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Teach EYFS Article - Anger

Here is another in my series of articles based on conversations with children, first published in Teach Early Years magazine. In each piece, I focus on one prominent theme. For this one, it’s ANGER. My thanks to editor Mark Hayhurst for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at:

  • What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to treat children?
  • What I want them to learn… to let the children let all the anger… learn that children… just be able to let all the angers out.                              (M - female)

Crumbs! This little girl was very determined to make her point, even though she struggled to find the words. It was one of those occasions when a recent event had made quite the impact, and was colouring the child’s responses. However, what she was communicating struck me as very important indeed.

When a young child displays anger, it’s our natural response to curtail it. We want them to learn that losing one’s temper is unacceptable behaviour in our society. Often a tiny temper lost results in violent outbursts and damage to property, to themselves, or to others. We need to let children know they should learn to control these impulses. True though this is, in the meantime, where does the anger go? How do we help very young children learn self-restraint without sowing the seeds of harmful repressed emotion?

It can be very frustrating being a tiny person - it’s not so surprising that they lose their rag from time to time - and anger is a valid emotion. We must be careful not to accidentally teach the lesson that extreme feelings are to be inhibited at all costs. It’s important that we acknowledge children’s feelings, even the difficult or ugly ones. They need to know that it’s perfectly normal to experience passions that are difficult to control, and that we have all had to learn to deal with them in our own way.

This little girl was pleading for a way to give vent to her anger, pleading for permission to ‘let all the angers out’, instinctively knowing that working through the fury would help her be rid of it. She clearly understood that the necessary social rules prevented her from giving in to her rage, but she was without the required maturity to find a way of moving to the other side. 

So how can we help? Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge the emotion that a child is feeling. To dismiss their truly heartfelt response can be counter-productive and harmful. Sometimes just hearing the words, “I can see you’re feeling very angry”, can be enough to start the journey back to rationale. Talk to the child about their feelings, let them see that you’re concerned, that you’re interested in what has happened and in finding a way back from this unpleasant scenario. Try to help them verbalise exactly what’s going on.
“Can you describe to me how you feel? What’s it like?”
Sometimes, the concentration required for this kind of thought process is sufficient to quell the demon.
Be honest with them. Tell them how you interpret the situation and check in with them that your understanding is correct. Give them some responsibility for their own emotions,
“Do you want to stay feeling angry?”
“What would help you feel better?”
“Can we think of a solution together?”
Because of course, the best way to overcome ‘all the angers’ is to take their power away, to reach a position where they become unnecessary; secondary to the task in hand of moving forward from this nasty place.

With particularly volatile children, I’ve had some success re-visiting an outburst some time after the event. A “Do you remember when …” conversation, or an attempt to recreate the emotion using drawing, or painting, or moving to music, or all of the above at once! Non-verbal expression can be hugely powerful, and utilising expressionist arts activities can allow children the space to explore their deeper, and less pleasant, emotions whilst keeping themselves and everyone around them protected from the worst of their wrath.

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