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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Angry Outbursts in Class (Part 1)

At some point, almost every student becomes angry in school. Anger, after all, is a normal human emotion. Anger isn't a problem as long as the student expresses her feelings appropriately. It is a problem, however, if she expresses her anger in a way that is hurtful to her peers or disruptive to the class. A student who displays angry outbursts can throw a classroom into turmoil. She also can trigger strong feelings in you. Your challenge in working with a student whose emotional temperature often reaches the boiling point is to control your own feelings as well as those of the student.


Model calm behavior. The most effective way to foster a calm attitude among your students is to engage in that behavior yourself. Calm begets calm. In dealing with an angry student, avoid arguing with her or threatening her. That only will fuel her anger and risk triggering an outburst. You can send a strong message without raising your voice. You also need to be aware of your body language; crossing your arms, for example, might provoke a student's anger. You may want to recognize the reasons for her anger and let her know that you care about her by saying something like, "I can see that what happened really upset you."

Do not take angry words personally. In a fit of anger, a student might say things that make your blood boil. Remind yourself that her comments might be unrelated to anything you said or did. Indeed, her anger might have nothing to do with events in school; it might stem from home issues instead. If you fear you might react in a way that fuels a student's anger, try taking a deep breath and counting to five before responding to her.

Have a private, non-threatening talk with the student. The student might expect you to be angry with her for such an outburst. Surprise her by reacting supportively. Tell her that she must be hurting to lose control as she did. Your effort to connect with her might encourage her to open up and discuss why she is so angry. If she does open up, listen attentively, without interrupting. Let her know that getting angry is OK, but she has to find better ways of expressing her anger -- ways that don't disrupt the class. Offer some suggestions. You might even want to suggest what she can say. Many students act out when angry because they lack the vocabulary to express their feelings.

Problem-solve with the student. Explain to the student that you think she can learn to better control her temper if the two of you work together. Ask her what is making her angry. If she has trouble answering the question, suggest some possibilities -- including schoolwork, peer problems, and home issues, and ask if you are on target. Consider your other interactions with the student and ask her if you might be upsetting her in some way. If you are able to identify a cause for the anger, work with her to develop an action plan to deal with the issues that are provoking her anger. You might even want to role-play various situations that make her angry and have her try out some new ways of responding to that anger.

Support the academically frustrated student. Having an outburst in class as a result of frustration with schoolwork is not uncommon for a student. If that's the case with one of your students, give her support and provide accommodations in class to lessen her frustration and increase her academic confidence.


About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.