Dr. Kimberly Riley
School can be a place where children make memories with their teachers and friends, but it can also be a source of pain for a child who doesn’t have a great time there and struggles. Children often are misunderstood when they display behaviors that are different than their peers.
Their parents and teachers try to make the school experience a positive one, but sometimes run out of ideas when it comes to behaviors that are centered around anger.
Anger Management Techniques for Children
Here are a few top anger management techniques for children in the classroom that might be helpful for teachers, parents, and the children who are struggling with managing their anger.
Understanding the Source
One technique that is helpful for children who need help managing their anger in the classroom is understanding the anger.The child, their parents, teachers, school staff, and their peers all may be confused about where the anger is coming from, so it is helpful to know the beginning to be effective in changing the end.
Here are a few questions to ask the parent and their child or questions for parents to think about when deciding what information they should share with the school if the child has a change in behavior:
- Does the child or parent/guardian recognize or acknowledge their angry behavior?
- What do they (parent/guardian, child, therapist) believe is causing the anger?
- What emotion does the child say they are experiencing when displaying the angry behavior?
- How does the child manage their anger at home (according to the parent/guardian and child)?
- Are they getting outside assistance from anyone to help manage their anger and behaviors (therapist, behavior specialist, doctor, or other professional)? If they are, can you connect with them to work together in helping the child in the classroom?
There are many ways for information to be shared back and forth between the school and families so that communication about the child and their behavior can be discussed and the care for the child can be managed.
It is helpful for the teacher to know if the child’s anger began after a loss in the family so that the school staff can be sensitive to that change. The child and their family might be homeless or living in an unfamiliar place causing them to not get a lot of sleep, so their lack of sleep may look like anger.
Some children have medical conditions, such as diabetes that cause them to have certain periods of time when their behavior changes. There are some disorders, like oppositional defiant disorder, where a child is dealing with issues following authority.
Children have moments in life that are unique and can be confusing. Here are a few diagnoses that are seen in children where either anger is one of the symptoms or social setting behavior changes are common (which could be the source of frustration for the child and leads to anger).
- Intellectual Disability (Intellectual Development Disorder): The onset of this disability occurs during the developmental period that includes both intellectual and adaptive functions deficits in conceptual, social, and practical domains. Without ongoing support, the adaptive deficits limit functioning in daily life across multiple environments such as home, school, work and community.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, as characterized by 1) inattention, and/or 2) hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is associated with reduced school performance and academic attainment and social rejection. Children with ADHD are significantly more likely than their peers without ADHD to develop conduct disorder in adolescence.
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: Children must have the onset of symptoms before the age of 10. The core features of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder are chronic, severe persistent irritability. Outbursts typically occur in response to frustration and can be verbal or behavioral, which might be aggressive towards property, self, or others.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (for pre-teen and teen females): Two of the symptoms of PDD are marked irritability or anger or increased interpersonal conflicts and marked anxiety, tension, and/or feelings of being keyed up or on edge. These symptoms are present in the final week before menses and start to improve within a few days after the onset of menses, and become absent in the week post menses.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): A social situation that produces anxiety almost always provoking fear or anxiety that may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder: The child rarely seeks comfort when distressed, exhibits minimal social and emotional responsiveness to others, limited positive affections, and episodes of unexplained irritability, sadness, or fearfulness that are evident even during non-threatening interactions with adult caregivers.
- Oppositional Defiance Disorder: Often loses temper, is touchy or easily annoyed, is often angry and resentful, often argues with adults, often deliberately annoys others, and often blames others for his or her mistakes.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Verbal aggression for example temper tantrums, tirades, verbal arguments, or fights or physical aggression towards property, animals, animals, or other individuals.
- Conduct Disorder: Often bullies, threatens or intimates others or initiates physical fights or has been physically cruel to people or animals.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Irritable behavior and angry outburst (with little or no provocation typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects and reckless or self-destructive. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
Understanding these reasons may not change the child’s behavior, but it does help the teachers and school staff understand where it is coming from and manage their own responses to the child.
Other top anger management techniques for children in the classroom includes helping them directly with their behavior. There are many different ways that teachers and school staff can be helpful to the child before, during, and after their anger. Here are a few ideas listed below.
For young children, redirection can be a helpful response to a lot of behaviors, including anger. Sometimes children are in areas of the classroom or playground which adults have recognized as being sources of stress or frustration that leads to anger.Maybe there is a child who isn’t very nice and plays in a certain spot every day and that troubles another child who isn’t quite at a stage where they know how to walk away instead of making a poor choice in response to their feelings yet.
An adult can redirect the child who tends to respond a little more aggressively to an area where children are more inviting and calm, providing safety and comfort for the child.
Redirection is a great thing! It helps children find other options, people, and places they didn’t know were available, but it sometimes has to be planned at times that will be most effective for everyone involved.
