Part of the reason why anger is so difficult in preschool aged children is that they have reached an age where their physicality can have a much different effect on the adults in their lives than it did when they were an infant or toddler. As a child grows and gets stronger, it can be harder for adults to remember just how young they are, and that when their emotions boil over, they haven't yet learned to maintain control of their body.
Where an adult may see an angry four-year-old and interpret their punches and kicks as deliberately trying to harm, the child is feeling out of control, most likely scared, and is looking for a limit to be set. Sometimes that limit setting looks like holding a child to help them be still, or giving a child space to fully feel their emotions in a place that is safe. Sometimes setting those limits doesn't feel good to anyone involved, and that is why after fully feeling anger it is so important for a child to be offered connection and a chance to repair the relationship with a trusted adult.
During a recent group time, we talked about anger. I told a story from my childhood of a time I felt angry - hearing stories of adult emotions may feel scary or overwhelming to preschoolers, so it can be helpful to recall childhood stories instead. In the story, I remembered holding my anger inside and not letting it out, and how bad it felt to not know how to let the anger move through my body. Then we began to talk about safe ways to let ourselves feel anger. Some ideas generated by the group included:
CKP: Push a wall
EB: Give yourself a hug
EM: Ask your parents for a hug, or hit a bed or something soft
CN: Hug a stuffy
EB: Yell! Make a big sound from your belly
At a different group time, we read the book Anh's Anger, a beautiful story by Gail Silver about a boy learning to sit with his anger. EM asked, "Is his anger going to hurt him?" and this gave us an opening to discuss how healthy and normal anger is, and how part of what we try to learn as we grow older is how to express anger. We talked about how anger can be a force for good - in the past we have used the example of the civil rights movement to talk about how anger at injustice leads people to take action.
At the end of each discussion about anger, we circled back to something that feels very important: in our community, we accept all feelings, and children all get to keep working on expressing those feelings safely. Teachers are there to help when feelings feel so big that children lose control, and no matter what, at our school, children always get to try again, to make amends, and to express feelings without judgement.