Sometimes children have feelings they experience intensely, but do not understand. You can help your child learn to modulate their feelings better if you take the step to help them identify how they feel, when and why. Use anger mountain to help children delineate what happened, how they felt about the experience, what they thought about the event and what they could have done to calm down, not escalate.
HOW IT WORKS
Imagine that a child climbs anger (this can also be energy or anxiety) mountain when things do not go their way. Some children escalate very quickly. Other children can self-regulate and walk down the mountain without letting their anger become uncontrolled. Some children hang out near the top of Anger Mountain, feeling agitated, frustrated, anxious and annoyed. In fact, some children climb up anger mountain, scream and yell and just simply fall apart and then are calm for days afterward (it’s like a neurobiological reset flooding the body with endorphins).
Managing one’s intense feelings is learned. Separating out what causes one to escalate (the event) and what they think or feel about the event (it’s what we think and feel that makes us climb) is useful throughout a lifetime.
On the printable above, there are three columns. On the left, triggers that made us escalate, in the middle there are colored boxes where the child can write key words for calming down and on the right, the activities or actions we can do to experience calm (breathe, do yoga, walk backwards, ask for help). So literally you are writing what made you climb anger mountain on the left side and what helped us calm down on the right.
On the left side of the mountain we write down experiences that make us go from a sense of calm (blue) to agitated annoyed or frustrated. Labeling different feelings and experiences as colors helps kids understand and communicate how they feel. “I feel happy and live in blue when I am playing with my friends or reading with dad.” “I feel bugged and green when mom says stop what you are doing and come eat dinner.” “I feel pink or a bit red when I get a sandwich I hate for lunch,” and so on.
On the right side of the mountain we write down calming “skills” that could help us climb back down Anger Mountain before we explode. “When I feel orange because my mom told me I cannot go outside, I can play with my trains or go ride my bike.”
The middle colored area is where we put key words like “Don’t take it personally.” “Let my mind be flexible.” “Choose another activity.” “How I feel is my choice.” These are like little rescue sentences for the child’s brain to hold on to instead of escalating.
With younger children, Explain that their feelings are like a choo-choo train. Their train is happiest when it is “in the station.” When their train is in the station, they feel calm, they enjoy playing, they have fun in family activities and they enjoy their friends. But, sometimes things happen that take our trains out of the station. A friend breaks our sand castle, or our mom says we have to put away our toys, or our sister calls our artwork “dumb.” This makes our train rev up and zoom out of the station and up the mountain.
It doesn’t have to be about trains in a station…it could be flowers in the garden, fishies in the ocean. Any metaphor that suits your family will do. What you are doing for your child is giving him the thoughts, words and actions he can’t find on his own.
Self Regulation Mountain
Anger: What it is and what it does
Anger is a FEELING. Like all feelings, it is neither good nor bad – it just IS. We all feel angry at times. Anger is NOT any particular action. It does not “make” us yell, hit walls, or throw tantrums. When managed appropriately, it helps motivate us to beneficial action. For example, it may move us to fight for a just cause or stand up for the oppressed. In this way anger can actually be USEFUL to us.
Unfortunately, unmanaged anger triggers a physical response in the body which can lead to a variety of issues. Let’s take a closer look at some of those:
Physical Impact of Anger
Anger triggers the body’s Fight, Flight or Freeze response. During periods of strong negative emotions (anger, anxiety, fear) stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, flood the body. The brain starts moving blood flow away from the internal organs and towards the muscles to fuel them for rapid use. Here are some of the changes your body undergoes during this process:
- Heart and respiration rates speed up
- blood pressure and body temperature rise
- skin perspires
- The mind is sharpened and focused.
While all of this is terrific if you are about to surge into battle or run for your life, it’s not so good when you are being chewed out by your boss during a staff meeting.
Health Problems related to Anger
The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that accompany recurrent unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Unmanaged anger has been linked with: headache, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, stroke, insomnia, heart attack…
Anger Distortions: Thinking that makes you Mad
Anger‐triggering thoughts often distort our view of reality. Here are some of the most common cognitive distortions that feed anger:
- Blaming. The belief that someone else is responsible for our pain, and that you can do nothing about it. By blaming others, you discount that you have the power to make choices that impact your situation. You feel powerless, helpless, and stuck. You expect someone else to fix things.
- Magnifying. The tendency to view “molehills” as “mountains” – to make an uncomfortable situation much worse. Using words like “awful,” “terrible,” “unbearable,” or “horrible” provoke an exaggerated angry response.
- Global labels. The use of sweeping judgments and black‐and‐white thinking that inflame anger – seeing a person as “totally evil” or “completely selfish” and ignoring the good bits.
- Misattributions. Jumping to conclusions and mind‐reading; assigning negative motivation to the actions of others. You don’t ask for clarifications or feedback because you think you already know.
- Overgeneralization. Closely related to global labels, this one involved the use of “always,” “never,” “nobody,” and “everybody.” Thoughts like “she’s ALWAYS late” or “he NEVER listens” make a single incident into an intolerable situation.
- Demanding/commanding. Imposing your own values and needs on others who may have very different values and needs. Feeling that your “needs” require other’s compliance.
Sample Coping Thoughts:
- Blaming: “”What can I do to change the situation?” “I can do something about this.”
- Magnifying: “How bad is this really?” “This is irritating but I can handle it.”
- Global Labels: “This is a problem, but he/she is not a monster.”
- Misattributions: “I can’t read minds‐I need more facts.” “What else might be going on?”
- Overgeneralization: “How often does this really happen?”
- Demanding/Commanding: “I would rather things were different, but I can get through this.” “Not getting what I want is not the end of the world.”
Click Here for a FREE printable Handout on “Anger Distortions: Thinking that makes you Mad” (text above): anger_distortions
Your thoughts influence how you feel and how you behave. For example, if your thoughts magnify an uncomfortable situation into something catastrophic, you start feeling overwhelmed. You become angry that you have to live with it. Before you know it, you are reacting as if this really is the end of the world. Unchecked, these angry thoughts keep feeding the feeling… and out‐of‐control behavior follows.
Here is a simple thought stopping technique you can start using today: Snap Out of It: Rubber Band Technique
Find a thick rubber band that fits comfortably (and loosely) around your wrist. You will be wearing this day and night for the next few weeks so make sure it isn’t binding. Pay attention for the first signs of anger. As soon as you feel it, snap that rubber band and say “SNAP OUT OF IT!” (You can say it in your head if others are around). Be ready with a positive coping statement. Before long you will notice you automatically replace anger‐fueling thoughts with more helpful alternatives.
Here is a printable Handout describing the Snap Out of It: Rubber Band Technique: snap_out_of_it