Anger is a common emotion and it is not problematic unless the person cannot control their anger. In a classroom setting it is important to help students learn how to deal with feelings of anger and frustration in a healthy way so that they do not hurt others or themselves by throwing objects or saying mean words.
There are several steps educators can take to prepare their students to handle difficult emotions such as anger before these emotions even arise.
- Model calm behavior. Lessons do not have to be explicit to be effective; children learn through observation as well. So, if educators are calm, respectful and not raising their voices in anger, children will try to model that. Conversely, if educators are yelling and stomping their feet when frustrated with their class, children will model that behavior.
- Read books about emotions. Children love stories, so why not read them some books which talk about handling difficult emotions. We have compiled a list of some books that students may enjoy:
- The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee
- I Am Stronger Than Anger by Elizabeth Cole
- When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
- Angry Octopus by Lori Lite
- Look for patterns. If there is a student that is getting angry often, take note of what happens right before their outburst, what time of day it is, who is around, etc. The context can provide clues for what is triggering the student and this can help prevent or prepare you for future outbursts.
- Create a cool down zone. Have a comfortable, designated space in the classroom with tools that students can use to calm down with some privacy before rejoining the rest of the class. There are many examples online of cool down spaces teachers have created such as this one in Fall-Hamilton Elementary. Make sure to explain how to use the cool down zone and its various tools to your students. Here are some tools to include in your zone:
- Sand timer. Get a five minute timer which the students can start when they enter the cool down zone so that they can keep track of how long they have been there. Let them know if they do not feel like they are calm when the timer is finished, they can flip it over for another five minutes.
- Zone cards. These are designed to help students identify what they are feeling. For example: red = angry, mean, out of control; yellow = worried, frustrated, nervous; blue = sad, bored, tired; and green = calm, focused, happy. Download this PDF and print out each card.
- Paper and pencil. Have some paper so students can write down what happened and how they are feeling. When students write and label their feelings, they use their frontal system to manage their emotional response, rather than letting their limbic system handle it. To read more about how the frontal and limbic systems work, check out this blog post, Inside the Brain of a Stressed Out Student.
- Breathing exercises. Include posters or cards in the zone which explain how to do deep breathing exercises. Need some inspiration? Check out our Quick & Easy Breathing Exercises for Kids.
- Movement cards. Print out cards with specific movements on them that your students can do. Some examples are jumping jacks, wall push ups or going for a supervised walk. You can also include exercises they learn in Brain Bootcamp!
- Stress ball. Include some squishy balls of varying softness that the students can squeeze.
- Headphones. Include over-the-ear headphones students can wear to block out the noise of the classroom and regulate themselves. You may also include a device pre-loaded with calming music that the headphones can plug into.
- Water. Have a poster or a note reminding students to drink water as a way to help them regulate themselves. They can use their own water bottle or get a drink from a water fountain if needed.
Do not expect your students to handle their anger perfectly just because you have been proactive and taught them new strategies. Depending on the students’ age and current anger response, they will have an easier or harder time applying the strategies you have taught them; it is easier for them to default to behaviors they are familiar with than try to implement something new. Over time, with practice, they will get better at handling their emotions. In the meantime, you can walk your student to the cool down zone and remind them how to use it. You can also have a discussion with them at that point about why they are mad and what they are thinking and feeling in their body. This may help you guide them towards certain tools over others.