Some Ideas for Teaching Children About Anger

Published Categorized as A look at one emotion, Anger

I outline what to teach children about anger in the post: Dealing with children’s anger – reactively and proactively.

This post is an ideas bank of activities you could use with children to normalise anger and also help them to consider how to manage it. These activities are probably most suited to classrooms although parents/carers might like to try some. Some of these activities are more suited to younger children and some older but I’ll leave you to decide which you might like to use.

A) Anger is uncomfortable! (Never describe anger as ‘bad‘)

Anger is generally seen as an unenjoyable emotion and it can feel uncomfortable.

  1. On a blob body outline, ask children to shade in where they feel anger in their body.
  2. You could also ask them to complete the following sentences.
  • Anger can make my fists want to…
  • Anger can make my legs want to…
  • Anger makes my eyebrows shaped like this….(draw)
  • Anger makes my mouth look like this…
  • Anger can make me___ my teeth
  • Anger tends to make my voice go… (choose) louder or quieter, higher or lower,
  • I would describe my angry voice as being….
  • Anger makes my shoulders…
  • When I feel angry, I feel (choose) more or less energetic
  • Sometimes when I am angry, I feel the urge to…

B) Everyone feels anger

Look for anger in pictures, stories, in media etc. Put ‘anger’ into a search engine and see that there are lots of images of anger. Children could choose the image they think looks most like anger to them. Find some quotes and sayings about anger and explore what they mean. This helps young children see that anger is a perfectly normal part of being human.

C) Games for younger children to normalise anger:

If anger was a statue, stand in the position you think it would be. What colour would it be. What would the sound effect be?

Act out (or mime) being an angry…

  • Teacher
  • Football
  • Egg
  • Volcano
  • Whisk
  • Mouse
  • Cloud
  • Umbrella
  • Frying pan
  • Sea
  • Etc – this can be very funny!

D) There are lots of different words for anger

Consider the many words there are for anger and attempt to sort them from calm to really, really angry and everything in-between. Then ask children:

  1. Have you learnt any new words?
  2. Which word do you like best with the meaning of being extremely angry?
  3. There are a lot of words for extreme anger. Why do you think this is?
  4. Do you know any saying that mean ‘really angry’ like ‘blew her top’?

E) Different things make different people angry

Ask children to consider the following potential triggers and attempt to sort them from the thing they think would trigger them to be them most angry to the least.  You could ask them to arrange then as a ‘diamond 9’ with the most anger inducing trigger at the top, to the least at the bottom.

  • Someone calling you stupid
  • Someone pushing in front of you in a queue
  • Someone borrowing a book of yours and not giving it back
  • Someone putting their foot out to deliberately trip you up
  • Being given a food that you really don’t like
  • Someone not listening to you at all
  • Hearing someone moaning about you behind your back
  • A friend telling you they will come to the park, and then not turning up
  • A dog barking non-stop when you’re trying to concentrate on something
  • Someone whispering in your ear so you can’t hear the story an adult is reading

Ask children to compare how they have arranged these potential triggers with each other. Ask if everyone has put them in the same order.

F) We can feel anger in different strengths

Ask children to sort triggers alongside an anger ‘thermometer’ with how angry they think each thing might make them. Further potential triggers include:

  • Someone telling you that you can’t join in, in a game they are playing
  • Treading in dog poo!
  • Someone assuming you’d like something that you really don’t e.g. getting you a vanilla ice cream when, if they had asked, they’d have known you like chocolate flavour better!
  • Someone taking your hat and teasing you by not giving it back and keeping it out of reach, away from you.
  • Someone talking through your favourite TV program.
  • Someone telling you that you have to stop playing on your computer game, right now, even though you’re at a really crucial pint.
  • Having a hole in your sock that your toe keeps poking through
  • Someone deliberately ignoring you
  • Someone laughing at something you’ve just done.

You could also get a group of children to have a go at drawing or copying angry emoticons and then sorting them from the most angry looking faces to the least along a spectrum. Then ask children what just happened to each of those portrayed as an emoticon to make them look that way. You could make a display of the emoticons and the suggested triggers for their different degrees of anger.

With the triggers above, you could also explore the idea that sometimes it might not be straightforward anger that you are feeling. Expand children’s emotion vocabulary by asking, is there anythign else you might feel in that situation? e.g. irritated, humiliated, hurt, indignant, embarrassed, confused, frustrated, shame, disappointed, repulsed, disgusted, upset, surprised etc.

G) When we’re angry, it’s good to cool down before we do anything.

  1. Explain anger is an emotion that doesn’t tend to last for long. However, if we make decisions when we are angry, they tend not to be good ones and we can often make any situation worse. It’s always a good idea to create a gap between becoming angry and deciding what you are going to do – if anything.
  2. Ask children if they can think of anything they could do when they become angry, that might help put this ‘gap’ in so there is time for the anger cool down. Some children are already employing techniques for this of course.
  3. Children could make posters of their favourite ideas. Different techniques can be ‘soothing’, some change your perspective, some take your attention elsewhere, some are ‘cooling’ as they take your energy elsewhere and some are a mix! Ask which one they think works best for them.
  4. Children could mark ideas out of ten for how well they think they will work for them.

H) Anger is the emotion; aggression is a behaviour.

