Helping Students Diffuse Anger with Healthy Coping Skills

One of my most common questions in classroom counseling is, “Is it okay to be angry?” Some students respond with no, it’s not okay to angry, or that they are “bad” if they are angry. I always reassure my students it’s okay to be angry — we ALL get angry — but it’s never okay to hurt someone or break something when we are angry.

Unless it’s my stress ball cat. Because that just happened.

As counselors we are often called to help diffuse students in crisis, and sometimes we are working with them in the “in between,” when students are calm and seem to know all the right answers, when their bodies are calm and it’s easy to self-regulate.

For my youngest students (usually preschool, kindergarten, and first graders), I love to read “Cool Down and Work Through Anger“* by Cheri Meiners as part of her “Learning to Get Along” series. It is simple to read, with relatable examples and clear visuals for each example. It includes feelings such as sad, hurt, and angry, and helps children understand “All of my feelings are okay.” It explains how anger can manifest in physical symptoms and provides clear examples of healthy coping strategies.

My older students love the humor in the analogy Julia Cook provides in “Soda Pop Head,” which you could pair with a 2-Liter of soda (or can) for an easy object lesson — just be careful of your mess! You want to keep a good relationship with your custodians!

Balloons are excellent tools for explaining how anger works. Most students will tell you that when the balloon gets too full of air, it will pop! And I use that demonstration sometimes. I also LOVE to make up a fictional story of a child who gets progressively angry throughout the day. As I tell the story, I continue to blow air into the balloon without releasing any of it. Eventually, it gets so full that I let go, and the balloon flies willy-nilly all over the room. I explain how when we bottle in our anger all day, incident after incident, we will eventually lose control, just like the balloon. My students looooove this example (and the sound effects)! I retrieve the balloon and tell the same story again, only this time, after every anger-inducing situation, I ask the students to tell me a healthy way to cope with that problem. As they come up with examples, I release air from the balloon, so it never fills completely, and the main character never loses control or explodes.

Games are always a fun addition to a small group. My anger-themed groups are called “Rocketships.” One of my favorite group games to address anger is “Escape from Anger Island.” It allows students to choose from one of six categories they’d like to focus on regarding their anger: “Know your hot buttons,” “Self talk,” “Talk it out,” “Deep breaths,” “Reduce stress,” and “Relaxation Techniques.”

One-on-one in individual sessions about anger, my go-to game is “Mad Dragon.” It’s very similar to Uno and each for students to learn regardless of whether or not they know how to play Uno. Along the way, thoughtful prompts facilitate natural conversations and sharing related to the topic of anger. In individual sessions, I also sometimes use “What to Do When Your Temper Flares,” if I want more of a guided discussion/workbook. I found it at my local library!

In classroom counseling lessons, I help equip students with coping strategies by giving a menu of ideas and allowing them to identify and practice ones that might work for them. I help them understand that what works for one person might not work for someone else, but we all need healthy ways to cope and someone at home and/or at school to talk to about our feelings. I’ve also helped students diffuse their anger by taking walks, playing basketball, and punching my sequin mermaid pillows, which often turns into them smoothing the sequins back and forth — wonderfully calming!

Everyday Coping Skills Mini-lesson and activities to develop and practice coping skills

My favorite lessons for teaching coping strategies are Cactus Coping Skills and Everyday Coping Skills. The printable coping strategies page included in Everyday Coping Skills is perfect to print, laminate, and display inside a classroom cozy cube! At my school, all kindergarten classrooms are equipped with a cozy cube, as well as both administrators’ offices. I’d have one, too, if I had the space in my new office! The coping skills categories I highlight on the printable include: Create, Move, Talk, and Pause, with examples from each category, so students can identify their preferred strategies.

Part of my goal is always to help my students to identify resources and people who can help them when they begin to feel dysregulated and how to recognize those symptoms. It’s important to help them explore options in the various places they are most likely to get angry, whether it’s at home, at school, on the bus, or out on the field. We all get angry, but by recognizing anger patterns and healthy coping strategies, we can help them diffuse before they lose control.

Now to go find some super glue for my stress ball cat…

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