Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anger Management for Children- Part One: Models

This is the first of three articles.

Definition of Anger

We can define anger as an emotional state triggered when we feel frustrated. Most specifically, being frustrated means that we want something that we do not have. Anger is a normal feeling that everyone experiences. Together with happiness, fear, and sadness, anger is one of our four basic emotions. Anger levels range from mild (frustration), to moderate (mad), and to severe (rage). We experience anger physiologically (e.g. breathing rate increases, muscles tense), emotionally (as a feeling), and cognitively (i.e. aggressive and/or negative thoughts). We can express anger in an overt way (e.g. cursing, hitting, kicking, or throwing a temper tantrum), a covert way (e.g. resistance and noncompliance), or by turning the feeling inward (e.g. depression). Our angry feelings and actions can target specific individuals, the world in general, or just us. Anger is always a feeling and it is not the same as aggression. Aggression is a behavior, and is only one of the ways in which we can express anger.

 Models of Anger

Although anger is a basic emotion, some children are so engulfed by their intense and recurrent feelings of anger that dealing with these feelings become difficult for them. Children with anger problems have difficulty keeping their anger under control. For a troubled and anger-prone child, anger becomes repetitive and chronic, rather than an isolated event. Anger-prone children show greater frequency, intensity, and/or duration of angry feelings and behaviors. To explain these behaviors, we can use several models. Those models most commonly applied to school age children follow.

• The constitutional model explains anger in terms of the child’s temperament.

• The affective model considers anger a dysfunctional emotion.

• The reinforcement or learning model suggests that other people are reinforcing the child’s anger by giving attention to him/her when he or she is acting-out. Even when it is negative attention, this attention from other individuals strengthens in the anger-prone child the perception that he or she is the one in charge; through anger, children learn to control and manipulate both other people and the environment.

• The social learning model maintains that children learn to react with angry feelings and aggressive behaviors when they observe anger and aggression in others, in particular, when they see the consequences of aggressive behaviors in others. For example, a child who sees another child get what she wants by using direct force (e.g. pushing in line), and without receiving a negative consequence or a reprimand, will be more likely to exhibit an aggressive behavior in similar circumstances. This model of anger derives from Bandura’s more comprehensive social learning model.

• The functional model maintains that anger has a purpose and a goal, that is, anger aims at achieving the goal of removing frustration. According to the functional model, to remove frustration, an angry individual needs to understand what his/her goal is, or what he/she expects to get from the anger. Specifically, an angry person must understand what he wants, whom they want to get it from, and how they intend to get it. According to Fein (1993), anger becomes a problem when its goal is not clear to the angry person.

• The social skills deficit model suggests a deficiency in the child’s ability to solve social problems coupled with limited skills in the number of alternative solutions the student can generate to handle successfully social or interactional problems. For example, the aggressive adolescent generates more physically aggressive solutions, like hitting and fighting, as opposed to verbal assertion solutions such as talking about the conflict. In addition, aggressive children often generate fewer bargaining and compromise solutions, because they are less capable of accurately perceiving the true intention of others (Robinson, Smith, and Miller, 2002).

• The self-management deficit model explains anger as a deficit in the child’s ability to sustain effort to reach a long-term goal, and to find solutions, in particular, when the solution requires focused effort and the circumstances seem adverse to reach the goal.

• The cognitive model maintains that anger is due to distortions in thinking, or misattributions (negative and/or irrational attributions) of the situation. The troubled and anger-prone student has a pattern of thinking similar to the following:

1) The child selectively attends to and maximizes the negative cues, minimizing the positive cues.

2) The child automatically assumes intentionality and blames the other child.

3) The child labels the event as an angry event.

4) The child reacts to the label (angry event) rather than to the real event.

I will elaborate on the cognitive model of anger in the next article (part two).


Fein, M. L. (1993). I.A.M.: A Common sense guide to coping with anger. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Robinson, T. R., Smith, S. W., & Miller, M. D. (2002). Effect of a cognitive-behavioral intervention on responses to anger by middle school students with chronic behavior problems. Behavioral Disorders, 27(3), pp. 256-271.

For More on this Topic…

Handling Angry Students: Psycho-Educational Strategies that Work http://www.scribd.com/doc/36855915/Handling-Angry-Students-Psycho-Educational-Strategies-that-Work

Child Guidance Skills for Teachers: Relaxation Techniques for Angry and Troubled Students http://www.scribd.com/doc/36799175/Child-Guidance-Skills-for-Teachers-Relaxation-Techniques-for-Angry-and-Troubled-Students

Coping Strategies for Students with Anger Problem

Anger Management for Children: Using Self-Talking to Defuse Angry Feelings http://www.scribd.com/doc/52930623/Anger-Management-for-Children-Using-Self-Talking-to-Defuse-Angry-Feelings

The Therapeutic Classroom: Guided Imagery and Visualizations for Students with Anger Problems http://www.scribd.com/doc/58154762/The-Therapeutic-Classroom-Guided-Imagery-and-Visualizations-for-Students-with-Anger-Problems

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