Effective anger management techniques for pupils can be led by their teacher. This Behaviour Matters continues to look at how SEAL can have a direct link to improving behaviour

It can be easy to become angry; it is a normal human emotion. Many pupils (and staff) are all too familiar with the early warning signs of such an emotion. Recognising both the physical and emotional clues that denote strong feelings is clearly an important stage in being able to appropriately manage those feelings. But to be angry for the right reasons, with the right person, at the right time and in an appropriate manner, is much more difficult.

If we are to provide pupils with the skill of managing feelings, we should first be clear about what we are trying to achieve. They are not ‘one-off’ techniques that can be taught and mastered as a single lesson or topic, but should instead be seen as a progressive series of competencies that are developed through direct teaching and also practical experience. Those competencies should include:

  • being able to identify and recognise a range of feelings and express them in ways that do not hurt myself or others
  • knowing that thoughts, feelings and behaviour are linked
  • understanding that changing the way I think about people and events changes the way I feel about them.

People who are good at managing their own feelings aren’t able to do so because they have less powerful emotions; they do it using a series of well-practiced and familiar skills. They routinely take responsibility for their feelings, and they use their skills and strategies to handle those same potentially overwhelming emotions that others are unable to.

Practical Tips
One of the most important and effective strategies for helping pupils manage their own emotions is for the adults to consistently provide appropriate role models. As discussed, remaining ‘in control’ of your own emotions does require certain skills, and these strategies need to be regularly taught and reinforced in the teaching and learning environment.

Pupils should be given the opportunities to discuss and practice activities that help them recognise the signs of a wide range of emotions, as well as, crucially, how to deal with them. It is often assumed that pupils will know how to:

  • calm themselves down
  • deal with disappointment
  • ensure their actions and words are appropriate for the situation
  • cope with threats
  • understand how to respond to jealousy or perceived unjust or unfair behaviour.

In fact, many pupils may well have very restricted and narrow responses to the above. Their responses will be overwhelmed by the natural ‘fight or flight’ response, and may therefore often be inappropriate.

The use of drama and role play will help pupils experience the power of these emotions, and will in turn give them a ‘real’ but safe environment to try out a variety of reactions and responses.

Using a problem-solving model will promote a more critical and less reactive style of response to emotions. Once pupils become familiar with the components of this type of thought process they will be able to quickly assess situations, understand how their behaviour will affect the outcome, and be able to consider a wide range of possible responses. With practice, this model of assessment and appropriate management of emotions can be both speedy and very effective. Pupils will need to practice this model using the following steps:

  • understand the problem or emotion/feeling (be specific)
  • consider five possible solutions or actions (argue, ignore, self-calm, smile before responding, consider the situation in the ‘big scheme of things’)
  • critically analyse your proposed solutions (Would it work? How would it feel? Is it fair? Is it safe?)
  • now try your chosen response
  • evaluate.

Using the tried and tested ABC (antecedent, behaviour and consequence) model to analyse the outcomes of behaviour and how pupils manage their own feelings is very helpful in raising awareness of how thoughts and perceptions drive outward behaviour.

Video or film clips can be excellent sources of training material to be used as practical reinforcement tools to supplement discussion and role play. Use stop frames or slow motion to look very closely at facial expressions and body language and the effect that all these clues and signs have on, not just the character, but also all the others involved in the dialogue.

Managing feelings is only one component or domain of social and emotional aspects of learning; over the next three articles we will look at how these individual skills link together to play a strong part in managing behaviour.

For tips for teachers on how to manage their own overwhelming feelings, see Dave Stott’s previous e-bulletin on self-calming techniques.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.