Helping children learn how to effectively manage strong emotions, such as anger, is another important weapon in the fight against bullying.
Anger can come from many sources. It can come from a feeling of frustration – such as not being able to live up to your own, or others’, expectations of yourself. It can come from a feeling of helplessness as others do or say things that you feel impinge on your freedom of choice. It can come from a sense of helplessness, powerlessness.
Being angry is not “wrong”. Being angry is part of life.
As Seymour (2009) suggests, it is not about trying to teach children not to be angry. It is about validating their feelings, helping them recognise what the emotion is, and then what to do about it. It is about empowering children as early as possible in life to recognise and manage their own emotions so that they do not harm themselves or others.
When we look at helping children of all abilities learn about emotions, we need to use as many different senses as possible to teach the skill.
Pictures are an effective way to teach about emotions right into adulthood. Part of the reason for this is visuals give us quick, easy references and chunks of information so that we can store it and retrieve it when necessary. As the saying goes, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.
Pictures are especially useful for children/youth who learn visually (such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders) and have difficulty with literacy (such as children with dyslexia).
Seymour’s book provides a series of pictures that help children learn about what anger looks like, feels like, what might make you feel angry and what you could do if you do feel angry.
Using visuals, such as a feelings thermometer, can also help children identify, communicate and control their anger appropriately.
Talking about it, using social stories and teaching children to “self-talk” their way through their anger is also an important strategy.
Seymour’s book is again a good tool as it provides statements that are simple, explicit to help parents and teachers talk about emotions such as anger and what to do when those feelings arise.
Getting children to count down from 10 in their heads, to repeat a set of steps to follow or repeat a phrase to help them calm down are all examples of “self-talk” – an essential tool in helping to manage emotions.
Anger increases the adrenalin in a person’s body. Sometimes it is important to have a physical release for that emotion. Stress balls, a “cool down” walk, bouncing a tennis ball against a wall… all these strategies have been used effectively in schools to help children manage their emotions.
However, when using these strategies there needs to be clear boundaries. For example, the stress ball is for squeezing (not throwing ). The “cool down” walk needs to have a time frame and a physical boundary. The bouncing of the tennis ball also needs these boundaries – for example, what wall can be used, and how many bounces can be taken before they return to their task.
Leading by example
But one of the most effective tools to help children learn to manage their emotions is by modelling the behaviour we want. No matter the situation, we should make our best efforts to remain calm and openly use the strategies we are teaching our children.
Why anger management is important…
Part of being able to relate to others and live peaceably together is being self-aware and being able to self-regulate. By teaching children from the earliest ages to manage their emotions we are increasing their chances of developing healthy relationships right into adulthood.
Seymour, S. (2009). Sometimes I feel… How to help your child manage difficult feelings. Finch Publishing: Sydney.