It’s OK to be Angry: Teaching Your Preschooler About Emotions

You’ve made it past the toddler tantrums and breath a big sigh of relief. Just when you think you’ve got this parenting business down—BAM—you have a full-fledged preschooler on your hands with a whole other set of behaviors and emotions to wade through.

In my years of working with preschoolers, I have encountered a lot of children who get angry and a lot of parents who are at a loss for how to help them. My method to help preschoolers work through anger is to teach them about ALL of their emotions—positive and negative. Because, let’s face it, we all get angry—adults, children and everyone in between. The difference between a three-year-old getting angry and a 33-year-old getting angry is that the adult has developed coping skills and is more aware of emotions. By giving children the words and coping skills to deal with their emotions, they will be less likely to have outbursts and more likely to understand it’s OK to be angry—it’s all about what you DO with your anger.

First of all, don’t hide your own emotions from your children. It’s important for children to know that everyone gets angry, everyone cries and everyone smiles. Talk about your emotions. You don’t have to divulge the details, simply state, “Mommy is sad right now because my phone is lost,” or “I am happy about having everyone home for dinner tonight,” is enough. Also, talk about your child’s emotions openly. You don’t have to justify or over explain their feelings. But saying, “I see you’re angry because we’re leaving the park,” is validating you understand how they feel.

Along with talking about your emotions, read books that help children put their emotions into words. Here are some books I love to read to my class year after year:

Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day


How Do You Make a Baby Smile

When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry

If You’re a Monster and You Know It

Finally, I have an Anger Box in my classroom. Kids can go to the Anger Box whenever they want to take a minute with their thoughts. I encourage them to use the Anger Box whenever I see they are getting upset or losing control of a situation. Parents in the past have asked, “Doesn’t having an Anger Box encourage them to be angry?” This answer is twofold. First, the reason the Anger Box is always accessible is because I don’t want children acting angry simply to go use it. Secondly, the Anger Box is giving them an opportunity to regain control of their anger, to identify their emotions and to develop coping skills.

What exactly is an Anger Box? It’s a box filled with various calming items for a child to use when they are feeling angry or emotional in any way. When my daughter was preschool age, I kept these items by a comfortable chair in the living room. In the classroom, it is in our quiet area. The idea of the Anger Box is not that it’s a punishment, but a way to teach children to work through their emotions in a healthy manner. The items I used with my daughter at home varied slightly from the items at school simply because I can’t monitor use of the Anger Box all the time at school.

Suggested Items for an Anger Box: 

  • Feeling Wheel
  • Picture cards with emotions on them (ALL emotions, positive and negative)
  • Various squishy items such as a foam ball or small pillow
  • Beads and string
  • Bubbles
  • Bubble wrap
  • Small pinwheel
  • Playdough
  • A small mirror
Of course, you can add other items you think your child would benefit from. I chose the bubbles and pinwheel because you need to take deep breaths to make them work and deep breathing is important for calming down. I chose the mirror so the children can see how they look when they are feeling various things and use the feeling wheel or emotion cards to help identify that feeling. Stringing beads takes concentration, as does popping bubble wrap one bubble at a time. Squishy items such as a foam ball or playdough are good for relieving tension. Can you think of anything else you would add?


  1. Jessica says

    What a great idea! My kindergartner has had some very angry days and a positive way to direct that emotion is just what we needed. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Lulu says

    awesome! I agree that it is really important to teach and acknowledge all their emotions, I’m going to start collecting for our anger box. Do you know of a good set of emotion flashcards?

    • Erin says

      Many websites online have printable ones. I like to go to the CSEFEL website as a resource for social emotional development. Also, you can simply use your word program to make your own printables.

  3. says

    This is such a genius idea! Thank you for this great article and we certainly will be having an anger box in our home! Wonderful idea!

  4. Veronica says

    Thank you so much for the book recommendations! My daughter loves to read and it has helped us teach her about so many things. She’s also got quite a temper so these books will definitely help us teach her to identify her emotions.

    • Erin says

      Great! I’m so glad you can use those book suggestions! Another book I just purchased two weeks ago is called Cool Down and Work Through Anger. It went over really well with my class!

  5. Dora Corley says

    thank you for sharing this, I work with a group of Asperger teens and am always looking for ways to help them manage frustration that easily turns to anger and this is great. I am going to help them make an anger box to keep at home to begin helping them manage their anger.

    • Erin says

      I am so happy that you’ll be able to find this useful! I had an Autistic child in my class last year and he kept some small squeezable toys in his bookbag for the bus. It seemed to really help him! Best of luck this school year!

  6. Amanda says

    I just requested How Do You Make a Baby Smile from my library to use for an upcoming storytime (I use Sophie and If You’re A Monster regularly with the toddlers and preschoolers). Thanks for the great ideas!

