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Module 2 Handout 2.

7: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

Helping Young Children Control Anger


and Handle Disappointment
Gail E. Joseph, Ph.D. & Phillip S. On this Friday, the water table has behavioral pretense of taking a deep
Strain, Ph.D. been borrowed by the class next door breath and reacting calmly. Children
Center on Evidence Based Practices and is not available. When Mattie who learn to cope with their emotions
for Early Learning realizes that the water table is not constructively not only have an easier
University of Colorado at Denver available she seeks out her teacher for time with disappointments,
help. She does this with a clear aggravation, and hurt feelings that are
expression of frustration and so ubiquitous in the lives of

A
s a result of his teachers careful
selection of toys, materials, and disappointment. Her teacher explains preschoolers but they also have an
play themes, 3 year old Eduardo what happened and asks Mattie to easier time relating to other children
now is able to benefit from his active describe how she is feeling. She says and adults at home, in school or child
participation in a full range of free she is frustrated. Her teacher care, and on the playground (National
play activities. Yet, it is still the case acknowledges the legitimacy of her Research Council and Institutes of
that without this level of planning and feelings and asks her if she can think Medicine, 2000).
subsequent, ongoing praise, Eduardo of what she and her classmates have On the other hand, young children
would spend most days playing alone practiced when they feel frustrated. who have failed to master the early
with a particular Tonka truck. On this With some prompting, Mattie recalls regulatory tasks of learning to
day the truck has been retired from the plantakes three deep breaths, manage interpersonal conflict and
service due to a broken and now tell yourself to calm down, and think control aggressive and disruptive
dangerous part. Visibly upset, of some solutions. Mattie and the impulses are more likely than their
Eduardo begins to whimper as his teacher generate some options at this self-regulated peers to display early
teacher explains the situation with the point, including; a) playing with her conduct problems. Children with
truck and promises to get it replaced next favorite toy; b) asking her best conduct problems and poor impulse
soon. She offers Eduardo other play friend what she wants to play; and c) control are more likely to be peer-
ideas and begins to play with other pretending to use the water table. She rejected and do more poorly in school
trucks herself encouraging him to join chooses b, and has a fun freeplay. than children who are more capable
in. The disappointment is too As young children gain a better at emotional regulation and problem
overwhelming, however, and Eduardo understanding of emotions, they solving (Strain, Kerr, Stagg &
just sits passively, shaking his head, become more capable of emotional Lenkner, 1984). Before children can
No. His teacher next prompts several regulation. Controlling anger and effectively manage interpersonal
of his usual play partners to, Ask impulse is perhaps the most difficult conflict, they need to be able to
Eduardo to help with their building. task of emotional literacy. In real life recognize and regulate their own
When asked, Eduardo screams No, situations that are upsetting, emotional responses and stress level.
stomps over their building project and disappointing and frustrating it is a Teachers can play a significant role in
gets a predicable response from his tough undertaking to remain calm. helping children learn to control their
peers. The teacher intervenes at this Remaining calm in the presence of anger and impulses and to handle
point to protect Eduardo, his peers adverse situations is not about the disappointment in appropriate ways
and the ongoing program. suppression of emotions, but the by identifying and intervening with
Mattie, a 4 year old in a local dynamic engagement of affective, children who need extra help in
Head Start classroom is always the cognitive and behavioral processes. developing these competencies.
first to organize fun play when the In order to regulate emotions one Some teaching strategies include
water table comes out each Friday. must bring into play the rapid and modeling remaining calm; cognitive
She often talks with great anticipation accurate recognition of physiological behavioral interventions; preparing
and excitement (especially on arousal, the cognitive process children for disappointing situations
Thursday) about what she is going to required to think, for example, I before they occur; recognizing and
do at the water table with her friends. need to calm down and, the reinforcing when children remain

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Module 2 Handout 2.7: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

