Managing Anger and Conflict

Articles and Other Resources That Will Inform Your Teaching

Helping Kids Manage Anger and Conflict

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Uncontrolled angry outbursts do not solve problems, but they do effect everyone negatively and certainly are detrimental to learning.

Angry people strike out verbally, with accusations, sarcasm, even insults; physically, by slamming doors, throwing things, kicking furniture, or abusing others around them; or passively, by withdrawing into punishing silence.

Impulsive or aggressive behavior in response to anger is not uncommon, particularly in children.  You’ve probably observed many times what effects anger has on the receptivity of your students to teaching and learning.  Unbridled anger disrupts thinking and distorts behavior.  It impairs a student’s ability to make accurate judgments and to recall information.  It can severely damage peer relations and lead to disciplinary action, delivering walloping blows to self-esteem.

However, anger well managed can produce positive effects, too.  It can act as an energizer, relieve tension, offer new information, or aid students in regaining control.

Students are often told to ignore their anger.  When they can’t ignore it, they are expected to control it, but they are rarely taught how.  Consciously or unconsciously, children realize that we all experience anger.  On television, anger and violence are inexorably linked, yet we admonish kids not to fight, physically or verbally.

It’s important to note that the neuroscience of anger – or any emotion for that matter,  provides us with some guidance on the value of teaching anger management and conflict management skills as a regular part of school life.  Emotional states are constantly changing aspects of our internal emotional brain activity.  Both chemical and electrical energy activates neural activity that come together in cooperative clusters.  It is this integration of our body, mind and feelings that we recognize as our emotional response to both our internal and external environments.

In Teaching With The Brain In Mind (2005, p 120) educator Eric Jenson states:
It’s important for teachers to know that when students enter a state again and again (mischievousness, concentration, bullying, etc.), the neurons involved tend to coalesce into cooperative groups, self-organizing into collective behavior scientists call “stable states.’  The longer a person is in a stable state, the more likely he or she is to re-enter that state at another time.  Yes, this means that students who frequently get angry are able to reactivate that anger more quickly; however, it also means that when we teach students to focus, to concentrate, to be determined and to think creatively, these too can become “stable states” for them-and priceless, lifelong skills.

By understanding the power of emotional states we are able to dispel the popular misconception that you should diffuse anger by loud and active expressions of that anger.  Acting out anger only amplifies the anger state and moves us back into angermore often and more easily.  But, what is helpful is teaching your students effective social and emotional  learning skills like how to express anger productively through positive communication and constructive problem-solving.

Anger management strategies:

There are many strategies and techniques you can teach students to help them control and manage anger and conflict.  Teach students the value of positive self-talk, active-listening, and relaxation, and humor to diffuse anger.   They can learn how to use “I” messages when their anger starts to bubble forth.  And you can teach them that when others throw insults, they don’t have to prove or defend themselves.

Controlling the anger impulse:

You can help your students prepare for many anger-provoking situations.  Ask your students to examine their ‘hot buttons”, things that have angered them in the past.  With this information, they may be able to predict rather accurately the probability that the same things will provoke their anger in the future.  When they have learned to identify the cues that precede anger they can be taught strategies to diffuse their upset before it develops into full- blown anger.  You can teach them relaxation techniques to release muscle tension and to cope with the physical arousal of anger.  You can help them develop better communication skills so that they can learn to express anger appropriately.

Self-talk:

Since it is so difficult for students to think positively when they are angry, they can be taught how to prepare in advance the things they want to say to themselves to calm down.  Help them to devise an internal repertoire of self-control statements like, “Everything is cool,”  “I am calm”, or “I am in control”  which reminds them to relax when anger builds, and cope with anger when it starts to overwhelm.  Once the anger passes, students can reward themselves by putting the situation in perspective with self-talk statements such as, “I’m doing better” or “I’m pleased with how I handled that.”

Active Listening:

One of the most difficult challenges relating to anger and conflict is knowing what to do when another person’s anger is directed toward us.  One way to respond when we are the target of anger is to neutralize or diffuse the anger.  A communication strategy that accomplishes this very well is active listening.

Suppose Sandra, angry at Manny for kicking her with the soccer ball, shouts, “Clumsy jerk, that’s the last time I’ll play with you!”  Manny can choose to apologize, which may help the situation; however, he can diffuse Sandra’s anger even further by saying, “I can understand you’re being mad at me.  That was a hard kick.  Your leg really must hurt.”  By paraphrasing Sandra’s words and “reading” the feelings conveyed by her nonverbal signals (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.), Manny can neutralize or diffuse Sandra’s anger.  If Manny’s interpretation is inaccurate, Sandra has an opportunity to correct him.  She also has heard compelling evidence that Manny cares enough to at least try to understand her feelings.

By active listening, a student is not indicating agreement with the views of his or her opponent, only verifying that those views have been heard and understood.  Active listening can play an important role in certain types of conflict resolution.  Through active listening, both (or all) sides of a conflict can be presented and understood.  Alternative actions can be brainstormed and discussed, and a win-win resolution identified.

Resources:

By teaching anger management and conflict management skills to your students and providing opportunities to practice those skills you are giving them a powerful ability to have control over their own life and their learning.

The books listed below provide you with multiple student centered learning experience that teach all the skills described above as well as many others.

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Teaching the Skills of Conflict Resolution—
Activities and Strategies for Counselors and Teachers

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Conflict Resolution Skills for Teens

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