Strong feelings of anger and frustration can cause kids and teens to shut down or even act out in aggressive ways. It goes without saying that this can become a challenge in the classroom, at home, or anywhere in a child’s life. Kids and young adults might experience anger and frustration for a variety of reasons. They might feel frustrated when they can’t solve a problem on their own. They might feel angry when they don’t feel heard or listened to. These might feel like small challenges, but in the moment, they can be big for children and teens.
One important key in working through these challenges is remembering that anger isn’t the issue. We ALL experience these emotions. They’re normally and healthy to feel. What matters most is helping kids and teens learn how to manage that anger and frustration in healthy ways. Here are some strategies to help with that.
These are proactive anger management strategies. This means that they are supports to put in place before kids and teens are overwhelmed, angry, or upset. The idea is to teach and provide strategies well ahead of time so that kids can learn to manage those tough feelings on their own.
Let’s face it: Learning to manage our emotions is a big job. It’s not something that can be mastered quickly overnight. It’s a long-term game, something that we’re all working on even as adults. That’s why we need multiple strategies to help kids struggling with managing their anger, frustration, and other strong feelings.
Tip: If you’re looking for a resource to teach about anger specifically, you might want to check out my Anger Management Toolkit for Kids. It includes strategies help understand anger, recognize when it’s coming, verbalize feelings, learn coping strategies, and reflect afterwards. I’ve included some pictures of it below, along with a bunch of freebies so you can get started with many of these strategies right away.
1. Make it normal to talk about feelings.
Discuss feelings often. Talk about them, discuss what they feel like, and come up with scenarios for when you might feel that way. This provides learners with a strong emotional vocabulary to handle their emotions, including anger and frustration.
Talking about emotions on a regular basis helps kids understand that it’s okay to feel how we feel. You might say, “I feel angry and frustrated too sometimes. If I can’t get something to work right on my computer, that might make me feel frustrated and upset.” You can share what strategies you use, or encourage kids themselves to help. “What do you think I could do in the moment to help me?”
Make it a point to talk about talk about a variety feelings every single day.
2. Use an emotions check-in.
In order to deal with our feelings, we must first know what they are. Checking in with emotions means pausing and assessing how we feel in the moment. This can be especially tough for kids who struggle with self-regulation, since they can go from 0 to 100 quite fast.
Make checking in with emotions a regular every-day habit. You can do this with a free daily emotions check-in I’ve put together. It comes with a couple options so you can use the right check-in for your students.
3. Use literature to discuss anger and strategies.
Books can be a great tool to teach about our feelings. Use them as a read aloud and discuss our emotions as you go. Some stories to check out include:
- Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul
- When Sophie Gets Angry- Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
- Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney
- When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman
- Breathe and Be by Kate Coombs
4. Teach and practice coping strategies.
Coping strategies are one of the biggest solutions to managing tough emotions. The key is that these strategies need to be practiced beforehand when we are already calm. This seems counter-intuitive at first. Why would we practice deep breathing or coloring or exercising with kids when they are calm? The answer in that is actually how the brain works. Simply put, when we are emotionally upset or overwhelmed, our brains don’t think clearly. This is because the limbic system in our brains takes over. And because of this, those coping strategies need to be second nature to us in order to use them effectively. This is why practicing coping strategies is critical.
Choose a coping strategy, discuss it, and practice it together. Make this a regular routine with a variety of skills like deep breathing, positive self-talk, practicing gratitude, exercising, and coloring. Use this free coping strategies list for more ideas to try with your students or grab these Coping Strategies ABC posters to hang around the room.
5. Provide a calm-down area.
I’m a believer that every classroom should have a calm-down area. A calm-down area is essentially a dedicated safe spot where kids can go to relax, use calm-down techniques, and get themselves back on track privately. As always, the goal is to calm down and return back to learning.
Not every single child is going to require using the calm-down space and that’s perfectly fine. The point is that the kids who need it, really need it.
In setting up a calm-down area, some basic tools you might have include: coloring books, crayons, journal, books, visual timer, fidgets, and a bean bag chair. You can even add hands-on mindfulness tools like pinwheels, puzzles, and a breathing sphere.
6. Teach communication skills.
Teach students to use “I feel, I need” statements to express their emotions in healthy ways. These are simplified versions of I-statements that kids and teens can learn pretty quickly. An example might be: “I feel frustrated. I need to get a drink of water.” Another example: “I feel angry. I need space to myself right now.” The goal is to help kids and teens identify their emotions and something they need that would help them.
