Angry Outbursts: Prevention and Coping Skills
On a School Counselor Facebook page, a school counselor asks for help with a 5th grader who regularly has angry outbursts over such things as forgetting his work at home or his Chromebook is missing from the class. During sessions focused on helping him calm down, he’s still very emotional even after practicing some breathing strategies and making a plan on what to do.
What else can be done?
Here are some tips: Begin by approaching the problem from two angles.
The first angle is to determine what sort of systems he has in place to prevent things that happen which in turn get him upset. Schedule a time to discuss with him the last 4-5 incidents that happened and how they could be prevented from happening again. Obviously this is done without blaming him for the situation but rather take a curious, problem solving, “you are a smart enough person to figure this out” approach. This would be a good time to talk about organizational skills, planning ahead and creating systems or checklists that would prevent losing or forgetting things. I’d also frame the problem as something that all students must tackle in order to prepare for middle school and you want to help him be prepared and ahead of the game. Honestly this behavior (lack of organization) is pretty typical of fifth graders as they begin taking on more and more responsibility for their school work and personal schedules so you could normalize the situation even more by addressing organizational skills in a class lesson.
The second angle to focus on is coping skills for managing his emotions when things go wrong, which of course they will. This would focus on calming strategies, self-talk (again focusing on problem solving instead of blaming) and emotional regulation perhaps using a feelings scale and a list of things he can do when he feels himself getting upset. Identify the self talk that he uses to escalate his feelings of anger and frustration and alternative self talk that would help him calm down in addition to some breathing strategies.
Finally note that learning to manage emotions is a process that is not fixed with one or even a few sessions. Continue to meet regularly to evaluate and praise even small progress as well as help him prepare for future difficult situations.