calm; and involving parents and other modify their thoughts and promote turtle explains a time he got upset in
care providers. self-regulation. With preschooler, preschool (selecting an incident
many accidents occur in classrooms familiar to the children is best). He
Model remaining calm (e.g., children bumping into one demonstrates how he thinks to himself
Teachers can model how to another; children knocking over STOP, then goes in his shell and
manage anger and handle others constructions) and some takes three deep breaths. After he
disappointment for young children. children interpret these accidents as takes three deep breaths, he thinks to
For example, a teacher can share with purposeful, hostile acts. An essential himself I can be calm and think of
her class how she felt angry when ingredient of CBI is to help children some solutions to solve my problem.
someone hit her car in the parking lot reframe and modify their processes in When he is calm, he comes out of his
but then she decided that feeling order to substitute more neutral shell and is ready to problem solve
mad wasnt helping her think of good interpretations of others behaviors. peacefully. The teacher can then
solutions so she took three deep The turtle technique is a CBI invite the children to practice turtles
breaths and thought about something strategy that has been used secret. Children can go in their
relaxing and then when she felt calm successfully with preschool and shells as a group and together take
she thought of some solutions for kindergarten age children (Greenberg, three deep breaths. Then an
fixing her car. In addition to recalling Kusche & Quamma, 1995;Webster- individual child can model the turtle
incidents when one felt angry but Stratton & Hammond, 1997). technique in front of the class.
remained in control teachers can The turtle technique was originally Practice small group activities can
also model remaining calm as developed to teach adults anger include making paper plate turtles
naturally occurring disappointing, management skills then was with moveable heads and arms that
scary, frustrating and difficult successfully adapted for school age go in their shell. Children can then
situations happen throughout the day children (Robin, Schneider & rehearse the steps with the paper plate
(e.g., a fire drill; being yelled at; Dolnick, 1976; Schenider, 1974). turtle.
having something break, etc.). Since then, the turtle technique has
been adapted and integrated into Preparing children to handle
Teach children how to control social skills programs for preschoolers disappointment
(PATHS, Dinosaur School). The basic
anger and impulse steps of the turtle technique are:
Teachers can help children by
While it may be true that children rehearsing some strategies to handle
Recognizing that you feel angry disappointment before a potentially
often hear adults telling them to Thinking stop
calm down, it is very unlikely that disappointing incident occurs. For
Going into your shell and taking example, Elizabeth knows that some
this simple direction will result in any three deep breaths and thinking
changes in childrens affect or children will be disappointed because
calming, coping thoughts, It was an she can only choose one helper to
behavior. In some instances this kind accident. I can calm down and think
of command may even escalate a feed the pet goldfish. Before she
of good solutions. I am a good announces who the helper will be she
childs angry response. Cognitive problem solver.
behavioral intervention (CBI) says to the class, Remember, I will
Coming out of your shell when only be able to select one fish feeder
strategies can provide children with calm and think of some solutions to
the requisite skills to control anger today, and that may make some of you
the problem. feel disappointed. What can you do if
and handle disappointment. CBIs Teaching the turtle technique to
offer strategies for teaching you feel disappointed? The children
young children can happen at large together snap their finger and say, Oh
appropriate replacement skills to and small group times. A turtle puppet
angry outbursts and aggression. CBIs well, maybe next time. Elizabeth
is helpful and keeps children engaged says, That is right you can say
engage a relationship between during the lesson. The teacher can
internal cognitive events and Maybe next time. After she selects
begin by introducing the turtle to the the fish feeder, she reinforces the
behavioral change through teaching class. After the children get a chance
strategies that guide performance and children who remained calm and
to say hello and perhaps give a gentle handled their disappointment.
reduce inappropriate behaviors. pet, the teacher shares the turtles
Using CBI, teachers can provide Similarly, a teacher can prepare a
special trick for calming down. The single child for a disappointing
young children with strategies to

Rev. 2/10 The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning Vanderbilt University vanderbilt.edu/csefel H 2.7
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Module 2 Handout 2.7: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

situation before it occurs. Elizabeth Posting pictures of the turtle Recognize and comment when
knows that Jordan will be disappointed technique (see Box 1 ) can remind children remain calm
if someone else is on his favorite children of the steps to calming down. There are four key features of a
swing on the playground. Before they These can be posted in several places reinforcement system that are likely
leave for outside, she pulls Jordan around the room. Visual cues can be to help strengthen childrens
aside and says, When we go outside, particularly helpful for very young management of frustration and anger.
someone else might be on your children, children who are easily First, it must be recognized that
favorite swing. And you might feel distracted, and children with controlling ones emotions and
disappointed. But, what can you do to communication delays. Strategically subsequent behavior is hard work. As
stay calm? She supports Jordan to placed, the visual cues can serve as: such, reinforcement needs to be
remember his turtle technique and a) a permanent reminder for frequent and powerful. As frequency
helps him think of some solutions such childrenthat is, children dont have depends on the occurrence of
as asking for a turn, saying please and to remember the steps of the process, behavior, teachers need to be equally
finding something else to do while the b) an efficient prop for teachers such vigilant about planning as many
child finishes swinging. For added that they can simply point to the next opportunities for practice as possible.
support, because Jordan may not step and not disrupt the ongoing class Teachers may also find that their
remember when he is in the moment, activity with lengthy dialogue, and, c) impact is enhanced when they are
Elizabeth gives him a small plastic a clear, concrete way to communicate especially vigilant to catch those
turtle to hold. The turtle prompts with children the specific behavioral children being good who may need
Jordan to keep calm and think of steps for which they are being the most support. A second key
solutions. reinforced. feature is to provide naturally
occurring, vicarious reinforcement
The Turtle Technique opportunities. For example, the
exchanges that adults have with each
other can be planned to achieve this
aim. For example, Elizabeth might
say, Wow, Steven you really stayed
calm when your watch broke. Im
proud of you.
Third, we recommend that
children be provided the opportunities
for self-reinforcement.
For example, children can choose
among several favorite items and they
can forecast at the beginning of the
day what they would wish to acquire
Step 1 Step 2
for managing anger and frustration.
Finally, we recommend keeping
reinforcers varied and fun. Box 2
outlines some favorite ideas to
consider. This system, when
implemented with a high degree of
fidelity, sends a clear message to
young children that handling anger
and impulse in constructive and
peaceful ways is greatly valued.

