Do you have a child in club who can’t control their anger? Are they exhibiting unwelcome behavior in meetings? Try these effective approaches.

“I get to go first,” Ella says as your Scooters line up to go to the gym for game time.

“No, I want to!” Maddy shouts. “You got to go first for snack.” She pushes to the front. Ella pushes angrily back.

“I want to! She always goes first.”

“I do not!”

You step in to break it up. Where did such strong feelings come from so quickly? you wonder.

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why kids behave as they do. We watch, listen and interact with our club members to discover what motivates them and what they get angry about. Can we prevent angry behavior? What options do we have to handle their angry responses? In the last issue of the enewsletter, we looked at strategies to help recognize and avoid anger in our club members and ourselves. In Part 2, we address more specific response strategies that offer children a positive and supportive environment, while teaching them personal behavior management skills.

Consider personal space. Kyle, the fifth grader mentioned in Part 1, frequently erupted with anger when his personal space was violated. Each one of us has a different comfort zone for distance between ourselves and another person as we interact. A normal range is 1.5 to 3 feet (.5 to 1 m). Club leaders can be aware of giving kids, especially angry ones, enough personal space. This distance is often affected by age, gender, personality, culture or physical size.

Personal belongings also can be a personal space issue. We have all observed a preschool child tightly clutching a toy while another child tries to take it away. This is a reflection of personal space. When intervening, learn to maintain eye contact with the angry child, while remaining outside his or her personal space.

Be aware of body language. Kyle’s schoolteacher learned to recognize the signs of approaching eruption. Signs such as these can give advance warning that a child’s anger is becoming overwhelming:

  • facial color change
  • eye expression
  • fidgeting or drumming fingers
  • withdrawing
  • backing away

Be aware, too, of your own body language and facial expression when approaching an anxious child. Agree with your coleader to coach and critique each other.

Use the supportive stance. Avoid the face-to-face position when intervening with club members showing anxiety behaviors. That position signals a challenge. Instead, place your body at a right angle outside the child’s personal space. This position not only honors the child’s personal space, but it is also nonthreatening and nonchallenging because it offers an escape route for you both. It provides room for you to avoid injury if the child tries to hit or kick you.

Weigh your approach. Before or during an angry episode, practice active listening. Stop what you’re doing and look at your club member. Children know instantly when you fake attention. For some kids, this is reason enough to become angry—or angrier.

When faced with an angry child, try to remain calm. Mentally coach yourself not to overreact. This lends a child your strength and keeps him or her from the added worry of your angry behavior. Avoid “matching” behaviors, such as becoming louder as a kid speaks more loudly. Never yell or scold.

Try reflective listening. Instead of trying to talk a child out of the feelings or behavior, just reflect the feelings back in an empathetic way. “You sound angry!” “You didn’t like it at all when you lost the game.” “I know you’re frustrated.” When kids know someone is listening and understanding, they may not need to protest anymore. It may free them up to give you more information about what’s wrong, giving you a glimpse of what’s going on inside of their heart, which gives you something to work with.

Sometimes a child may feel angry about your tone rather than your words. If how you speak overrides what you say, aggressive behavior can result or increase. Attempt to avoid sounding impatient or condescending, since that usually escalates an angry response. Give positive directives without judging or accusing.

Try not to enter a power struggle or create an ego confrontation. As difficult as it may seem in the heat of the moment, try to remain detached.

Decide how to intervene—and when. Sometimes it may make more sense to ignore an outburst at the time and resolve to talk with the child later when everyone is calmed down. The club member will not be at his or her best to talk in the heat of the moment. Give everyone a chance to take a break.

Don’t try to reason with an angry child. Kids don’t have the same capacity as adults to stop and think logically. They’ll probably just get angrier.

Remember that anger itself is not a sin. We all have angry feelings from time to time. What matters is that we don’t hurt anyone physically or verbally in the midst of our anger. So provide consequences for hurtful behavior, but not for anger itself. For example, you could give Maddy (mentioned at the beginning) a consequence for pushing. But if she had just spoken angry words, reflective listening might have been more in order.

You may be tempted either to firmly move Maddy or to put a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. But avoid touching an angry child. It may escalate the situation.

With younger kids, it’s often possible to redirect their behavior to something else. Anger subsides if their attention is refocused onto a new activity, toy or playmate. When danger lurks, remove the threatening stimuli—be that an object, activity or another child.

A behavioral contract may help a frequent offender. Spell out the desired behavior and the consequences for missing the mark. You and the kid can sign this.

Older club members can keep an anger log or journal to provide an opportunity for reflection, discussion and goal-setting.

Can the anger dragon be prevented? Angry behavior often can be interrupted for the short term, but if the child’s underlying need is not met, anger will erupt again. If it’s going to be stopped, someone will have to help meet the child’s need or show the child how to meet his or her own need in positive ways.

As you get to know your club members, look for those who are seeking attention, security or comfort. Are some looking for leadership opportunities? Is there a child whose nutrition or health needs are not being met?

In the short term, try to resolve each situation with the greatest amount of care and security to your club member, yourself and all the kids in the group. Leading your club as a team will allow you to identify with more children than having just a solo leader.

View each stressful situation as an opportunity for personal growth. Think positively about yourself; don’t take behavioral challenges personally.

Remember to pray for each other. Coleaders not only need team support during each meeting, but they also need to pray for one another as they prepare and reflect. You might choose a prayer partner outside of Pioneer Clubs to pray for you personally during your actual meeting time. Recruit a prayer warrior to pray for a behaviorally challenged youngster daily or weekly.

Ephesians 4:26-32 outlines some excellent anger management principles. Look at verse 29 (NIV): “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

As a Pioneer Clubs leader, model the behavior you desire. Show respect. Be a good listener. Let each child know you care. Be realistic and consistent, but flexible. Praise positive actions of individual kids as well as the group. Wear a smile. Pray!

As you plan and practice ways to deal with angry children in club, “live your talk” with your club members and coleader.