School is a place for children to learn from teachers and spend time with friends, but for some children, school can be a painful and difficult experience. These children often act differently than their peers and, as a result, are misunderstood.
Often, parents and teachers try to help these children have a positive experience at school, by helping them manage their emotions and coaching them through difficult situations. However, many parents and teachers are at a loss when it comes to children dealing with anger.
Anger Management for Children: Techniques that Work
Here is a list of some of the best strategies to use in the classroom for anger management for children. While these strategies were originally designed for a school setting, they can be helpful for parents and other people working with children, inside and outside the classroom.
Understanding the Source
One strategy to help children manage their anger is to have them process the source of their anger. Since children don’t have the maturity to fully express or understand their emotion, their parents, school staff, teachers, peers, and even themselves may not understand the true source of their anger. Once you find the source of the anger, you can work with the child to resolve their emotions.
Here are some questions for the parent and child:
- 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?
The answer to these questions should be discussed between the teachers and parent/guardian of the child, so everyone can work together to manage the child’s anger together.
Teachers only see their students in class, so their knowledge of the child is limited. If there has been a recent loss in the family, the teacher should be informed so they can be sensitive to the change. Or maybe the family is struggling financially and staying in a new, unfamiliar place where the child is uncomfortable. This change in an environment is likely affecting them in class.
Parents should also communicate any medical conditions with their child’s teacher. Medical conditions such as diabetes can cause children to experience altered moods. Children can also face disorders like oppositional defiant disorder which is when a kid struggles to follow authority.
As children learn to cope with difficult, confusing elements in life, anger sometimes manifests. Below is a list of common diagnoses in children where anger is either a symptom or the result of a social situation.
- Intellectual Disability (Intellectual Development Disorder)
This disability usually begins during the developmental period and includes adaptive and intellectual function deficits. If children with this disability don’t receive support, then the adaptive deficits limit their ability to function at home and in school.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is a pattern of hyperactivity-impulsivity and/or inattention, which interferes with a child’s development or ability to function. This disorder is often related to poor school performance, difficulty related to academic achievement, and social rejection. Children with ADHD are far more likely to develop conduct disorders than other children without ADHD.
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
For children to be diagnosed with this disorder, the onset of symptoms must happen before age 10. This disorder is primarily characterized by severe, chronic, and persistent irritability. Most often manifested in outbursts, either verbal or behavioral, which can be targeted toward self, others, and property.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (for pre-teen and teen females)
Some of the most common symptoms of PDD are irritability, anger, increased interpersonal conflict, and heightened anxiety. Typically these symptoms will be present the last week before menses, begin to resolve themselves a few days after menses occurs, and eventually become absent post menses.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
This disorder is triggered by social situations. Children will feel increased anxiety in social settings often leading to an outburst or tantrum.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder
These children will rarely seek comfort when upset seem socially and emotionally distant, display limited positive affections, and often suffer from unexplained irritability, sadness, or fearfulness.
- Oppositional Defiance Disorder
The child will struggle to follow authority and will be easily anger or irritated. They will likely fight verbally with adults, blame others for mistakes, and annoy other people intentionally.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Verbal aggression manifested in tantrums, tirades, verbal confrontations, or physical violence toward others, animals, or property.
- Conduct Disorder
Bullies often will imitate or threaten others and even initiate physical conflict.
- Post-traumatic 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 disorders and being able to diagnose the child does not change their behavior, but it does allow the teachers and school staff to understand what is going on so they can help manage the emotions and outbursts.
Other key strategies for anger management in the classroom deal directly with the behavior. Teachers and school staff can implement these techniques before, during, and after an episode of anger.
Young children can be redirected when acting inappropriately. Adults overseeing a playground or classroom can keep on the lookout for areas of conflict. Maybe a child who is not nice plays in the same area every day, thereby, bothering another child who wants to play in that spot.
It may be better to redirect the child because they may not have the maturity step away from the conflict with the other child. By doing so, you can proactively prevent an episode of anger by directing the child to play somewhere else with other children who are more open and inviting.
Redirection is powerful because it helps children experience new things, people, and places they didn’t know were available. But, it requires adults to be vigilant watching for problem areas and potential moments for redirection.
In the example above, it would not be as helpful for a teacher to move the child who is already “not nice” or angry. Another technique is needed for this child, but it is helpful to redirect the child who has yet to experience anger. If adults are keeping their eyes out, they can prevent issues before they occur.
Redirection may not work in every situation, but it is a method worth trying because it can help prevent anger before it occurs.