Step 3 Step 4
Box 1. The Turtle Technique

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Module 2 Handout 2.7: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

communication system in which a Conclusion


Turtle Technique Reinforcing daily report card is sent home that: a) Emotional regulation is fostered
Activities highlights how children have not only by the interventions and
successfully negotiated a frustrating strategies described in this article, but
situation and b) suggests ways that also by the confidence and security
Super Turtle Award: A family members might further
certificate is given out at the end of
that a warm, responsive relationship
recognize and encourage these with a caregiver provides young
the day noting how a child
controlled their anger and impulse.
accomplishments. An example home children. Trusting relationships allow
report is found in Box 3. In this same children to cope with emotions that,
Turtle Power Necklace: A spirit of regular communication,
plastic turtle on a string is awarded initially without even a feeling
teachers may also wish to phone home vocabulary to describe them or
to a child who was able to remain
clam in an upsetting situation. to report any extraordinary examples strategies to regulate them, can be
of positive child behavior. For many overwhelming. Moreover this kind of
Turtle Token Jar: The
families this can be a most welcome trusting relationship, by definition,
teacher has a collection of small
plastic turtle counters (or green
change from the usual events that means that children will be more
pom-poms). Every time the teacher occasion phone calls from service attuned, attentive, and responsive as
catches a child remaining calm and providers. adults model appropriate self-
handling disappointment a turtle For families that are interested in regulation and praise examples that
token is placed in a clear jar. When more directed and purposeful occur throughout the day.
the jar is full the class gets to have a intervention in the home, teachers Strategies like the turtle technique
turtle celebration. might choose to share a video of and accompanying teaching supports
Turtle Stack: Teachers have themselves modeling strategies, can clearly offer children the
a supply of construction paper, directly teaching a techniques, and cognitive and behavioral repertoire
turtle cut-outs. Each time a child is reinforcing children for successfully needed to be good managers of their
caught remaining calm in an calming down. Moreover, teachers feelingsparticularly those
upsetting or disappointing situation, should consider the possibility of
the teacher puts a paper turtle on the occasioned by frustrating and anger-
arranging opportunities for families to provoking circumstances. However,
wall. This turtle can have the
childs name on it. The next turtle share with each other the ways they for children to be truly competent in
earned is stacked on top of the first, have been able to encourage their the regulation of their emotions they
and so on until the criterion is childrens self-regulation. often need additional teaching aimed
reached. The class then gets to have
a turtle party.
Turtle Tote: The teacher
selects a child who has done a GOOD BEHAVIOR REPORT CARD
remarkable job of controlling anger Eric Young
and impulse and sends them home 4/10/02
with a stuffed turtle puppet for the Dear Parent:
evening. The child can then re-tell
how they used the turtle technique Today Eric did a great job of handling frustration and not
to their parents. getting angry when we ran out of his favorite cookies at snack.
Instead of getting upset, Eric took three deep breaths and we
Box 2: Fun, Reinforcing Activities
talked about other good things to eat.

You can help Eric by:


Involving parents Asking him to explain how he calmed down
Given that there is great variation
Commenting on what a great job that was
in child rearing practices specific to
teaching children how to deal with Telling him that you hope he can do that again
frustration and anger, it is essential when he is frustrated.
for teachers to establish effective
Thank you so much,
home-school collaboration. At a
Mr. Phil
minimum we suggest an ongoing Box 3: Sample letter to parents

Rev. 2/10 The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning Vanderbilt University vanderbilt.edu/csefel H 2.7
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Module 2 Handout 2.7: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

at helping them build a strategy for


generating solutions or alternative
behaviors to troubling events.

REFERENCES
Greenberg, M. T., Kusche, C. A.,
Cook, E. T., & Quamma, J. P. (1995).
Promoting emotional competence in
school-aged children: The effects of
the PATHS Curriculum. Development
and Psychopathology, 7, 117-136.
Kusche, C. A., & Greenberg, M. T.
(1994) The PATHS Curriculum.
Seattle: Developmental Research and
Programs.
Robin, A., Schneider, M., &
Dolnick, M. (1976). The turtle
technique: An extended case study of
self-control in the classroom.
Psychology in the Schools, 13, 449-
453.
Strain, P. S., Kerr, M. M., Stagg, V.
& Lenkner, D. (1984). An empirical
definition of elementary school
adjustment. Behavior Modification,
8, 311-47.
Schneider, M. (1974). Turtle
technique in the classroom. Teaching
Exceptional Children, 7, 21-24.
Webster-Stratton, C. (1991). The
teachers and children videotape
series: Dina dinosaur school. Seattle,
WA: The Incredible Years.
Webster-Stratton, C., & Hammond,
M. (1997). Treating children with
early-onset conduct problems: A
comparison of child and parent
training interventions. Journal of
Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
65(1), 93-109.

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