All young children display extreme emotion from time to time. If you have a child in your setting that is repeatedly displaying angry behaviour, then it can be particularly scary, disruptive and stressful; both for that child and the other children around them. Here are some strategies to put in place for a child that may be struggling with their anger.
1. Teach the child about emotions. Show them different feelings and help them to recognise these in their friends, book characters, and eventually in themselves. On this journey, it helps if you label their emotion for them – “I can see that you are angry”. A child needs to recognise their emotion before they are able to address it.
2. Teach children to recognise the physical responses to being angry – again, another tool to helping them recognise and understand what is going on. Talk to them about how it actually feels to be angry – you become hot, your cheeks go red, your heart starts beating faster and harder and you might feel butterflies in your tummy. If a child is able to recognise these signs in their body, then they are on their way to being able to recognise their own anger and handle it appropriately.
3. Separate the feeling from the behaviour – “it is OK to be angry, it is not OK to hit”. Help the child to understand that they are not wrong to experience the emotion and nobody is cross with them for feeling it, they just have to be careful how they act on it.
4. Give the child a strategy. Work with the child (at a time that they are calm) to come up with a plan, that is right for them and your setting, for when they are feeling those physical responses to anger. It may be that they go to a room by themselves, hit a cushion, squeeze a sensory ball or spend time outside. Lots of children find sensory play such as bubbles or water-play very calming. They need the opportunity to work through their anger without making things worse by hurting someone or something.
5. Verbalise your own feelings to demonstrate how you handle them. “That made me feel very cross so I’m going to take some time on my own to calm down”. Don’t forget that you are one of the child’s role models, therefore do your best to remain calm when dealing with both their anger and your own.
6. Encourage them to talk. There will be a reason for their anger and hopefully, in time, you will be able to get to find out what it is and help them with it. It can help to use puppets or comic strips to encourage a child to talk about their feelings. It is very likely that the anger is a result of things happening outside of your setting but you can still help the child work through their feelings about it and, if necessary and appropriate, feedback to their carers. Remember – behaviour is communication.
Don’t forget that the child that is getting really angry is going to feel really scared and out of control at that time. Your ultimate goal is for that child to be able to come to you and tell you how they are feeling before it builds to an angry outburst. By remaining calm and showing understanding towards the way they are feeling, you should gradually be able to earn their trust and lessen the anger.
About the author
Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.