Identify, Express, and Share Feelings
Redirection is primarily the responsibility of the adult watching. If they don’t stay aware, they won’t be able to redirect correctly. However, teaching a child to notice, express, and share their feelings makes both the child and adult responsible.
Children need to learn what they are feeling before they act out. One way to do this is to have feeling charts posted in the classroom so the children can identify the emotions they are experiencing.
These charts are even more effective if you regularly have students point out how they are feeling. Doing so will help them to understand what emotions they are feeling and will teach them about more than just their problem emotions.
If you see a child struggling to understand what they are experiencing, point them to the chart. Ask them to identify what they are feeling based on the chart. It is even better if teachers and school staff participate by point out what they are feeling as well.
Expressing emotion isn’t easy, especially for a child who isn’t totally sure what they are feeling or why. More mature children will be able to share that they are feeling angry and why, but not every child will be able to do this. For some children, they will appear angry, but actually be feeling something totally different.
Another way for a child to express their feelings is through drawing. This will be really effective for creative children who enjoy drawing and writing, but all children can benefit from it. Ask the kid to write or draw what they are feeling. This will help them to see and understand what they are experiencing so in the future they can be aware of what they are feeling and act appropriately.
The drawings will range from simple to complex. Often, they will be as basic as a pair of eyes, a frown, or wild hair. Each of these is a clue to what the child is feeling. For example, the wild hair may be a signal that they feel like their life is out of control. Insights like these can help teachers and school staff to resolve the deeper emotions the child is experiencing, rather than just addressing the angry outburst.
Other children will be capable of verbally expressing their feelings. Expressing their feelings may be enough to prevent an outburst. So if a teacher or school staff hears a student begin to express their feelings, try to create a safe space where they can get it all out without judgment. This may mean moving to another room or keeping them behind while the rest of the class moves on. Either way, it is important for this kid to have time, space, and a safe place to share their feelings.
At the end of the day, the aim of self-expression is for a child to share what they really need. If they are able to do that, then much of the heartache and consequences of an outburst can be avoided. For example, if a child is aware that he/she is frustrated with another classmate and can express that, then he/she can move seats.
Or maybe a child realizes whenever they get hungry, they get angry. In the future, when he/she begins to feel hungry, they can ask for a snack and avoid an outburst. Self-awareness helps avoid unnecessary conflict from the class environment.
Self-regulation is a powerful tool for children. Self-regulation is when a child can identify their emotions, express them appropriately, state what they need, and make proactive decisions.
Creating structures to help the child to self-regulate is key.
The school, parents, and child can collaborate to ensure opportunities for the child to make the right decisions. Here are some potential options to give a child to help them self-regulate.
- Give the child several minutes each day to take a break in a safe area of the school with a safe person. The time can either be built into the schedule or made available when necessary.
- Provide snacks in class for when the child gets hungry (these can be sent from home or approved by both the parents and teacher).
- Display a behavior chart created by both the student and teacher, so the student can participate in the process and be held accountable. (pair it with a reward system to be even more effective).
- Give students time and space to draw or write in their notebook (provided by the parent or teacher) whenever they begin to feel overwhelmed by emotion.
Children need help and support from adults as they learn to self-regulate. Building in options for them will improve their plan at school, whether it is in a child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), Section 504, or behavior plan, ultimately setting the child up for success in self-regulation. They may be the ones ultimately responsible, but adults can help give them the tools for success.
Systems and Support
Finally, one of the most effective anger management techniques for children is being supported by adults. When a child feels supported outside of the classroom, they often behave better inside the classroom.
Therefore, rallying support from teachers, parents, youth group leaders, mentors, therapists, family support specialists, behavior specialists, and really anyone willing to support the child, will increase their chance of managing their emotions. When they feel supported, they will better be able to control their behavior.
Support can be as simple as reminding the child they are in control of their emotions or encouraging them that the can change. A kind word goes a long way. When the adults and systems are working together in all areas of life, the uniformity of the effort in creating space and understanding for the child is even more effective.
Then everybody is working toward the same goal and able to affirm and encourage what the child is already being told. When everyone around the child works as a team, it is rewarding for everyone, especially the child.
If these methods are something you would like to develop in the life of your child, then reach out to a counselor. Many are specifically trained in children and family dynamics and can help equip you and your child. It is never too early, or too late, to learn how to manage your anger.
“Fathering,” courtesy of Olichel, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Unsupervised”, Courtesy of Mike Fox, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Jenga,” courtesy of Michel Parzuchowski, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Screen time,” courtesy of Annie Spratt, unsplash.com, CC0 License