Helping kids To Understand And Manage Anger

Feeling angry is something we all experience from time to time. Anger is often viewed as a negative
emotion but it is completely normal to feel it and it is very important for creating the drive needed
to make positive change and progress. If it is expressed unhealthily, however, it can lead to
problematic behaviours.

Recognising the physical symptoms of anger
When we feel angry, the body experiences physical changes. These include a fast heartbeat, feeling
hot, quick breathing, tense muscles, and a knotted stomach. Recognising these physical signs is a
good place to start with regard to dealing with anger effectively.
Once a kid is able to recognise they’re feeling angry and label this emotion, he/she can put into place
strategies for good anger management.

The anger gremlin model (Collins-Donnelly, 2012)
If kids visualise their anger as a hungry gremlin sitting on their shoulder, when an event happens that
triggers angry feelings, they can stop, think, and make a choice as to whether to feed the gremlin or
starve it.
Feeding the gremlin involves thinking negatively and irrationally about the triggering event. For
example, if a kid has texted their friend and the friend hasn’t responded, a negative thought would
be, “He/she obviously is ignoring me.” The more the kid thinks negative thoughts like these, the
more he/she feeds the gremlin and the bigger the gremlin becomes. As the kid’s anger rises because
of these negative thoughts, the physical symptoms associated with anger increase and the likelihood
of anger being expressed through problematic behaviours, like shouting, swearing, hurting others,
also increases.
Alternatively, if the kid chooses to starve the gremlin by pausing, challenging these negative
thoughts, and thinking more positively and logically before acting, anger can be expressed
constructively in a calm way. An example of positive thoughts regarding the same situation would
be, “Maybe he/she hasn’t got any reception to text me back,” or “Maybe he/she has run out of
credit,” or “Maybe he/she has lost his/her phone.”
By thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones, a kid is able to stay calm and communicate
his/her feelings in a healthy, productive way.
Whether the choice is made to feed or starve the gremlin, the triggering event remains the same.
Through using this technique, kids can learn that they are in control of their anger as they have the
ability to choose whether to think positively or negatively when faced with a challenging situation.

What can you do to help?
There are lots of ways to help with dealing with angry feelings. Here are a few suggestions:
Little actions that can help in a big way!

  • Remind kids that feeling angry is completely normal and they have the right to be angry
  • Acknowledge kids’ angry emotions by reflecting back what they are saying
  • Empathise by sharing with them what you are noticing about them, for example, “You look
    frustrated,” or “You sound angry” but don’t tell them how they feel, eg. “You’re angry”
  • When kids are calm, talk to them about the anger gremlin model. When they are
    experiencing angry feelings, remind them about the model and that they can choose to think
    positively or negatively and have the power to control their reactions
  • When kids are calm, teach them some skills they can use when anger surfaces, for example,
    writing down thoughts and feelings, walking away, and breathing deeply