ERIC Identifier: ED414077
Publication Date: 1997-12-00
Author: Marion, Marian
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Helping Young Children Deal with Anger. ERIC Digest.
Children's anger presents challenges to teachers committed to constructive,
ethical, and effective child guidance. This Digest explores what we know about
the components of children's anger, factors contributing to understanding and
managing anger, and the ways teachers can guide children's expressions of anger.
THREE COMPONENTS OF ANGER
Anger is believed to have three
components (Lewis & Michalson, 1983):
THE EMOTIONAL STATE OF ANGER. The first component is the emotion itself,
defined as an affective or arousal state, or a feeling experienced when a goal
is blocked or needs are frustrated. Fabes and Eisenberg (1992) describe several
types of stress-producing anger provocations that young children face daily in
Conflict over possessions, which involves someone taking children's property or
invading their space.
Physical assault, which involves one child doing something to another child,
such as pushing or hitting.
Verbal conflict, for example, a tease or a taunt.
Rejection, which involves a child being ignored or not allowed to play with
Issues of compliance, which often involve asking or insisting that children do
something that they do not want to do--for instance, wash their hands.
EXPRESSION OF ANGER. The second component of anger is its expression. Some
children vent or express anger through facial expressions, crying, sulking, or
talking, but do little to try to solve a problem or confront the provocateur.
Others actively resist by physically or verbally defending their positions,
self-esteem, or possessions in nonaggressive ways. Still other children express
anger with aggressive revenge by physically or verbally retaliating against the
provocateur. Some children express dislike by telling the offender that he or
she cannot play or is not liked. Other children express anger through avoidance
or attempts to escape from or evade the provocateur. And some children use adult
seeking, looking for comfort or solutions from a teacher, or telling the teacher
about an incident.
Teachers can use child guidance strategies to help children express angry
feelings in socially constructive ways. Children develop ideas about how to
express emotions (Michalson & Lewis, 1985; Russel, 1989) primarily through
social interaction in their families and later by watching television or movies,
playing video games, and reading books (Honig & Wittmer, 1992). Some
children have learned a negative, aggressive approach to expressing anger
(Cummings, 1987; Hennessy et al., 1994) and, when confronted with everyday anger
conflicts, resort to using aggression in the classroom (Huesmann, 1988). A major
challenge for early childhood teachers is to encourage children to acknowledge
angry feelings and to help them learn to express anger in positive and effective
AN UNDERSTANDING OF ANGER. The third component of the anger experience is
understanding--interpreting and evaluating--the emotion. Because the ability to
regulate the expression of anger is linked to an understanding of the emotion
(Zeman & Shipman, 1996), and because children's ability to reflect on their
anger is somewhat limited, children need guidance from teachers and parents in
understanding and managing their feelings of anger.
UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGING ANGER
The development of basic
cognitive processes undergirds children's gradual development of the
understanding of anger (Lewis & Saarni, 1985).
MEMORY. Memory improves substantially during early childhood (Perlmutter,
1986), enabling young children to better remember aspects of anger-arousing
interactions. Children who have developed unhelpful ideas of how to express
anger (Miller & Sperry, 1987) may retrieve the early unhelpful strategy even
after teachers help them gain a more helpful perspective. This finding implies
that teachers may have to remind some children, sometimes more than once or
twice, about the less aggressive ways of expressing anger.
LANGUAGE. Talking about emotions helps young children understand their
feelings (Brown & Dunn, 1996). The understanding of emotion in preschool
children is predicted by overall language ability (Denham, Zoller, &
Couchoud, 1994). Teachers can expect individual differences in the ability to
identify and label angry feelings because children's families model a variety of
approaches in talking about emotions.
SELF-REFERENTIAL AND SELF-REGULATORY BEHAVIORS.
Self-referential behaviors include viewing the self as separate from others
and as an active, independent, causal agent. Self-regulation refers to
controlling impulses, tolerating frustration, and postponing immediate
gratification. Initial self-regulation in young children provides a base for
early childhood teachers who can develop strategies to nurture children's
emerging ability to regulate the expression of anger.
GUIDING CHILDREN'S EXPRESSIONS OF ANGER
Teachers can help
children deal with anger by guiding their understanding and management of this
emotion. The practices described here can help children understand and manage
angry feelings in a direct and nonaggressive way.
CREATE A SAFE EMOTIONAL CLIMATE. A healthy early childhood setting permits
children to acknowledge all feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, and does not
shame anger. Healthy classroom systems have clear, firm, and flexible
MODEL RESPONSIBLE ANGER MANAGEMENT. Children have an impaired ability to
understand emotion when adults show a lot of anger (Denham, Zoller, &
Couchoud, 1994). Adults who are most effective in helping children manage anger
model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking
responsibility for their own angry feelings and by expressing anger in direct
and nonaggressive ways.
HELP CHILDREN DEVELOP SELF-REGULATORY SKILLS. Teachers of infants and
toddlers do a lot of self-regulation "work," realizing that the children in
their care have a very limited ability to regulate their own emotions. As
children get older, adults can gradually transfer control of the self to
children, so that they can develop self-regulatory skills.
ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO LABEL FEELINGS OF ANGER. Teachers and parents can help
young children produce a label for their anger by teaching them that they are
having a feeling and that they can use a word to describe their angry feeling. A
permanent record (a book or chart) can be made of lists of labels for anger
(e.g., mad, irritated, annoyed), and the class can refer to it when discussing
ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO TALK ABOUT ANGER-AROUSING INTERACTIONS. Preschool children better understand anger andother emotions
when adults explain emotions (Denham, Zoller, &Couchoud, 1994). When
children are embroiled in an anger-arousinginteraction, teachers can help by
listening without judging,evaluating, or ordering them to feel differently.
USE BOOKS AND STORIES ABOUT ANGER TO HELP CHILDREN UNDERSTAND AND MANAGE ANGER. Well-presented stories about anger and other
emotions validate children's feelings and give information about anger (Jalongo,
1986; Marion, 1995). It is important to preview all books about anger because
some stories teach irresponsible anger management.
COMMUNICATE WITH PARENTS. Some of the same strategies employed to talk with
parents about other areas of the curriculum can be used to enlist their
assistance in helping children learn to express emotions. For example, articles
about learning to use words to label anger can be included in a newsletter to
Children guided toward responsible anger management are more likely to
understand and manage angry feelings directly and nonaggressively and to avoid
the stress often accompanying poor anger management (Eisenberg et al., 1991).
Teachers can take some of the bumps out of understanding and managing anger by
adopting positive guidance strategies.
Condensed by permission from Marian
Marion, "Guiding Young Children's Understanding and Management of Anger," Young
Children 52(7), 62-67. Copyright 1997 by the National Association for the
Education of Young Children.
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