Children often have difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the reactions those feelings provoke. It is helpful to teach children that anger is a normal, valid feeling, but that managing anger in a controlled way is more appropriate than physical or verbal outbursts of anger. Nearly all children benefit from learning anger management techniques, although some children with emotional or behavioral disorders may need more advanced strategies.
Some children resort to physical actions to express anger. Help these children transition from unsafe, violent outbursts to structured physical activities. Provide old magazines or newspapers for the child to tear apart, scrunch up and throw away when angry. Offer a set of bean bags for the child to throw into a large cardboard box. Designate a special pillow or blanket that the child can kick, hit or punch. The goal is for the child to recognize his angry feelings and to choose to act them out safely.
A child able to identify the buildup of angry feelings may be able to calm down independently through sensory activities. The child can squeeze, smash, poke and pinch play dough to relieve anger. Some children find finger-painting soothing, while others may regain emotional control by playing with toys and plastic containers in a tub of water. A fuzzy blanket may provide needed sensory stimulation for younger children as they rub, hold or scratch it to calm down.
Children who can restrain themselves physically may still need to learn appropriate ways of expressing anger verbally. Tell children specific words and phrases to use when angry, such as, “The problem is…” and “This makes me feel…” Give children a chance to experience successful verbalizations by practicing with a puppet before talking to peers. Journaling thoughts or feelings through words and pictures may help children organize their thoughts before speaking.
Once children can successfully identify and express anger, focus on releasing any residual anger to reduce the stress levels that may contribute to a later outburst. Help the child slow his breathing and re-establish control over his emotions by blowing bubbles and visualizing the angry feelings floating away. The child can draw a picture of his angry feelings and then place it in the freezer to “cool down.” Guide the child through a relaxation exercise by asking the child to consciously release tense muscles and visualize letting the angry feelings out.