Another thing to mention is that spoken words aren’t the only way we communicate. Experiment with teaching kids how to communicate in a journal or through drawing and art. It’s helpful to find what works for every individual learner.
7. Teach problem-solving skills.
So often, kids and teens feel frustrated when they feel “stuck.” They can’t figure out questions on a quiz or they can’t solve a conflict with a friend. Teaching problem-solving skills can help combat this.
Use social problem-solving scenarios to talk and work through problems with students. Try these social problems-solving cards to get started.
8. Practice mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness can be one of the most helpful coping strategies to manage stress and cope with tough emotions on the spot. Some mindfulness techniques include mindful breathing, mindful coloring, positive affirmations, practicing gratitude, and mindful observance.
9. Consider learning needs.
If a student continues to struggle, it’s always important to consider their learning needs and challenges. Consider touching base with the special education teacher, school counselor, and parents to share your concerns.
10. Play games to practice self-regulation.
Use games and play activities to build self-regulation skills. Some of my favorites include:
- Simon Says – The leader will say what to do, such as, “Simon says stand on one foot!” Students should listen and complete the action as long as “Simon” says it. After a few, add in an example without Simon, such as, “Put your hands on your head.” The goal is that students listen carefully and use self-regulation skills to act only when Simon says.
- Freeze – Play some music and let kids move around. After some time, yell, “Freeze!” Students should stop exactly where they are. This can be challenging with the music still going.
- Jenga – A classic game, use Jenga to practice going slowly and carefully. Remind kids to take their time, breathe slowly, and work at a careful pace.
Read about more self-regulation games to try here.
11. Teach positive thinking skills.
Positive thinking skills are not a magic wand but they sure can help kids and teens (and yes, even adults) manage our tough feelings in the moment. One of my favorite ways to teach positive self-talk and positive thinking is by incorporating it into your daily routine in the morning. Create a positive affirmation list, write it out, and read it each morning before starting the day.
12. Encourage a growth mindset.
Quite often for kids and teens, anger and frustration are rooted in not being able to do things they want to do. “I can’t do this!” and “This is too hard!” are a couple phrases you might hear when kids are feeling angry. A growth mindset is something that can help with this in the long-term.
The idea behind a growth mindset is believing you can grow and improve with hard work and persistence.
Use these free Growth Mindset task cards to start the conversation.
13. Develop a coping strategies notebook.
A coping strategies notebook is a great tool because it both teaches coping strategies and provides support in the moment. To set up a coping strategies notebook, each child needs their own notebook. Then, add in strategies that they learn. For example, add a page for deep breathing and then practice together. You can even take a picture of your student performing that coping strategy and add the photo in as a visual reminder.
Later on, when the child is overwhelmed, they can get their coping strategies notebook and flip through to find a strategy for them.
Learn more about how to get started to make your own coping strategies notebook with your students.
14. Understand and plan for triggers.
Look for trends in how, when, and why students become frustrated and overwhelmed. There are often triggers we can find and plan for. For example, imagine a student becomes frustrated and angry during schedule changes. Perhaps that a teacher could chat with the student ahead of time when a schedule change is coming up to give a warning. The teacher could preview the schedule, discuss the changes, and answer questions the student may have. Of course, this doesn’t always work out perfectly (changes pop up randomly sometimes), but just having knowledge of a trigger like this can help both adults and the student learn how to cope better.
15. Incorporate movement and exercise often.
Regular exercise can help improve mood and mental health. If we want kids and teens to do their best, we need to give ample opportunities for exercise during the school day and beyond.
16. Teach how to notice emotions early on.
If we recognize the early signs of anger, we can learn to pause ourselves and use strategies right away. Help kids start to notice the early physical effects of anger such as heart beating faster, palms sweating, and face getting red. Use this anger workbook to teach all about anger and how to manage it.
17. Provide brain breaks.
We all need breaks sometimes. Providing extra breaks during the day, especially between challenging tasks, can help serve as a proactive strategy for managing tough emotions. Some break breaks to try include:
- Mindful breathing
- Guided meditations
- Brain breaks with a nature theme
- Building with blocks
18. Model positive anger management skills.
As adults, we need to be modeling positive anger management skills on a regular basis. Some strategies for this include staying calm in times of stress, engaging in coping strategies, and using think alouds during tough times.
19. Build confidence.
Kids need to feel good about themselves to do their best. Use strategies to boost confidence, such as giving responsibilities, reminding kids of their strengths, and tracking goals over time.
20. Give challenges.
Once students have some skills to work through feelings of frustration, provide challenges such as puzzles and brainteasers. These should be just challenging enough to help kids manage their frustration and build perseverance.