  1. Discuss what physical and verbal aggression looks and sounds like.

2. Discuss how aggression makes others feel.

3. Ask pairs of children to create a freeze-frame of a situation where one person is angry because of what the other person has just done. Describe a freeze-frame as being like a photo.

4. Ask the person who is angry in the freeze-frame about the many different things they could choose to do from that point in time.

5. After each thing they list, ask the other person how they think they would respond to each reaction.

6. Explain we all feel anger but that we all have a choice about how we respond. Try and work out which response would have been the best and why.

I) If we notice anger as it arrives, we have more chance of making better choices about how we behave.

  1. Ask children to list the things that tell them they are angry.

2. Ask what behaviours anger makes them feel like doing. (This will be different for different children of course – which is the same with adults.)

3. Help them see that in order to stop yourself from doing these things you have to ‘catch’ anger as it turns up.

4. Ask children to think about how they could help a younger child notice their anger (they could produce a TV advert style performance, a persuasive poster, top ten tips for noticing you’re angry etc.)

J) Anger affects how we think too!

  1. Consider how when we are angry, we can get swept up in negative thinking and feel anger towards other people and how anger tends to only make us think about our own needs.
  2. Consider a situation where one friend has called another, ‘stupid’.
  3. Ask the children to list all the likely thoughts the insulted child could have.
  4. If children don’t suggest any thoughts that show empathy such as, ‘they must be having a bad day,’ or , ‘did I do something to upset them?’ suggest some.
  5. Write all the thoughts down on card and either as a demonstration or in pairs, ask children to roleplay the scene with each of the different thoughts and see what effect it has on anger.
  6. Highlight that we can change how we think about situations where we have ended up angry, if we think about what might be going on for the other person.

K) Anger true or false

 Ask children to sort statements about anger into those that are true, those that are false and those that fall under ‘depends’.

  • Anger is an emotion everyone feels now and then.
  • When we are angry, it’s a good idea to react quickly.
  • Exasperated is one of many words that mean angry.
  • When we are angry, it can affect how we think.
  • Anger makes some people aggressive.
  • When we are angry, we can struggle to make helpful choices.
  • Anger is wrong.
  • Some people get more angry than others – even if they have just gone through exactly the same thing.
  • We might not be able to stop ourselves from becoming angry, but we can chose what we do about it.
  • Anger tends to last hours and hours.

For older children

L) The angry mind

  1. Ask older children what the angry mind is like – what its intentions are, what impulses it has, what thoughts it has, who it is focused on, what it is focused on.

2. Draw the angry mind to bring what it does into awareness.

M) We can show anger in different ways

  1. Explain that, when we get angry, because someone has pushed at one of our boundaries: something is irritating us, someone has done something we think is wrong or someone has done something that means there’s been a cost to us (either loss of face or a material loss).
  2. We tend to show anger in different ways depending on our personality, how much control we feel we have, how comfortable we are, how tired we are…etc
  3. Ask children to consider which of the following they might do
    • Be verbally aggressive: shout and insult people
    • Be physically aggressive towards others – punch, kick and hurt others
    • Be physically aggressive with objects – throw things, break things etc.
    • Be passive – walk away from whatever triggered anger and possibly continue to put up with things that you shouldn’t have to
    • Be passive aggressive – e.g. say yes to something but because you’re angry about it, ruin it somehow.
    • Be indirectly angry – walk away and go and moan about the person involved when your anger was triggered
    • Be assertive – assertively discuss what happened directly with anyone else involved, work out what needs addressing and discuss what need to happen to sort things out so everyone feels better again!

N) Learn how to use I messages

I have explained I messages before in earlier posts, and the fact that despite usually being the best way of addressing anger, they are not guaranteed to work and that emotional intelligence is needed when using them!

  1. Give children some situations (like those above) where one person did something that triggered another’s anger and ask them to compose the I message that could be used in each situation.

2. Children could draw these as cartoons with speech bubbles.

O) Anger is sometimes what we show when we are actually feeling something else.

Sometimes we show anger because we see it as a ‘strong’ and powerful emotion that can make us feel like we have more control than when we show other emotions. Discuss whether you would rather feel angry or each of the following emotions.

  • feeling humiliated
  • feeling a deep guilt
  • feeling numb through grief or loss
  • feeling really embarrassed
  • feeling jealous
  • feeling really scared
  • feeling powerless
  • feeling shame
  • feeling bored
  • feeling regret
  • feeling really worried
  • feeling ‘put upon’
  • feeling unheard
  • feeling really disappointed

Sometimes we feel like we are weak if we show some of these emotions. We become far better at managing our emotions if we can be honest with ourselves about what we are really feeling.

P) Gold star for managing anger!

  1. Ask children what someone who is not very good at managing emotions would do when they get angry.

2. Ask children to consider how a person who was extremely emotionally intelligent would manage anger.

3. Ask children to draw a time-line of what the emotionally intelligent person does from the point that a potential trigger happens to the situation being sorted. You could help with the following labels:

  • Potential trigger
  • Notices the physical symptoms of anger
  • See the anger arise, as it arrives
  • Know what triggered their anger
  • Can see how the anger has affected what they are thinking
  • Know they need to take a pause before they react
  • Work out what needs to be done
  • Use I messages to assertively state what needs to happen