I know that this may come as a shock, but things don’t always go the way we would like them to go! When this happens, we may react with a wide range of emotional responses, from mild annoyance to blind rage. This can lead to any number of outcomes, some of which we may not like. It is possible for us to learn to choose how to respond to situations, rather than reacting, thereby choosing the outcomes.
Being angry is a normal emotion that we all feel. However, we can remind ourselves and teach our students that we have choices about what we get angry about, when we get angry, how often we get angry, and what we do when we are feeling that way.
One assumption that can lead to our getting angry more than we might like, is “It is awful, and I must get angry when things don’t go the way that I want them to go”. If someone believes that this assumption is true, and doesn’t check the facts, they may decide that every single thing has to go their way, and that when they don’t, it is more awful than it really is. That can lead to spending a lot of their time feeling upset and angry.
We can help our students change the assumption so that their beliefs are based on facts instead of exaggerations. We can ask them, “When things don’t go the way that we want them to go, is it really awful?” We can remind them that awful is a pretty strong word. Maybe a better way to describe how we feel when things don’t go the way that we want them to go is to say that we don’t like it when things don’t go the way that we’d like.
We can help our students look at the part where we assume that we “must” get angry when things don’t go our way. “Must” means there are no other choices, but there are always other choices. We can help students look at all the possible choices we have when things don’t go our way. We can help them see that they might get angry, a little frustrated or they might decide that it is not important and let it go completely.
We can teach our students that sometimes we may not like when things don’t go our way, but that they may not be important enough to get angry about. We can choose to let them go. Good things to let go of would be things that happen by accident, like when someone bumps into you because they were looking the other way, things that can’t be changed, like having a lot of homework, and things that don’t affect you too much, like having to wear a jacket because it’s snowing out.
We can help students understand that if we let things go, we then won’t be angry at every little thing, and we will spend a lot less of our time feeling angry. We can help students think about something they might have gotten angry about in the past. We can then help them imagine that they are putting that thing in a bubble, and then blow on the bubble to send it up into the sky where it disappears.
We may decide, though, that something is important enough and affects us enough that we aren’t able to let go of it. We can teach our students ways to express those feelings, by writing them down, drawing pictures, listening to music, or talking about them. If they are angry because of what somebody did, we can teach our students to use helpful and kind ways to let others know how they feel, and try to change what has happened that led to their being angry.
We can let our students know that instead of using our fists, yelling, or telling others how terrible they are, we can use our kind words. We can use “I” Messages to let others know how we feel about one thing they did, and one thing we would like them to change. This maximizes the probability that the other person will listen and respond the way that we’d like.
The format for an “I” message is “When you (one specific thing that the other person did), I feel (how you feel about what was done), I’d like (one specific outcome you would like to see). An example would be “When you take my toy without asking, I feel frustrated. I’d like you to ask before you take something of mine”.
We can also teach our students a useful tool to reach win-win solutions, minimizing anger and conflict. We can teach our students to learn to compromise, to make a deal. We can help them understand that when we compromise, we are making a choice that is good for us AND the other person. An example of a compromise would be, instead of getting angry because you want to play one game and your friend wants to play another one, you could play the game they wanted to play for half the time, and the game you wanted to play for the other half.
We can reinforce these healthier responses to anger with stories, books, and songs. For ideas, please see the provided lists in the “For Whom” section of this website.