“When I feel anger start to roar, I take a deep breath and count to four...”
In The Lion in Me, the latest picture book from educator Andrew Nance, author of the bestselling Puppy Mind, a young boy learns to calm his ferocious anger. Using deep breaths, he realizes the lion inside--his growling anger--can be tamed. With illustrations by Jim Durk, whose work includes Puppy Mind and many of the Clifford the Big Red Dog and Thomas the Steam Engine books.
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Anger is one of the most challenging and easily accessible emotions for many of us. It is the bodyguard of grief, embarrassment, frustration, fear, shame, hurt, and loneliness. It can also be stated that anger is a “secondary emotion,” protecting us from what the body and brain think of as the weaker emotions. When we are sobbing, we are much more vulnerable than if we were enraged.
Remember: Every emotion is okay, but every action is not. Anger, of all the emotions, is the one that tends to get us into the most trouble if we are not skillful when it shows up. The first step is to even notice the sensations of anger activating within the body so that those signals can inform us of what next to do wisely with this information the body is giving us. If we can begin to notice when anger begins to growl within us, we can prevent an “attack” and guide Anger with care when it wants to roar.
CHECK IN QUESTIONS (from Mindful Arts in the Classroom):
In the story what is the name of the lion? That’s right, ANGER!
Do you remember how this child helped tame his lion? First he named it, then what? He tamed it! He did S.T.O.P. didn’t he? He Stopped his body, Tried to breathe, Observed his feelings (anger), and then Peacefully proceeded.
Where do you feel anger show up in your body first? Your fists? Your belly? Do you feel hot or cold? Big or small? Does your heart beat fast or slow? Is your mind busy or still? Do you feel relaxed or tense? Do you feel in control or out of control? When your angry do you take deep breaths or shallow breaths?
What other strategies did the child use to help calm down when they were angry? They read a book, or took a walk, or talked to to an adult.
When do you get angry? (Adults: give examples of when you get angry, such as when you make a mistake, when someone cuts you off while driving, or when your dog doesn’t listen to you etc,.)
When does your angry lion wake up? When someone takes your things without asking? When an adult tells you that you can’t do something? When else do you feel angry?
Practice: The Lion in Me
Shall we see if we can find our own lion inside us? Let’s pretend we are getting angry. What does anger look like on you? Do your fists clench? Does your face change? How does your stomach feel? Is it tight? Do your legs get tight? Are you holding your breath? Do you feel your lion stirring? Let’s stomp our feet.
Now let’s take a slow deep breath and imagine that it calms our own lion down just a little. One more breath. With every breath, imagine your lion getting more and more relaxed until finally it curls up and goes back to sleep. Imagine your shoulders, arms and hands relaxing, your stomach relaxing, your legs and feet relaxing, and your face relaxing. Every part of your body is getting softer.
Can you even imagine your lion fading away like a cloud? Let’s bring a small smile to our faces, so I can see that all the lions have faded away. Breathe. Let’s shake our shoulders and hands gently to release any last bits of tension. in our bodies.
Good job everyone.
If in a classroom setting, invite volunteers up one at a time. Ask them to think of something that annoys them: perhaps when a friend takes their stuff, or when they don’t get what they want at the store. They don’t have to tell you what it is, but when they are ready ask them to allow their angry lion out. When the lion is really raging, instruct the rest of the class to help tame the volunteer’s inner beast by QUIETLY saying to them, “Take a breath” several times in unison until the volunteer starts to calm their angry lion. Invite them to shake their shoulders and smile before returning to their seat.
OPTIONAL: Additional information on anger for third grade and older children
Did you know that anger could be covering up another emotion, like sadness or fear or embarrassment? When I get mad when I am driving, I am really just scared I might be hurt by another driver; or when I am mad at my dog, I am really just afraid he won’t listen to me and get hurt, or sick, or run away.
When we get angry our brain tries to make us strong like a superhero, but the problem is that when we get angry our brain stops working well and we make bad decisions— we might say something mean to someone—or worse, we might want to hit them! We become more like a super villain than a superhero!
Everyone gets angry sometimes, but the next time our lion decides to try to take over our mind and body, we will know what to do: We will notice our lion stirring and we will slowly breathe over and over until we start to feel calm again.
Other ways to help tame our anger are to take a walk; shake off the tension in our hands; do kind self-talk; talk to a friend or an adult; self-hug; self-massage; or put our hands on our stomach and take a breath. Talking to the person that frustrated us and forgiving them for making a mistake. These things can all help us calm down. How do you calm down when you are angry?
(Try brainstorming to suggest additional ideas to calm the angry lion: go to a designated place in the classroom such as a Peace Corner; shake a glitter jar and watch the glitter moving; use a Breathing Ball [Mini Hoberman Sphere] or a Squishy Ball; smell a pleasant fragrance; lie down, relax, and use an eye pillow.)
Because here is a secret:
When we calm down, our smarts go up and we start to make better choices! When we get angry, or “flip our lid,” a part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) actually stops communicating with other parts of our brain, so when we take a slow deep breath we bring oxygen to our brain, and it can begin to work better!
Here is another important tool to use when we notice we are getting mad: Speak up, and say how you are feeling. “I feel mad when you try to take my toy or when you are mean to me.” Then see if you can forgive them for their mistake.
Those are just a few ideas for you to think about the next time the lion wants to take over!
Many adults are very uncomfortable when they witness a child crying. Here are 10 things to say instead of “Don’t cry!”: 1. It’s OK to be sad. 2. This is really hard for you. 3. I’m here for you. 4. Tell me about it? 5. I hear you. 6. That was really scary, sad, etc. 7. I will help you work it out. 8. I’m listening. 9. I hear that you need space, I’ll stay close so you can find me when you’re ready. 10. It doesn’t feel fair.
With every breath, we can decide the type of person we want to be.
We can decide to be our own Lion Tamer. We don’t need to get rid of our anger; we just don’t want it taking us over so quickly so that we make bad choices.