Anger is one of the most common and easily identifiable emotions that we all experience. One of the reasons it is so common and recognizable is that it is often not a primary emotion, but a masking one. This means that our anger is usually a means of covering up other, more uncomfortable emotions we might be feeling. When we are feeling sad, scared, or embarrassed, for instance, our brain holds up “anger” as a shield to protect us from confronting emotions we’re not ready to deal with.
As adults with decades of experience feeling, processing, understanding, and coping with these difficult emotions, we are better equipped to manage our anger (and any emotions it may be masking.) Working with students with anger issues requires understanding that they haven’t yet mastered the skills and habits necessary to manage their anger effectively. They are still learning, and anger management and other social emotional learning skills are just another of the many things we are responsible for teaching them. In assessing how to handle angry students in the classroom, social-emotional learning curriculum has shown to be instrumental in bullying and violence prevention. A few ways to ensure your classroom is both physically and emotionally a safe space for learning include: creating and communicating classroom guidelines for respectful interactions, modeling desired behavior, checking in with students often, and coaching students on strategies to manage challenging emotions.
Cool Down Strategies for Angry Students During the Outburst
Effective anger management means giving students coping strategies to manage their anger and frustration in healthy, respectful ways when those difficult feelings arise. This can include:
- Walking away: If something is making you feel angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to take a break from it. Whether you just need to walk away from a situation and start something new, or whether you need to actually go for a walk to calm yourself, it is important to give yourself space to calm down, reflect, and revisit the situation with a cooler head.
- Rose and candle breathing: There are several breathing techniques that can help people manage anger. With rose and candle breathing, we practice breathing in deeply through our nose (like we are smelling roses), then exhaling slowly through our mouths (like we are blowing out a candle). Focusing on your breathing can be immensely calming in moments of anger.
- Do something with your hands: When we are angry, our brain actually sends a signal that prompts blood flow to our hands. This can lead us to want or even try to hit or break things. Finding something else to do with our hands, such as putting them in water, using a sensory table, squeezing a stress ball or pillow, etc., gives us a safe way to respond to that signal from our brains and can help cool us down, sometimes literally.
- Examine the “iceberg”: As previously stated, anger is often a masking emotion and therefore just the “tip of the iceberg” in understanding what is upsetting us. Asking ourselves why we are angry about a situation allows us to examine other uncomfortable emotions we may be avoiding and develop healthy ways to navigate them.
- Talk it out: Sometimes managing our anger is as simple as saying aloud that we are angry and why. Whether it is venting to another student or an adult, seek comfort by communicating about your anger and frustrations to someone you trust.
- Positive affirmations: There is a level of truth to sayings such as, “believing in yourself is half the battle” and “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” We can talk ourselves in and out of many things, including anger and frustration, especially when caused by doubt and insecurities. Encourage students to speak positively to themselves and remind themselves: “you can do this!”
- Count to ten: Things can seem like a bigger deal in the moment than they often are in hindsight, and even ten seconds can be enough time to change our perspective. Have your student take a moment and count up or down to ten. While they’re focused on counting, they’re not thinking about what angered them, and they’re allowing themselves time to relax so they can then look at the situation with new eyes once calm.
Anger Management Techniques for Students After the Outburst
Anger management doesn’t end with dealing with the initial outburst or display of challenging behavior from a student. Once a student has calmed down, it is important to communicate and develop a plan for how to move forward. This can be achieved through:
- Talking about what happened: This is not a lecture, but a conversation—the goal of which is to get the student to share as much as they are able and comfortable about what prompted the behavior and what they were feeling so that both of you understand why it happened and how to avoid it happening again. Seek to understand your student’s experience by asking open-ended questions. Once your student feels heard, you may communicate your concerns to help them understand why their behavior was (potentially or actually) harmful to themselves and/or others.
- Define anger management techniques: Talk with them about which techniques for managing anger they would like to try and how you can support them in learning to use them. Encourage them to pick the three methods they think will help most, and practice them together.
- Utilize transition periods and comfort words: Transitioning from one activity to another can often be challenging for students, some more than others. If a student’s anger seems to be linked to a specific activity, a few helpful ways to prevent angry outbursts include: planning an activity before and after that they enjoy, notifying them in advance that these activities will occur and when, and talking them through the transition. You might also develop a word or phrase with them that prompts a happy memory and/or reminds them to practice the coping methods you discussed for managing anger.
- Documentation: Things that seem small in the moment can be linked to much bigger issues down the line, and documenting these observations can help define a timeline for when/how behavior began and progressed. If a student displays a lot of challenging behavior or has angry outbursts often, your documentation can be used to determine patterns and triggers for this behavior.
- Talk to parents: Getting parents involved early and communicating with them in a positive manner that doesn’t lay blame can go a long way toward both effective interventions and cultivating solid parent partnerships. One way to communicate concerns about behavior is known as “sandwiching,” which is to bring up your concerns in conversation between conveying two positive things you also observed.
Ex: “They did really well with their math worksheet today. They struggled a bit with the transition from art to math and were really upset about the change in activity, however, they really enjoyed reading independently later in the day as well. I’ve noticed that transitioning to math specifically leads to anger. Do you have any suggestions on how I can make this transition easier? Is there something that works for you at home when it’s time to do something they don’t particularly love?”
- Request intervention: Sometimes we do all we can and utilize all of the steps, skills, and strategies we are equipped with, and yet we are still not able to resolve a student’s ongoing anger issues on our own. If the behavior and outbursts are ongoing and persistent despite your best efforts, it may be necessary to seek intervention from your administrative team.
Learn How Beacon can Help with Anger Management in the Classroom
Both individual students and overall classroom environments are best impacted by strategies for anger management in the classroom that are proactive. GoGuardian Beacon™ helps teachers and administrators design proactive strategies for anger management by analyzing students’ online behavior across search history, email, browsing history, social media use, and beyond. That information can then be used to identify students struggling with anger issues or other issues that could be linked to aggressive behavior or harm to themselves or others.
Learn more about Beacon and how it can be used as a means of assisting with anger management in the classroom here.