self-awareness. Combined together these two core competencies of social emotional learning will help your child feel more in control of their emotions and confident in their abilities to achieve their goals.

What does it mean to practice self-management?

First, let’s look at what it means to “manage our emotions.” Another term for this might be “coping strategies” which are tools to help us feel better when we are experiencing a big emotion such as anger or fear. For example, Wisdom: The World of Emotions as a social emotional learning app, teaches kids multiple coping strategies to demonstrate that a calming down technique such as hugging a pillow that works for one person might not be what another person needs to feel better when feeling the same emotion. Practicing self-management, especially for young children, means discovering the tools that work best for them when they are experiencing different emotions. In the next section, you’ll learn more about how to practice self-management.

Second, self-management as relates to achieving our goals can look like taking small steps, recognizing and overcoming obstacles, and having patience when working towards long-term goals.

Introducing Coping Skills and Practicing Self-Management

What is Self Management and Why are Coping Skills Important? — Better Kids (2)

Before practicing self-management, whether at home or at school, it is important to understand where a child is at with the skill already. If they have only recently begun recognizing and identifying their emotions, it may take more time to introduce self-management techniques. It may be helpful to focus on one specific emotion, such as anger. Once your child has learned coping strategies for this emotion you may be able to introduce how similar strategies could work when they are feeling sad or fearful. Then, you could also discuss why some strategies might work better than others depending on the emotion. For example, a child who enjoys jumping jacks when they are angry might need a more comforting technique, such as thinking about their favorite place, when they are feeling sad. Here are a few other activities you can use to help your child practice self-management.

  • Mindfulness

While mindfulness is an especially effective tool for developing self-awareness, it can also be used as a “superpower” for managing emotions. For example, I recently gave a public speech and because my friend could tell I was feeling anxious she sat next to me and helped me to focus on taking slow deep breaths. The same strategy can be helpful for a child who might be feeling anxious about a soccer game or test. Your child may enjoy doing this independently, or if you are a teacher you could assign “mindful buddies” so that right before a test everyone has a partner to take deep breaths together.

  • Problem solving

Activities that focus on problem solving will help children to slow down and consider solutions to a problem rather than reacting based on their emotions the moment the problem occurs. Practicing social scenarios such as sharing how you felt when someone said or did something you didn’t like will help children become familiar with problem solving tools and it will be easier for them to use when a real conflict arises. You can find problem solving printables for free on our website and even more activities in our app, Wisdom: The World of Emotions.

  • Goal-setting

As mentioned earlier, self-management is also the ability to achieve personal goals. For children, a best practice for learning how to feel motivated to achieve goals could be as simple as writing down three things they want to accomplish that day, even if it includes tasks they typically already do such as brushing their teeth or putting their toys away. As parents, this is something you could try as well. In other words, rather than writing a “to-do list” for the day, consider writing a “goal list” for the day. Changing our perspective of daily tasks into goals could help motivate us to achieve more challenging or long-term goals.

  • Check-ins

Encourage your child to check-in often with themselves, with a parent, teacher or friend to acknowledge how they are feeling. Often we struggle with self-management because we don’t first take notice of how we are feeling until the emotion is overwhelming. Checking-in will help your child be first aware of how they are feeling and then take any action necessary. For example, when your child gets home from school consider making it a habit for them to share how they are feeling. If they are feeling upset, calm, or anxious you can help them uncover why they are feeling that way and what they can do to feel better before transitioning to any after school activities or homework.

Positive Outcomes of Self-Management

As your child develops self-management skills, they'll increase their ability to solve problems, make responsible decisions and establish positive relationships. CASEL shares the following capacities of self-management (CASEL, 2021):

It is important to note that these skills will all take time for children to develop but will also have long term benefits on their mental and emotional health as well as academic success. Self-management, especially when combined with self-awareness, is an essential component of social emotional learning that will help your child feel more confident about their emotions.


Author - Emily Kaiser

Emily has 3 years of experience educating 3-5 year olds in summer camp, traditional school, and Montessori school. She recently completed her Master's degree in Theology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily currently lives in Chicago where she enjoys running and exploring the city.

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