I watched the two six-year-old boys interact with each other aggressively. One of them then pushed the other. His face got very tight, his eyes wide. I said his name loudly and he turned to me. I asked him to come over to talk.

We sat away from the group and I took a breath. I reminded him of our after-school class rules, that we have to keep our hands to ourselves. I reminded him that we can never push another one of our friends in class. I asked him what happened. “I’m angry,” the boy said. “Really angry.” I took another breath and told him it’s okay to be angry, but we still can’t act that way when we feel anger. “It’s not okay to be angry,” the boy said. I asked him why it wasn’t okay to be angry. The boy didn’t have an answer.

I asked the boy if his anger had an animal or a color. The boy said red. I asked the boy if he could imagine giving “red” a hug. His shirt happened to be red. The boy wrapped his arms around himself. His body language changed and his shoulders dropped a little. I asked the boy how he felt. “A little better,” he said. I repeated to the boy again that it is okay to feel anger – but it is not okay to push or use our hands against another friend in our after-school class. I told the boy that when he feels that anger again, he needs to let an adult know, and find a safe place where he can give his anger a hug. Where he can take a deep breath like we practice in class, and calm down.

It’s almost impossible to reach anyone when they are feeling a heightened sense of emotion. It’s important to not only teach mindfulness skills to children but to help them learn how to use them in their real-life situations. For primary school students, intense anger can be a catalyst for negative behavior. The anger, however, is not what’s wrong. We can’t “get rid” of feelings, at least not in a healthy way. Learning to “be with” our emotions, especially the challenging ones, can be a great step towards learning a healthier strategy for when we feel extremely activated and overwhelmed.