10 Ways to Manage Anger in the Classroom
Give your middle and high schoolers anger management tips and tricks to encourage self-reflection and healthy, happy kids.
By Stef Durr
For the most part, our middle and high schoolers are able to calm down almost as quickly as they get frustrated, but what happens when you encounter an individual who has extreme trouble managing anger? Some students need more help developing this skill than others. Provide different strategies (and model them when possible) to help learners identify what works best for them.
1. Give the learner some time to cool down.
Asking upset students to get a drink of water, head to the bathroom to relax for a minute, or take a short walk in the hall can give them the opportunity they need to get into a better place mentally. This isn’t always a viable option, but it can be very effective.
2. Encourage steady breathing.
Seeing someone so frustrated and angry that his or her breathing is erratic can be surprising and scary. Emulate what you want breathing to look like (long, steady breaths), and ask the pupil to breathe with you. I have noticed that this is particularly successful with middle schoolers, whose physical signs of anger are much more apparent.
It sounds so impractical at a stressful time, but rolling your head and loosening your neck can decrease stress pretty quickly. Having a quick stretch session in the hallway (or even with the whole class) can help decrease some tension and reset the mind. Plus, it’s a great brain break!
4. Use some humor.
You have to be careful with this one, but often using humor helps others gain some perspective. They see a different way to approach the situation besides being angry. This is an easy strategy to model, too. The next time your SMART Board fails, or the class identifies an error on the test you made, make a joke! Show them that mistakes or obstacles don’t always warrant anger.
5. Think through it.
Encourage secondary learners to reflect on what exactly made them angry. Since this type of anger often flares up during class, I usually ask my angry learner to complete a reflection form, detailing the events that caused the feelings. Often, we as people just want to be heard and know that someone cares about our feelings, and writing is truly cathartic.
6. Brainstorm solutions.
This is really important for people unable to manage their own anger. Ask them what is going to make them happy or what they see as the best solution. It causes them to look at the problem from a different angle and realize they have some control in changing the way they feel because they can pursue a solution.
7. Give time limits.
Important especially for middle schoolers, this lets them have time to manage their anger but also sets them up for success in the future by showing them that this process is not an all-day affair. For example, if you’re offering a quick break, tell the student they have a certain amount of time. “I want to give you a few minutes to collect yourself and relax a little, but I need you back in three minutes so we can talk about this.” Or, if you’re asking for solutions, set yourself up for a timely conversation by asking for two possible solutions.
8. Help learners identify what anger feels like.
After the fact (maybe at lunch later that day or after school), take a minute to help your student recognize the signs that he or she is getting angry. Maybe it’s a warming in his or her cheeks, the inability to sit still, heavy breathing, or a clenched jaw. Knowing what it feels like when you're getting angry can jumpstart the process of managing the anger.
9. Make amends.
If the conflict was between you and the learner, make amends with him/her. If the conflict was between two classmates, walk them through the process to make amends. I always tell students that they don’t have to be best friends, but it’s important to me and our class that they can respect each other and start over. This step seems to be missed frequently, and students need to see that someone can make a mistake and come back from it.
10. Praise those who respond appropriately to stressors.
Following the Positive Behavior Support system, learners will replicate behaviors that are praised. When a learner has the opportunity to grow angry, make a rash decision, or strike out with violence, but doesn’t do any of these things, compliment them. It could be as easy as saying, “Wow, I’m so impressed with your control there. I know it was frustrating, and you did the best thing when you asked if you could take a break.”
Anger is a natural emotion, and stressors are everywhere. What methods do you utilize with your classes to encourage healthy anger management?