Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
“Angry” students, especially at the middle school level, are often referred to the school counselor. School counselors usually teach children and adolescents who are angry ways to manage their anger. These tips and techniques are great for the short term and even in the moment, but they do not always address the real reason behind the student’s anger.
In my previous school I ran many anger-management groups. What I discovered is that many students used anger to mask other emotions. It was easier to say they felt mad than to admit feeling hurt, abandoned, disappointed, lonely, or betrayed. I realized that many other issues were going on for my students who displayed anger. I dug deeper to determine what other issues they were dealing with behind their angry mask.
What’s Behind the Mask?
I have done mask activities in a variety of groups. I find this activity particularly interesting and meaningful in an anger-management group. This activity would also work in an individual counseling session.
Students use paper plates or construction paper to make a mask of how they appear to the outside world when they are angry. They imagine what their face looks like to others. Students often make scowls, furrowed brows, and reddened cheeks. We process the outside of the mask and discuss similarities and differences among the group members.
After processing the outward display of anger, students think about how they are feeling on the inside when they display anger to others. I ask students to flip their masks over and draw how they feel on the inside—the way they feel behind the angry mask. Students often draw tears streaming down their faces, looks of hurt, and confusion.
We then process the inside of the mask. We discuss the similarities and differences among the group members of how they feel on the inside.
We have a conversation about how sometimes it is safer to show others anger because it is an easier and more socially acceptable feeling.
Beyond Anger Management
I have found that facilitating activities related to what is behind the students’ anger completely changes the dynamics of the group. When children and adolescents are referred to the counselor for being “angry,” they often put up defenses and feel that something is wrong with them. If counselors and educators work to determine what is behind the anger, we start to see the child or adolescent in a different light. Maybe they have had a loved one die, or they have a parent or sibling in jail. Maybe their parents split up or are divorcing. We do not know where the anger comes from unless we provide a safe place for students to express the emotions that are behind the anger.
When recruiting students for groups, it is best to do pre-group screening. If you determine what kinds of things students are experiencing, you may discover a more specific group need than anger management. Offering multiple kinds of groups—such as for grief and loss, friendship, parental separation and divorce, parental incarceration, and academic success—in addition to one for anger management can help you have groups that are more meaningful to students and help them cope with life stressors.
What activities do you do with students to help them cope with their anger? Please share them in the comments.
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Dealing with Anger: The Fire Inside, PBS Kids
Mad: How to Deal with Your Anger and Get Respect by James J. Crist, Ph.D.
Seeing Red: An Anger Management and Peacemaking Curriculum for Kids by Jennifer Simmonds
“Try to let go of any unhelpful ways of thinking,” says Isabel. “Thoughts such as ‘It’s not fair,’ or ‘People like that shouldn’t be on the roads,’ can make anger worse.”
Thinking like this will keep you focused on whatever it is that’s making you angry. Let these thoughts go and it will be easier to calm down.
The truth is that most anger management programs offer shallow solutions like, “count to 10” and “take a deep breath.” That is just not enough for someone struggling with anger. Most anger management counselors do not understand the science of anger, how anger works in your brain, and what really happens to make your angry. Since they don’t understand this, they give obsolete and incomplete guidance.
Danielle, thanks so much for sharing this activity. Usually anger is just a symptom of what is really at issue and this activity really does enable us/students to explore it. Here is an old post with some other books and activities to use with Anger– http://thiscounselorsjourney.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-have-anger-issues-with-anger-issues_10.html
Be well ~Marty
Danielle, thanks for sharing this activity. It is so important to get beyond the overused catch phrases of ‘anger issues’ and ‘anger management’ Usually something else is at issue and anger is only a symptom. Here is an old post which lists some other activites and books– http://thiscounselorsjourney.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-have-anger-issues-with-anger-issues_10.html
Be well– Marty