When kids get angry in club, you can maintain order and help them learn to respond with better behavior

Kyle was a fifth grade student in the public school system. His Christian teacher had more than 30 years of experience. Early in the year, Kyle knocked over a desk and pushed several classmates aside. Where did his anger come from?

Angry children are all around us. Children are angry at heavily scheduled lives. They’re angry at lack of attention from parents. They’re angry at being shuttled between parents on weekends. Children are often angry without understanding why or even knowing that they are.

For some children, angry behavior is a way to get attention. Because they have not experienced enough tender love and appropriate affection, they seek attention through negative behavior, and sometimes get responses that are abusive physically or emotionally. For some young people, even physical aggression is interpreted as attention because it is all they have known. No wonder frustration and anger keep building in kids’ lives.

As a Pioneer Clubs leader, you can help young people who frequently experience negative responses receive some of the love and acceptance they crave. When you begin to look under the surface of their negative behavior, you may gain insight into the love and care they need. You can be there for them to provide positive support and some of the behavior management training that will lay a foundation for a productive life.

Kyle’s teacher began to recognize the warning signs of an explosion and was able to teach Kyle to recognize them, too. How can you, as a caring club leader, recognize warning signals in club members’ behavior? How can you respond positively and supportively? How can you help children learn to manage their anger appropriately and respond with positive behavior? In this article, we’ll look at three strategies, and in the next issue, we’ll discuss several more.

Anticipate Behavior Problems

Often you can lessen negative behavior by the way you structure club.

1. Discuss expectations. Talk about who does what and when in the group. It’s good to review why it’s important to take turns and share, both during discussions and activities.

2. Model and encourage politeness and positiveness. Kids tend to copy the behavior they observe in a particular setting. Although kids may react angrily in a setting where anger is modeled, they may behave appropriately in a setting where modeling is positive and expectations are clearly defined. Pioneer Clubs can become the safe place, both physically and emotionally, for these children to learn and practice positive behavior.

3. Keep alert. All club leaders should “cruise” the area physically or visually. Team leadership is an important principle in Pioneer Clubs. While one adult leads a part of the meeting, the other leader observes children’s responses and interactions. One may sit next to kids who are potentially disruptive. Not only may this prevent a problem, but it also reminds kids that you care for them.

Team leaders can also move through the group, especially during Award Activity times, encouraging children and assisting them before frustration overwhelms them.

4. Show an active interest in every kid. Although it may be tempting to ignore the angry club member, this youngster needs your attention very much. You might consider setting a personal goal to reach out to the most disruptive children in your club. If possible, you could get to know their home background or talk to leaders of other groups where they are involved, to compare notes and suggestions.

5. Lead with respect. Respect will grow from club member to leader if it’s first shown from leader to club member. All children, no matter their behavior, are worthy of being treated respectfully. Although you can’t expect an instant response, kids will respond over time to adults who respect them as individuals who are of value to God and others.

Set Limits

Setting limits will help club members before and after negative behavior occurs. But remember, a child may try to save face because of peer pressure. Enforcing rules respectfully will help minimize anger or power struggles.

1. Make rules reasonable; set rules that are enforceable. You and your coleader need to agree to and support group limits. Don’t make false promises or set limits you can’t enforce.

2. State rules clearly. Be sure to discuss them in advance with club members. In a positive way, discuss club rules along with natural and logical consequences, and review them together from time to time.

3. Be consistent about rules, while still listening to the kid’s side.

4. Remain calm; don’t overreact. Extreme reactions trigger power struggles.

5. Don’t make judgmental remarks.

6. Give choices, not ultimatums. “You choose. You may stop kicking Taylor or you may sit at the other table.” This empowers children to make their own decisions and “save face.” It also gives the child permission to refuse one or more options, and provides a little time to think through the situation while reaching a decision.

Handle Your Own Anger

Have you ever been so angry that you’ve thrown things or slammed a door? Do you recall irritating incidents and then become angry all over again? Do you feel your pulse climb in the midst of an argument? Are you often irritated by other people’s “incompetence”? Anger is ageless.

Mismanaged anger is the cause of all sorts of relationship problems. Consider the child who is afraid to share a small concern, fearing an adult will fly into a temper and emotionally hurt the child. You may not be the one who caused the original fear, but kids frequently transfer their fear or anger to all adults.

All of us need to work on controlling the anger dragon within. From time to time, we all arrive at Pioneer Clubs tired or stressed. It’s important not to allow our own impatience to trigger our anger with the kids.

1. Be aware of behaviors or situations at club that you repeatedly feel angry about. Ask a coleader to help you identify these.

2. Take responsibility for your feelings. Kids don’t “make” the leader angry. Rather, the leader’s thoughts about the situation may cause anger.

3. Learn to recognize cues of your own surfacing anger (breathing, pulse rate, body temperature, etc.).

4. Make positive statements to yourself, counter the angry thoughts, count to 10, pray, whatever helps you refocus. Regain control of your feelings before acting.

5. If necessary, move away from the situation. Let a coleader step in for a few minutes. It’s better to do this than blow up.

6. Think about what is happening; decide on action based on the needs of the situation, not your personal preferences. For example, you can decide if there is immediate danger or long-term consequences to the kids or yourself because of the problem behavior. Sometimes our anger is out of proportion to the club member’s behavior.

Children learn from both positive and negative experiences. We can help them grow in every aspect of life. “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:19-20 NLT).

In the next issue, we’ll look at strategies to use when responding to an angry child in the heat of the moment.