Anger is a very common emotion. We all feel angry at different times in our lives, but did you know that anger is a secondary emotion? Anger is a mask we wear to cover an emotion that makes us feel vulnerable. Many children confuse anger with feeling powerful and in control. Take the following example:
A child is left out of a game at recess. -> He/She feels lonely and rejected. Rather than continue to feel the pain of these emotions, they become angry. Their anger allows them to direct their unpleasant feelings into a feeling of power and control.
The following poster does a wonderful job of showing the different type of emotions that are masked by anger:
While no 6-year-old is thinking, “I’ll exchange these feelings of vulnerability to a more empowering secondary feeling.” they will choose behavior that allows them to release those unpleasant feelings. This is why we must teach children strategies to manage their feelings.
The more strategies a child has to choose from, the less likely they will be to resort to anger.
Teach children to take care of themselves:
Structure the environment for success:
4. Allow a child a way to get away from what is triggering their anger. When children are able to get away from the situation they are able to save face, which reduces the need to use anger to mask their primary feeling(s).
We can discuss all of the “who’s, what’s, where’s, and why’s” later. For right now, the priority is to defuse the situation. Anger overrides rational thought and confrontation/punishment while the child is angry will only seem punitive. It will not result in long-term success and may escalate the situation.
5. Identify a safe alternative location where they can go to when they are angry. A safe location can take many forms, however, the needs of the child must be considered when determining an appropriate location. For example, children who “run” from class/teachers should not use the hallway as an alternative location.
How you establish this alternative location is going to make the difference between a child being provided with an appropriate choice to cool off or a child taking advantage of the choices provided. I make it kid-friendly by calling it a “Parking Spot” where they can “Cool Their Engines”.
Just like parking garages, alternative locations need to have some rules to avoid “Crashes”. Here are some tips to establish boundaries and expectations:
6. Teach the child how to utilize the alternative location:
a) Establish the location ahead of time. (Destination Location) – avoid “negotiating” with the child when they are angry
b) Why we are using the location? (We’re not just cruising around!)
c) When they can/can’t go there. (Rules of the Road)
d) How long they can choose the alternate location (I suggest a maximum of 10 minutes. If they are still not able to manage their anger in 10 minutes, they will need a more helpful strategy/intervention) (Parking Pass expires after 10 minutes)
e) What they can/can’t do while they are there (yes, you may color… you may not destroy property) (Sharing the Road with Others – avoid crashes). Choosing a different location is a privilege that requires responsibility. If they cannot be trusted to follow the “plan” then they will no longer be able to go to that alternative location. (Licenses can be revoked!)
7./8. Hallway & Library- The hallway and library can be used as a safe place to go when students are feeling angry and need to “get away” from the situation. As with the parking lot above, using the hallway as a safe place should be identified ahead of time as well as expectations for behavior.
9. Computer Lab – use this one with caution. I advise selecting educational software (such as typing or learning websites). Some children may take advantage of this choice. We do not want the child to desire this location; we just want them to have an alternative place in case they become upset.
10. Main Office – Some children may see this as a punishment, but many young children enjoy relationships with the office staff. I use this choice sparingly and I make sure to help the child understand what the behavioral expectations are for this choice. (Make sure you have your office staff/administrator on board first!).
11. Side Office – or room out of the flow of traffic and away from any “audience” that may be triggering aggressive/out of control behavior. Be sure that the location is close enough so the child can be supervised appropriately. Arrange supervision for the child ahead of time if you are not supervising yourself. Children can reactive negatively if they are told that they can’t do something or if they feel rejected.
12. Identified out-of-the-way spot in the classroom. Can they use a clipboard and sit on the floor by the bookcase? This choice allows children to save face with minimal disruption to their learning.
13. Their Bedroom – If they share a room, provide access to a different room where they will not be disturbed by siblings/other family members.
14. Backyard – Physical outdoor activity, such as running or even playing with the family pet can be a good outlet for letting out pent-up feelings.
15. Porch – A quiet spot on the porch can work as a “safe place” for kids to go when they are feeling overwhelmed.
16. Local Playground/Park – The local playground or park is another good place to go to channel negative feelings into physical activity.
As mentioned above, physical activity is a great way to cope with feelings of anger. Movement produces endorphins that literally change the brain’s chemical makeup.
35. Play an instrument
36. Make an instrument -> click here for a ton of great (and cheap!) ideas.
37. Write a song
Anger happens to all of us, but when it becomes uncontrollable to the point that it reduces the quality of life then it is time to seek help from a mental health professional. Teaching children strategies to manage their anger and intervening early is key in helping children deal with their anger.
Looking for some great books to help angry kids? Check out 10 Great Books That Can Help an Angry Child for my resources and ideas to help angry children!
Looking for a free hands-on activity to help teach anger management? Sign up for updates from The Helpful Counselor and snag a sample set of situation cards to use.