Why Anger Management Programmes Fail

Why Anger Management Programmes Fail

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Are your anger management programmes failing to have an impact on the kids you teach?

Join us in this Essentials episode as we uncover critical elements that can transform your school†s approach to delivering anger management intervention so that you can really see a difference.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

If you're working with kids who have difficulties managing anger, or other strong emotions in fact, then this episode is reaching you at the perfect time, because we're going to look at what stops anger management programmes from being effective, and explore the evidence about how well they actually support students in school important stuff. So let's get started. 

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another bite sized essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets. In these mini essentials episodes, I like to share a bite sized discussion from a previous interview that will enhance your understanding of behaviour management, and can be introduced today to have a positive impact on the pupils that you teach. In this Essentials episode, my co host Emma and I are going to focus on supporting pupils who have difficulty with anger. We look at the factors that can prevent anger management programmes from having an impact, and review the evidence about how well they actually work in schools. So you have everything you need to set up your anger management programmes for success. 

So although kids can often name these techniques, when they're calm, in a session, in the room where you're running the anger management sessions in that safe, calm environment, actually, they have a lot of trouble then translating that theory into practice in the real world.

Emma Shackleton  2:04  

Absolutely. And it's different, isn't it in the context of when you are angry. And the problem tends to be because when children get angry or anxious or overwhelmed, it's a really strong emotion that can come on really quickly. We've all worked with children who go from nought to 100 in you know, a few seconds. So because that feeling comes so quickly, it can be difficult for us to be in a position to deploy the strategies that we've learned, because what we know is when we go into that fight or flight, so when our amygdala is fired up, and we go into what we call amygdala hijack, the prefrontal cortex takes a backseat to the logical part of the brain where the strategies are stored, isn't accessible. So at that moment, it's too late to use those strategies. And there are plenty of children who get overcome with emotion, do things that they regret and feel very sorry and sad about it later. And they don't want to behave in that way. And they do know the strategies such as breathing, such as mindfulness, but they just aren't able to deploy those strategies. Because the feeling is come on so quickly, they've gone into amygdala hijack, they've acted before they thought about putting the strategies into place and everything's gone wrong.

Simon Currigan  3:22  

So the research into this backs up that view about this kind of mixed or limited level of effectiveness that anger management groups have, there was a meta analysis of anger management groups. So a meta analysis is where scientists and researchers just take lots and lots of different studies, and they look for comparisons between them to see if they can pull out any sort of wider conclusions. They looked at 60 studies between 1979 and 2010, and found out that the impact of anger management groups was small to moderate. So there was an impact, but it wasn't massive, they weren't making huge gains. And another study that looked at the impact of anger and aggression treatments, this time on adults, found that anger treatments consistently demonstrated moderate effectiveness. And then on the other hand, some reviews of individual programs do actually show good results. But then when you dig into those studies, the way those researchers are demonstrating their evidence and collecting that evidence can really be called into question. So the research on this is a very mixed bag, but the impact is generally limited.

Emma Shackleton  4:26  

And of course, to make an impact, the child themselves actually has to want to change, they need to be happy to use the strategies given to them by the adults. If the child's view is fixed, that it's everybody else's problem, and they don't take responsibility for their behaviour, then you can give them all the strategies in the world, but they're unlikely to use them in the classroom or in social time when they need them because they don't actually believe that they need to change their behaviour. Maybe their behaviour is serving a purpose for them.

Simon Currigan  5:02  

So let's think about the cost of running anger management groups, really, they're not that cheap. If you think of having to run an intervention for nine months to a year to have a significant impact, then you need to think about the wages of the person who's running the group, whether that's a learning mentor, a counselor, a teaching assistant, they're going to be tied up with a small group. And that means they can't be deployed to support children elsewhere with academic interventions or supporting in the classroom. And if you add up those wages over those sort of 50 weeks or so that's a considerable sum, you've also got the cost of using the room, I mean, that's fairly low cost in terms of pounds and pence. But if you are limited in school for the amount of space you've got for running interventions, then that means if you're using the room for an anger management group on a Thursday afternoon for an hour, you can't be using that room for anything else. And also, many schools then invest in resources like like books and curriculums to support the anger management group. And that sometimes can be quite a big investment too.

Emma Shackleton  6:04  

Also training for staff as well. So there are training courses available and staff might do a whole day or half day training, so that kind of cost can add up as well. Arguably, there is a cost to the children from missing their lessons to go out to an intervention as well say a child is coming out to an anger management class, but they're missing their art lesson, that might be the time of the week where they really excel. That might be the lesson that they love, that they're really good at. It might be their only successful time in school, and the only time that their peers see them in a positive light. So actually, the cost of they're missing that session in terms of their social standing, and their peer interactions and their esteem is actually quite large. So Simon, thinking about what we've said in this episode, are we saying them that we shouldn't bother running anger management groups in schools?

Simon Currigan  6:57  

Is this where we should have a drum roll? No, we're not saying that. What we're saying is that too many anger management interventions are focusing on giving the kid strategies to use once they are angry. And as you've already said, ever, once you are angry, the parts of the brain that you need to access those strategies, the prefrontal cortex is kind of taken offline to the very part of the brain you need to implement the strategies isn't available to you when you're angry. So we're being reactive rather than proactive. The key is getting the kids to take early intervention at much earliest age when they're starting to get frustrated. That's when the strategies need to be put in place. It's about when they use the strategies much earlier on, rather than waiting until it's too late. And that's the difference between self control and self regulation. See our episode on self regulation with Dr. Stuart Shanker for more information. And we know from studies that self control is a really poor way to manage any form of behaviour. It's called ego depletion. There is some doubt over whether ego depletion is a real thing exactly. But there are lots of studies that when we're put in a situation where we have to exercise self control, that self control runs out and fast. There was a researcher called Roy Baumeister, and he had a really interesting study, he set up his lab, and he invited one group of students in to eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. 

Emma Shackleton 

Oh, this sounds like my kind of science. Well,

Simon Currigan

You would have been the first group, because the second group that came in was shown the plate of freshly baked cookies, and then asked to resist them and munch on radishes instead. Then he gave each group and impossible geometry puzzle to solve and watch to see how long it took them to give up on the impossible puzzle. Well, the students who were just given the cookies worked on the puzzle for 20 minutes on average, but the students who had to use self control and resisted the you know, delicious cookies and ate the radishes gave up after an average of eight minutes. So that shows using self control in one arena affects our ability to exercise self control down the line, our self control runs out. And I think anyone who's ever been on a diet, or tried an exercise program probably can relate to that at some level.

Emma Shackleton  9:10  

So going back to our point about whether we should or shouldn't run anger management groups, we've got to think about what we said at the beginning. And that is that most interventions have repeat offenders. So kids who keep on coming back to the group when they're calm, they can talk all about what they should have done when they got mad, but they're rarely able to implement the strategies at the right time. So the missing ingredient that we've already talked about really is that kids need to learn about their physiology, so that they understand when to apply their anger management strategies. So the first thing we need to teach them is about self awareness and understanding that that big feeling is coming in time for them to put the strategy in place.

Simon Currigan  9:59  

That's all we have got time for on this Essentials episode, where we've looked at the effectiveness of running anger management interventions. If you'd like to know more about anger management interventions, what they actually look like in schools and the key to making them successful, pop back to the original episode. That's number 25. And I'll put a direct link to that in the show notes. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do, it prompts the algorithm to recommend School Behaviour Secrets to other listeners. That helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents who need this information. And while you've got your podcast app open, Do please remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)