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Skills for Youth

All Skills for Youth

Handling Your Anger

Everyone gets angry at times. Anger is simply a feeling that we experience when confronted with a real or perceived situation that doesn't go like we want it to. It's normal, natural — and helpful in many ways.

We often need appropriate anger to signal us that something is going wrong and needs to be changed. Anger per se is not a problem. It is how one handles the anger that determines whether or not it is a problem.

For people who don't know how to control strong emotions, anger often reaches damaging levels that create agitation and impulsivity while decreasing the ability to think clearly. These conditions lead to destructive, antagonistic acts which escalate conflict and cause many personal and social problems.

There is a time and place for anger but it is crucial to manage one's anger response in order to think clearly and logically — and therefore choose actions and reactions that work to one's advantage.

Description of the Skill

Handling your anger is the ability to control angry emotions in order to act (or react) in one's own best interest. The skill has been broken down into five behavioral steps. These steps include:

Step 1. Tune in to your body.
Step 2. Calm Down
Step 3. Use Self-talk to See Things Differently
Step 4. Consider and choose the best behavior options.
Step 5. Congratulate yourself.

Step 1. Tune in to your Body.

Become more sharply aware of the physical signs of tension so you can stop the anger before it develops any further. Some body signals that indicate increasing anger are:

  • tensing of muscles
  • faster breathing
  • a change in voice tone or volume
  • sweating
  • heart/head pounding

STEP 2. Calm Down.

Many people think it's better to blow up or rage at others and "get the anger out." This is a harmful myth. Explosive outbursts of rage (loud arguing and fighting) do not release anger. They, in fact, make us more likely to become combative, hostile and aggressive.

Being able to stay in control when we notice ourselves getting angry is a powerful skill. Some techniques that people use to calm themselves are: breathing deeply to relax, counting backwards, visualizing a favorite scene, etc.

Step 3. Use Self-talk to See Things Differently.

People and things do NOT actually push your anger buttons. You push your OWN buttons by upsetting yourself with your thoughts, interpretations, and emotional overreactions. Some examples of anger-escalating self-talk are:

  • I can't stand it when…
  • It drives me crazy when…
  • I have to punch him when…
  • Now everything is completely ruined!
  • That guy's looking over here. He must be looking for trouble. Fine, I'll give him some.
  • She insulted me. I can't let her get away with that.

Learn to use a different kind of self-talk, the kind that will change your perspective. The exact same situation will produce different emotions if you change your interpretation and decide not to overreact. Some examples of anger-reducing self-talk are:

  • Hold on now, I may not LIKE this, but I CAN stand it.
  • Stop it! This won't drive me crazy --unless I LET it.
  • Yeah, I'd LOVE to punch him…but I won't. Why should I cause myself trouble because of that creep.
  • True, things aren't going how I planned, but getting enraged won't help. How can I still get something good/fun out of this?
  • Don't assume that aggression is intended.
  • Say, " Relax, I'm not sure what he's looking at, but it could be any number of things." Say, "Hey, I can deal with this." "Life is NOT fair, but I'll have my day."

Step 4. Consider and Choose the Best Behavior Options.

After you calm down (and can think more clearly), remind yourself that you have CHOICES of actions. Think about possible consequences, weigh the risks versus the gains, and choose a behavior that will work best for YOU in the short and long term.

  • Delay Action.
    Walk away. If you think you might get verbally or physically abusive, leave the situation and take time to cool down.

  • Let it go and consider it "a lesson learned."

  • Seek help.
    Ask someone you respect to help you think things through. This gives you a different viewpoint and/or more information.

  • Be assertive.
    Express yourself in a direct way that is respectful and yet clear about how you feel ("disrespected", "angry", etc.) and what you would like the other person to do differently. NOTE: Be cautious about such directness if the person has power over you (e.g. an employer or a violent parent) and you think he or she may not be able to "handle" your comments.

  • Release anger indirectly. (Choose this if you think direct expression of your anger will be ineffective, destructive or dangerous.)
    Do some vigorous physical exercise.
    Write your angry thoughts and feelings in a letter, but don't send it.
    Talk about how angry you are with a supportive friend.
    Do something silly like draw an ugly picture of the person and throw rotten grapes at it.

  • Plan how YOU will change so this won't happen again.
    Once you accept that you CAN'T change others, you can gain enormous power by changing yourself. (Others may decide to change themselves as a direct result of the changes YOU made, but this will be their decision, not yours.)
    Changing yourself means making decisions and taking action to prevent the situation from happening again-- whether or NOT the other person changes. Some examples of ways you can change yourself are:

    1. I will never again loan my car to other people. That way I won't get angry at their lack of responsibility.

    2. From now on, I will walk out of the room/house the moment he raises his voice or calls me a name I don't like. I don't have to let this happen again.

    3. He isn't reliable so I'll also invite others; that way the evening won't be ruined by his not showing up.

Step 5. Congratulate Yourself.

Focus on any improvement of your abilities. One step at a time is fine.

  • Hey, I did that pretty well. (I'm the man!)
  • I am really proud of me! YES!

Demonstration of the Skill

Before youth can effectively practice the Handling Anger Skill they need to see each of the five components of the skill modeled or demonstrated. Here are some suggestions for modeling the skill:

  • Using a scripted role-play, have as many volunteers as possible demonstrate the first step of the skill. Have them speak their thoughts aloud so others can understand their internal process. (For example, "I'm noticing that my hands are getting sweaty, my face feels hot and my stomach is getting tight." " This must be my body's way of signaling increasing anger.") Have the rest of the group observe the demonstrations and give their reactions. Remind them to be thinking about which behaviors would work best for them. When all students display an understanding of the first step, repeat this process with steps two through five.

  • After all five steps of the skill have been modeled and discussed separately, select a scripted role-play (either developed by youth or found in already published curricula) and demonstrate the complete Handling Feelings Skill with a volunteer from the group. Be sure to model each of the five steps of the skill. Have youth observe the demonstration and then identify each of the five steps and the specific behaviors or internal processes that illustrated each step.


Behavioral Practice of the Skill

Once youth have seen the Handling Feelings Skill modeled several times, they are ready for individual behavioral practice. Some specific suggestions for behavioral practice include:

  • In pairs or small groups of three or four, use scripted role plays to conduct behavioral practice. Youth can make up the role plays or the educator can use ones found in already published curricula like those described in the Programs that Work section. For more information about behavioral practice in small groups, see the Skills for The Educator section.

  • Each youth practicing the skill is to demonstrate all five components of Handling Feelings with another volunteer from the group. Give observers a check sheet that lists the five steps of the Handling Anger Skill so they can gently coach each other as they practice. The observers of the practice will be asked to identify each of the five skill steps and the specific behaviors or internal processes that illustrated each step.

  • Debrief after each practice session identifying what went well and giving suggestions for overcoming the stumbling blocks or barriers.

  • Give youth a homework assignment, asking them to keep a record for several days of when they use the Handling Anger Skill. Discuss the homework with the group reinforcing their successes and helping them improve any parts of the skill that still seem difficult or uncomfortable for them. NOTE: Be sensitive to youth's confidentiality, allowing individuals to pass if they aren't comfortable sharing.


  • Before youth can effectively practice anger control, they need to see each of the components of the skill correctly demonstrated two times or more.

  • Involve youth in the development of role-play scenarios so the role-plays are relevant to their lives.

  • Record any questions that may come up during the group practices for later large group discussion.

  • Follow up and reinforce skill usage in subsequent lessons with youth. Ask them how they are using their skills and if the new skills have made any difference in their relationships. Provide additional practice as needed.