Burying the Box

Burying the Box

Not all coping mechanisms are positive. Today I’d like to discuss a negative coping mechanism often used by kids in dealing with negative emotions.

What is Burying the Box?

Children and adults often use a wide range of coping mechanisms to deal with difficult situations. One such coping mechanisms that kids often employ is known as “Burying the Box” of feelings. Burying the Box is all about disguising the impacts of difficult emotions by putting on a “happy face” and an air of confidence to the outside world.

Just because someone has a smile on their face and seems to be fine doesn’t mean that’s actually the case. As discussed in my last article, children generally have little control over their own surroundings. This results in them using coping mechanisms that aren’t always particularly healthy. I often see it in clients (especially those aged 13-18) who will laugh off their experiences as if they don’t matter and have discernible impact on them.

Underneath the confidence though is a young person putting up their guard and not allowing anyone to come too close. They build these false walls telling people telling people “I’m fine” or “My day was ok thanks” rather than dealing with the underlying emotions. You will soon realise these statements come with little detail or support. A kid who is Burying the Box will appear as though they are soaring with confidence to their peers while totally shutting off the people who know what they have been through. This is because they want to minimize the risk of having to talk about their actual feelings.

Why Do Kids Bury the Box?

Although it is not a positive coping mechanism, Burying the Box is enticing to some kids because it does offer some benefits to kids who choose to use it:

  • Firstly, it allows the kids to present a persona full of confidence and humor. Generally, other kids like these types of personality.
  • This mechanism also helps some kids defend against bullying as the humour and confidence they display can be a defence to bullying. Some people call this being the ‘class clown.’

How Can You Help A Child Who Is Burying the Box?

So how can we help those trying to withdraw from their feelings using humour, confidence and burying their head in the sand?

It’s hard to get teenagers to sit at the dinner table let alone talk, but when the chance does present itself to engage in conversation with a teenager (be it 5 minutes or an hour) allow them into your world by sharing what’s going on in your life. This doesn’t mean offloading all your issues on them and asking them to console you – they may have their own problems. But, do tell them about your day – even if it’s boring – even if it seems irrelevant to them. Show them that you trust them with your own details. Model for them that it’s still okay to let people in, that it’s okay to be sad when you’re sad or happy when you’re happy. It’s okay to laugh when you really feel it. Model for them that you’re fighting for yourself and that they can do the same without having to pretend they’re okay.

By modeling appropriately dealing with emotional difficulties, you can help children and teens to unbury their box and begin to discuss what they are going through with you. Only once they are willing to address these emotions will they finally be able to deal with them.

For more awesome resources for learning about and dealing with emotions, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Emotions Help Center.

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Written by Kay Westwood
Kay is, first and foremost, the mother of two boisterous, cheeky, lovable and difficult boys. She is a trained Psychotherapist with more than 10 years of experience specifically including work with children. As the divorced parent of children, including special needs children, she has personally dealt with the struggles, difficulties and highly-strung emotions that divorce brings into the life of a child. She has struggled with the balance between making sure her kids felt loved while at the same time setting appropriate boundaries. In other words, she gets it! When Kay left school, she started training in law and politics but quickly realized that wasn’t where her heart was and went on to work in nurseries and preschools. Her thirst for learning led her to train as a professional psychotherapist trained in CBT, Psycho-dynamic, TA, Person centred and many more models of therapy. She now works part time at a special needs primary school as well as maintaining a therapy practice that serves both adults and children. She maintains her own counselling website at StepByStep-counselling.com, and along with a colleague is in the process of setting up an online help resource for people with anxiety. Kay currently lives in Reading, Berkshire, England with her dog and two boys. She is passionate about writing and about helping as many people as she can through her writing. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.