One strategy we’ve found to be successful for helping children cope with BIG feelings is called Anger Mountain. Anger Mountain is another way to explore what makes a child blow-up or melt-down. You can help your child explore what “What happened before the melt-down.” “What did you see, hear or do that made you start to get angry?” “What did other people do that made you so frustrated, angry or sad?”
In each colored box you can write what was going on that caused the escalation. Then on the right hand-side write three ways the child could cope in the future to calm down. Writing or drawing how the outcome could have “looked differently” had the child used calming skills, helps your child plan future calming strategies.
Anger Mountain is flexible and can be adapted for your specific needs.
How It Works
Imagine that a child climbs Anger Mountain (or it can also be Energy Mountain or Anxiety Mountain) when things do not go their way. Some children escalate very quickly. Other children can self-regulate and walk down the mountain without letting their anger become uncontrolled. Some children hang out near the top of Anger Mountain, feeling agitated, frustrated, anxious and annoyed. In fact, we have known children who climb up Anger Mountain, scream and yell and just simply fall apart and then are calm for days afterward (it’s like a neurobiological reset flooding the body with endorphins).
Managing one’s intense feelings is learned. Separating out what causes one to escalate (the event) and what they think or feel about the event (it’s what we think and feel that makes us climb) is useful throughout a lifetime.
On the Anger Mountain printable, we have three columns. On the left we have triggers that make us escalate, that includes what your child was thinking or feeling. In the middle we have colored boxes where the child can write key words describing what was happening as he escalated. On the right we have the activities or actions we can do to experience calm (breathe, do yoga, walk backwards, ask for help). So literally, we are writing what made us climb Anger Mountain on the left side and what helped us calm down on the right.
On the left side of the mountain we write down thoughts and feelings that make us go from a sense of calm (blue) to agitated, annoyed, or frustrated (orange or red). Labeling different feelings and experiences as colors helps kids understand and communicate how they feel. “I feel happy and live in blue when I am playing with my friends or reading with Dad.” “I feel bugged and green when Mom says stop what you are doing and come eat dinner.” “I feel pink or a bit red when I get a sandwich I hate for lunch,” and so on.
On the right side of the mountain we write down calming “skills” that could help us climb back down Anger Mountain before we explode. “When I feel orange because my Mom told me I cannot go outside, I can play with my trains or go ride my bike.” The middle colored area is where we put key words like “Don’t take it personally.” “Let my mind be flexible.” “Choose another activity.” “How I feel is my choice.” These are like little rescue sentences for the child’s brain to hold on to instead of escalating.
With younger children, we tell them that their feelings are like a choo-choo train. Their train is happiest when it is “in the station.” When their train is in the station, they feel calm, they enjoy playing, they have fun in family activities and they enjoy their friends. But, sometimes things happen that take our trains out of the station. A friend breaks our sand castle or our mom says we have to put away our toys, or our sister calls our artwork “dumb.” This makes our train rev up and zoom out of the station and up the mountain.
It doesn’t have to about trains in a station… it could be flowers in the garden or fishies in the ocean. Any metaphor that suits your family will do. What you are doing for your child is giving them the thoughts, words and actions they can’t find on their own.