When it comes to intentional experiences that teach children how to cope with stress, there’s nothing like the triad of Direct Teaching, Integrated Teaching, and Situational Teaching. But lets not get the cart before the horse. What is it we’re teaching anyway? Well, I’ll tell you what it is. We’re teaching children coping skills. Coping skills are what we use to reduce stress. Relaxation, meditation, breathing, etc. are all coping skills. The teaching triad we’re going to discuss here has been proven in clinical tests to be effective at teaching social skills. As I explain what the three components are below, I will show examples of how they can be used to help children learn relaxation.


[The information below was taken from Jim and Laurie Ollhoff’s book, Getting Along: Teaching Social Skills to Children and Youth available from Sparrow Media Group, Inc. I HIGHLY recommend this book.}


Direct Teaching

This is when we sit the children down and teach the skill, like during a community meeting. We might use a commercially prepared curriculum, an activity book, or our own ideas. We might talk about the skill, see a skit, watch a video, and engage in role plays. The point is that this is formal time where the adult orchestrates a lesson about a social skill.


The E.S.P. Approach to Direct Teaching:

The three step process, Explain-Show-Practice (ESP), can be used to plan a direct teaching lesson on social skill.


  • Explain the skill to Children
    • Videos
    • Act it out
    • Draw it out
    • Do a mini-lecture
  • Show the skill in action
    • Role play
    • Puppet show
    • Show a video of people using the skill
    • Show a movie or TV episode where the skill is present (or not present).
  • Practice the skill
    • Rehearse it as if it were a play
    • Role play or write a drama
    • Use workbooks
    • Make up a song
    • Have a debate
    • Write poems


Here’s an example: A direct teaching lesson about relaxation would include telling kids that when we get stressed, our bodies get tense. I would say, “Everybody, make your muscles tight…hold them…hold them…good!” I would tell them that when we are worried, take a test, scared, or nervous, our bodies tense up, but they don’t always relax again automatically. So we need to help our bodies relax sometimes. We can do this by telling our muscles to loosen up one at a time. For example, we can let our arms hang loose and or shoulders droop down as if our arms weighted 100 pounds. Sometimes taking a deep breath helps our muscles to relax. Usually, while talking to the kids, I would also be demonstrating the relaxation.


Integrated Teaching

     This is when the adult plans art, gym, or other activities, but adds a social skill component into the activities. The activity might be a game, an art project, or any kind of group activity, but learning a social skill is a part of the process. The children may not even realize that they are learning a social skill while they do the project. The group may or may not discuss the fact that social skill instruction played a part of the activity. Integrated teaching involves intentional planning on the part of the facilitator.

Steps to Integrated Teaching

  • Step 1: Choose activity and social skill.
  • Step 2: Plan the activity and skill lesson.
  • Step 3: Do the activity.
  • Step 4: Recap, debrief, and celebrate

Here’s an example: An integrated teaching lesson about relaxation might include having a beach party. Kids can bring in towels and wear shorts. There can be a wave soundtrack playing in the background. Tell the kids to pretend they are lying on a beach catching some rays. They have their sunscreen on, so they don’t need to worry about sunburn. All they have to do is lie back and let the warm sun soak into their bodies. After a while, ask the kids how they fell. Are then worried or relaxed? Explain to them that they just did a great job using coping skills. They let all their worries go away. Isn’t it great to be relaxed? Nice Job!

I also recommend the “I Can Relax” C.D. from the Child Anxiety Network It is a very creative, complete progressive muscle relaxation cycle for kids. It last about 25 minutes on the C.D.

Situational Teaching

     This is when social skills are taught in the natural setting as children experience interaction. It is to teach coping when something difficult has happened. Situational teaching is to teach stress management when children are stressed. It is to teach relaxation when a child needs to relax. Situational teaching is to grab the teachable moment, and coach children through it.

How to intervene, an art, not a science:

  • Intervene after careful observation.
  • Intervene with questions, not answers.
  • Intervene gently, not intrusively.
  • Intervene, but try to avoid taking sides.
  • Adults shouldn’t impose themselves where they’re not needed.
  • Adults shouldn’t burst on to the scene as judge and jury.

When to intervene, guidelines not rules:

  • Intervene when things are escalating.
  • Intervene before they lose control.
  • Intervene when one person is being victimized.
  • Intervene when things have been festering.
  • Intervene when conflict starts to spread.
  • Intervene if you know the kids’ skills are too low.

Situation teaching examples are usually given as case studies, or stories. This one is taken straight from the text of Getting Along, but I’ve used it with permission. To be completely honest, I was a contributing editor for Getting Along, and this is one of my contributions.

Coping Case Study: Anthony

Anthony is a fourth grade boy who could be described as being “wound pretty tight.” He’s very articulate with a vocabulary well above his grade level. Anthony is always perfectly dressed, and his hair is always neatly combed with a part on the side. The precision of his appearance hints at the precise way he works, plays and acts. He is on medication for ADHD.

Anthony’s quick smile dissolves into an impatient frown if his mom or dad doesn’t arrive precisely on time to pick him up. While he waits, the lines on his forehead get deeper every time he glances at his oversized digital wristwatch. When his parents finally arrive, usually only five or ten minutes late, Anthony grumpily berates them. Explanations like “bad weather” or “backed up traffic” don’t help him let go of his frustration.

Late pick-ups turned out to be an opportunity to teach Anthony coping skills. Staff taught Anthony simple self-talk and breathing exercises. When it gets close to pick-up time, instead of looking at his watch, Anthony takes a deep breath and says, “Even though my parents might be late, I’m okay.” As it turned out, this kind of a pre-emptive strike helped Anthony relax quite a bit. If his parents do end up being a bit late, Anthony breathes and says, “Even though I’m nervous, I’m okay,” or “Even though I’m angry, I’m okay.”

With some self-talk and some deep breathing, Anthony learned how to relax more effectively. By helping Anthony recognize and deal with his frustration, the staff have helped Anthony develop a skill that will help him the rest of his life.

Eventually, staff may be able to help Anthony not just cope with his late pick-ups, but enjoy them. Eventually, Anthony may see the late pickup as “more time to play” or “more time to spend with my friends.” But the staff wisely chose “coping” as the skill to help build, because that’s the place where Anthony was.

As I mentioned earlier, using all three forms of teaching has been proven to help children internalize coping skills. In fact, I’ve even had parents tell me that their kids bring the skills home and teach them to the rest of the family.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: