Coping Strategies: Managing Feelings

Working in small groups, students categorize coping strategies as positive, negative, neutral, and time-out behaviors.

Lesson in brief: Working in small groups, students will categorize coping strategies as positive, negative, neutral and time-out behaviors.

Vocabulary: Positive, Negative, Neutral, Time-out

Materials: Coping Strategies handout (below), chart paper and markers for each group

Introduction and Vocabulary

Write the word cope on the board, and ask the students to define it. Arrive at a definition along these lines: to handle something successfully. When strong feelings come up, we all have ways we try to cope with them. Some of our approaches, or strategies, are successful; others are not.

Have the following terms written out on a piece of chart paper:

  • positive coping strategy
  • negative coping strategy
  • neutral coping strategy
  • time-out strategy

Explain the meanings of these terms, as described below:

  • Positive coping strategy. This is a strategy that enables you to restore emotional balance; feel better about yourself; is respectful of you, others, and property; and helps you to solve the problem.
  • Negative coping strategy. This is a strategy that does not restore emotional balance; may be harmful to yourself, others, or property; does not solve the problem, and may create additional problems.
  • Neutral coping strategy. This is a strategy that is neither positive nor negative, but used to excess, could be harmful.
  • Time-out strategy. This is a strategy that helps you to calm down and restore emotional balance. It is only temporary and must be used with another positive strategy in order to solve the problem.

Eliciting Student Responses

Choose a strong feeling (for example, anger) and ask the students to share things they do or have seen others do when they experience that feeling. Record their responses on chart paper.

Examining Coping Strategies, Part 1

After the students have generated a list of a dozen or so items, go down the list, asking the class to comment on whether each action is a positive coping strategy, negative, neutral, or time-out. (In some cases, an action may be either positive or negative depending on the circumstances.)

Examining Coping Strategies, Part 2

1. Divide the class into four groups.
2. Distribute the Coping Strategies handout (below) and instruct each group to examine it. (You might want to use the list drawn up in the brainstorm if it is comprehensive enough.)
3. Assign each group the task of identifying which of the coping strategies on the list fit into a particular category.

  • Group A: positive coping strategies
  • Group B: negative coping strategies
  • Group C: neutral coping strategies
  • Group D: time-out strategies

4. Have each group discuss the overall list, select strategies fitting their category, and prepare a chart listing their strategies. (Circulate among the groups, guiding them to use the working definitions when deciding whether or not a strategy belongs on their group's list.)

Group Sharing and Discussion

1. Have each group share the chart they have developed. Some items may appear on more than one list. Point this out and invite the class to discuss the strategy further. (For example: Is watching TV negative, positive, neutral or time out? Why?)
2. Discussion questions:

  • Which strategies do you see people using most often? What is the effect of this?
  • Which positive coping strategies have you tried when you experienced strong emotions? How have they helped?
  • What happened when you used some of the negative strategies on the list?
  • Are tehre times when some of the negative strategies might be appropriate?
  • Which time-out behaviors are helpful for you?


Ask the class, What's something you learned from today's lesson? Are you taking away anything that may be useful in your life?

Follow-up Suggestions

1. Provide a "time-out" space in your room where students can go to cool down.

2. Encourage journal-writing using the following:

  • Write about a strong emotion that you experienced, how you coped with it, and what you can do differently next time
  • Some positive strategies I'd like to try are
  • I could use time out strategies when 



What do you do when you experience a strong emotion?

Stamp my feet

Think / reflect

Threaten someone

Drink water

Throw a tantrum


Telephone a friend

Throw things

Count to 10

Count to 100

Watch TV

Tell my parent

Break things

Take deep breaths

Talk to a counselor


Walk away

Play sports

Listen to music


Write in my journal

Try to hurt someone

Tell jokes


Punch pillows



Take a walk


Draw / paint

Hug a teddy bear

Read a book



Sit down and think

Help someone


Play a game

Talk to trusted adult

Ride a bike

Be with friends

Go see a movie

Talk to myself

Clean my room



Feel sorry for myself

Try mediation


Beat up my brother or sister


Stare at people

Become silent

Develop an attitude

Take a shower or a bath


Talk with the person involved

Have fun

Go to a peaceful place


Get a massage

Hurt myself

Hit someone


Visit grandparent, etc.