  7. says

    I made something similar for my 3 1/2 year old daughter. We call it the “Calm Down Caddy” and it includes many of the items you list plus stickers and craft store paper punches in various shapes. I let her help me put it together, pick out the caddy and stickers, etc. I was so excited for it and we had a talk about how it was to be used and why. We talked about recognizing her feelings before they get out of control. Regardless, more often than not, the Calm Down Caddy gets hurled across the room, aimed at my head spilling it’s contents as it flies. Short of a straight jacket, how do you stop that kind of destructive behavior? Talking with when she’s calm doesn’t have any affect. She knows she’s not SUPPOSED to act like that but she does it anyway. You can’t talk to her in the moment. Today’s tantrum went on for an hour and a half and resulted in her biting the knees out of a new pair of tights.

    • Erin says

      I wish I had better advice for those long tantrums. What I’ve tried with students who have tantrums and even my toddler when he’s upset is holding the child in a bear hug, trying to help the child calm his/her body down. Because sometimes, from what I’ve noticed, once they start spiraling into such an upset state, they aren’t going to be rational. It’s best to keep them and you safe. I’ve been trying to really focus on catching my toddler doing things right lately and giving him simple rewards such as a high five or a big hug. I also try to talk about appropriate behaviors when we aren’t in the heated moment of him chucking a toy across the room. I hope that can be some help! Let me know if you come up with any other strategies that could help our readers! Good luck. :-)

      • Thea says

        Someone once gave me this tip: have a box of old newspaper handy and teach your child to rip it to shreads, thus venting that energie.
        Another mom mentioned giving her kids pillows to hurl at and hit the couch with.
        If your kid likes music and dancing you might put on some loud music and just start dancing yourself (go crazy). Ignore your child while doing this thus giving them the opportunity to join in or not to join in (and vent the anger in a more fun way).
        Tantrums are a challenge and every kid responds to different things.

  8. Celeste Peckham says

    I am loving this and will be posting a link in my foster parents google groups. I think this also could be used in any age of foster kiddos. I am going to put one together for my kids and keep using when needed. Thanks for the wonderful idea!

  9. Rachel says

    Love this idea! I am in the works right now making one for my two kiddos and was online looking for more ideas. I also have silly putty and note cards they can draw or write their feelings on.

  10. says

    This is a great idea! My kids are much older now but I always allowed them to feel their feelings. If you’re mad that’s fine, but there is an appropriate way to deal with it. We can’t be happy all the time so it’s important to deal with all of our feelings in a healthy way. I’m going to pass this on to my friends that work with children or have young children!

  11. says

    We definitely had a preschooler who went through a phase of learning to handle his emotions and WE had to learn how to handle his emotions! We created a little space in his room where he could listen to music and sit in a rocking chair. The repetitive motion was a good way for him to calm down.
    I also love the angry box but I wonder sometimes about those kinds of names. Is it better to call it a calm down box? Just something I wonder.

  12. says

    We were big on embracing our emotions, happy, sad or angry. Kiddos will learn that it’s part of the human condition and that they are completely normal when they experience whatever emotion shows up.

  13. says

    This is terrific! I absolutely love the idea of the Anger Box, as well as the items that you put in it. After having taught preschool, kindergarten, and older grades, I know all too well that children have all kinds of emotions, and it is important to let them feel them. It is our job as parents and teachers to help them work through these emotions in an honest and productive way! I am pinning this into my “Raising Responsible Kids” board to use when my twins get a little older!
    -Dory from

  14. Cori says

    We’ve been making a “Feelings box” at our house. I labeled it that way to suggest that it’s okay to explore things in the box no matter how you’re feeling. You don’t have to be angry to use the things in the box. I also included glitter jars- watch the glitter settle to the bottom as you feel your anger/sadness/anxiety or whatever settle as well. I’m also including an mP3 player with a peaceful playlist, notebook for drawing out feelings, a card with a relaxation routine. I’m also thinking of putting in a lavender something for scent therapy. And also jokes or something silly as a little “pick-me-up” to snap us out of a funk. For my own use, I need to put in some good affirmations. I love the idea of using the box next to a rocking chair. I’m a believer in whole-body therapy, so I like to use as many senses as possible. What a great way to not only teach about emotions, but how to cope with them! Thank you for the help!!

    • Cori says

      Oh, I’m also including a piece of fabric that is comforting to each of my children (that is found on their security blanket), and of course I want to do anything that encourages talking emotions out with someone else. Even though it’s hard for me, as a mom to sit with them through issues, if they request it, I want to encourage a guided relaxation routine, or massage therapy while I listen and they get to just talk all they want. Or just be silent. I just want my kids to know that connecting with someone is a great coping strategy. Maybe in the form of coupons? Any ideas?

  15. Bridgette says

    i have made a sensory box for my son with autism/SPD, but I like some of the ideas you have here instead, especially the emotion cards. I bought a package of laminating sheets to use for my favorite tools and this will be one of them for sure!

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