Thinking about the child in the example above, it would not be as effective for a playground teacher to redirect a child who is already angry and in need of another technique when they could possibly redirect the child before the anger begins by being aware of past circumstances or using information they have about the child’s behavior.
It is important to remember that redirection may not work for every child, but it is one technique that may provide different options in the area they share with others.
Identify, Express, and Share Feelings
Redirecting a child takes a lot of awareness on the part of the person who is doing the redirecting, but the technique of teaching a child how to recognize, express, and share their emotions takes the effort of the adult and child.
It is important for a child to learn when they are feeling an emotion that could lead to an outburst of anger. Feeling charts are a wonderful tool to have posted up all over the school so that children and adults and identify what they are feeling.
Having all the children frequently use the chart for feelings identification gets them in the habit of understanding all of their emotions, not just the ones that will maybe lead to bigger behaviors.
When children appear to be confused about what they are feeling at the moment, they can be guided to the chart and asked if they see what they are feeling on the chart. A bonus would be for the teachers and staff to also point out what they are feeling on the chart too!
Expression of emotion can be difficult for anyone, but especially for a child who isn’t quite sure what they are feeling or why. Some children are able to say that they are angry and explain what caused them to be angry, but not all. Some children are feeling something else and confuse it for anger; the secondary behavior may look a lot like an angry outburst, but really it is something else.
If a child is creative and enjoys writing or drawing, the adults in their life can encourage them to write out or draw out what they are feeling. Again, it is ideal to have the students know what they are feeling before correction begins so that they can have some awareness and begin to make changes to their behavior based on what they know about their feelings and their responses.
Some children can draw something as simple as a picture with two eyes, a frown, and wild hair describing that they feel out of control. Just that insight into the feelings of a child can be helpful for the teacher or school staff when thinking of what they can do to be helpful in bringing the child back to a place where they feel in control again.
Some children have the verbal skills and can express their feelings once they recognize what is going on. The act of being able to identify and express themselves is enough to prevent the angry response to whatever is going on. If you are the teacher or school staff in the position of listening to a child who is expressing their feelings, it is helpful to allow them the space they need to get out their emotions without judgment.
It might mean moving to another room or staying behind while another staff member takes the class where they have to go, but it is important that the child has the time, space, and confidence to express their feelings safely.The goal of self-expression of emotion from the child is to get them to share what they need. If a child is extremely frustrated with a classmate and can identify that feeling they might ask to be moved to another seat.
Or, if a child is hungry and that is why their behavior is poor they may be able to ask for a snack. Children can learn to identify their emotions, express themselves, and then share what they may need as a way to effectively manage their anger in the classroom and in other settings as well.
Teaching children how to self-regulate is a powerful thing. Children who learn how to regulate themselves can identify their emotions, express themselves, share what they need, and make positive choices.
The school, child, and parents can work together to make a plan so that the child and teacher are both aware of the choices the child can make at school when they are feeling upset or frustrated. Some great ideas for children, parents, and the school to think about are listed below.
- Allow the child a few minutes during the day to take a break in another safe area of the school with a safe person (can be built into the day or available for the child to choose from when necessary).
- Have snacks in the class (sent from home or approved by the teacher and the parents) set aside for the child if and when they get hungry.
- Use a behavior chart that the student creates with the teacher so that there is buy-in from the student and accountability and match it with a reward system.
- Encourage the student to write or draw in their notebook (can be provided by the teacher, parent, or created by the child) when they are experiencing an emotion that feels hard to manage.
As children are learning to self-regulate they need support from the adults around them. Having a few ideas built into a plan at school, whether it is in a child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), Section 504 plan or behavior plan is necessary so all parties who are involved with the child are aware and understand the child’s needs and choices.
Children can then have the freedom to regulate themselves by choosing one of the already approved choices and be more in control of managing their anger and behavior.
Systems and Support
Finally, one of top anger management techniques for children in the classroom setting is the support of the teachers, school staff, parents, family, church youth group leaders, therapists, behavior specialists, family support specialists and whoever else is willing to support the child and their needs. The child feeling supported, understood, and loved is important when they begin to make changes in their behavior.
Sometimes the support of others with simple reminders or encouragement goes a long way and produces big results. Having all of the child’s support people come together to interact with each other’s systems is rewarding for everyone involved, especially the child.
Knowing what happens in all areas of the child’s life and having everyone respond similarly creates peace, understanding, routine, and familiarity for the child, which is comforting to a child in beginning stages of change.
If you are looking for a counselor to support you on this journey and help a child learn new anger management techniques, The counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling are ready and equipped to help you. It is never too late to learn how to manage anger no matter where it comes from or what the source is.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.
“Child with Arms Crossed”, Courtesy of Chinh Le Duc, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cheeky Boy”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Old-Time Schoolhouse”, Courtesy of Jeffrey Hamilton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fighting Back”, Courtesy of Timothy Eberly, Unsplash.com, CC0 License