When students struggle with anger management, it's essential to go beyond behavior plans and classroom strategies. Many of these students lack skills and would benefit from direct instruction. Like reading intervention for missing phonics skills, counseling is a great way to address missing skills.
So, what does a student need to know to manage their anger independently?
Anger Management Skills
According to research, students who struggle with anger management are often lacking skills in three major areas: Emotional Management, Problem Solving, and Social Skills.
This might include skills like:
- Name how they feel.
- Tell the difference between big and small feelings.
- Understand what triggered a feeling.
- Understand the thoughts that maintained or intensified the feeling.
- Identify and use effective calming strategies.
- Choose a strategy that matches how they feel and where they are.
- Make a plan to disrupt negative patterns.
- Identifies consequences of actions and choices.
- Brainstorm how to respond when something unfair or wrong happens.
- Identify ways to prevent conflicts with an adult.
Download your Anger Counseling Map and Skills Checklist.
When you receive a referral, consider what the core skills are that the student needs for this not to be a concern anymore. This list is a starting point for planning your intervention.
Check out this post about using skill checklists and counseling maps to plan on out counseling interventions.
Let's brainstorm some activities we could use to address key anger management skills in counseling sessions.
Size of Feelings
When students understand that emotions come in different sizes, they take a giant leap forward to figuring out what strategies to use. If students are deciding to draw when they are furious, it is more likely there will be ripped paper and broken pencils than successfully handling all those big feelings.
Providing students with a metaphor that makes the concept more concrete is helpful. These four are my favorite ways to describe the how anger comes in different sizes.
Start with a deflated balloon and label that as calm. Inflate slightly and mark this as bothered, and so on. You can make the connection that anger is growing like the balloon is filling with air.
Take a pin and poke at the deflated balloon. The balloon can handle the poking (triggers) when we aren't "filled with anger." It would take some effortful poking to cause a problem. However, as the balloon fills with air (anger), poking with a pin (trigger) will cause it to burst.
Weather and storm clouds are another excellent metaphor for growing anger. Use this weather thermometer in small group lessons. It is a great way to have students better understand how their anger progresses, what it feels like, and what it looks like to others.
This one is super simple. Draw three concentric circles—shade in the smallest center circle to represent a little angry or bothered. Color outward to show growing anger. All three circles would be shaded if the student was furious. Like the weather forecast, you can also write on the circles what it looks and feels like or a coping skill that could be used.
It can be a helpful check-in tool for students to communicate how strong their emotions are.
The feelings thermometer is a classic counseling tool to help students understand how their emotions change. I like to use a thermometer and label our body temperature (98.6 F/37 C). That is calm. If our body temperature drops below this, that means we aren't reacting when maybe we should. As the thermometer rises, we are getting angry or burning up.
Free Feelings Thermometer
A feelings thermometer is your ultimate counseling tool you can use again and again.
Using the right strategy is the magic sauce for emotion regulation. First students need a solid feelings vocabulary, understand the size of their feelings, and have a toolbox of effective strategies. Then they can work on matching strategies to the situation they are in.
Types of Strategies
Students try different strategies in search of the ones that work for them. They can determine when they should use each one. For example, when would deep breathing be the best strategy?
Create a portable set of visuals for a student's preferred strategies.
Once students understand matching strategies to situations, they can play games to practice.
You can emphasize the importance of matching a coping skill to the right emotion using visuals.
Disrupt Negative Patterns
Part managing yourself is being able to see the negative patterns you fall into and make a plan to change them. For example, Gavin gets angry whenever another student gets called on. Then he pouts, refuses to work, and eventually gets sent to the office. It would be helpful for Gavin to analyze this pattern and think of multiple ways to stop it from repeating.
Try helping students analyze their behavior patterns and create a disruption plan.
Use the metaphor of a ship at sea. When rough seas are ahead, you can change course to get around it. If they can't avoid it, they do everything to prepare.
Students can think of their triggers as rough seas. Then they can come up with a plan to avoid the rough seas (e.g., positive self-talk, signal with a teacher).
Fork in the Road
When a student winds up in your office following some incident, plot out what happened on the white board or piece of paper. Start at the end and work your way backwards. Once you have everything that happened laid out in order, look for points where the student could have made another choice.
Self Regulation Group Bundle
Small group lessons and games to practice key emotion regulation skills like identifying feelings, using strategies, solving problems, and changing behavior patterns.
Anger Thermometer Counseling Lesson
Small group counseling lesson to help students understand their anger better by using an anger thermometer or scale.