For the past week or more, something has been building up in me. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but I knew that it was making me feel uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. Leaving the house to collect Little Chick, I turned on an audiobook I had failed to finish for several weeks. As I opened the gate, the recording resumed, a gentle pause followed by the narrator’s calm steady voice.
“Balloon of anger.”
For a second, it felt that the words had conjured up a balloon, large and red in my mind’s eye, which immediately burst. The figurative explosion literally made me jump.
I was angry. I was filled with anger. I was full to the point of bursting.
Continuing through the gate, I headed into town, the words and blood simultaneously pounding in my ears as I strode purposefully. The audiobook, An introduction to play therapy, could not have been timelier. Reaching the section of possible activities to help children, I realised that I needed help. I was angry and I wasn’t dealing with it properly. I’ve never dealt with it properly.
How can I help Little Chick deal with his anger when I can’t or won’t deal with my own anger?
Identifying my anger was a breakthrough. Using the exercise to manage my anger was a further step in the right direction. But there is still a long way to go. It seems I have been angry about a lot of things and a lot of people for a long time and that is not going to change overnight. But discovering the balloon of anger exercise put me on the right path and helped me release some of that anger in a controlled, healthy way. In time, it is an exercise I can use with Little Chick, but I must help myself before I can help him.
Balloons of Anger
It is crucial to help children understand what anger is and how to release it appropriately. Balloons of Anger (by Tammy Horn; see Kaduson & Schaefer, 1997, pp. 250–253) is an enjoyable, effective technique that provides children with a visual picture of anger and the impact that it can have upon them and their environment. It allows the children to see how anger can build up inside of them and how, if it is not released slowly and safely, anger can explode and hurt themselves or others.
Materials needed: balloons.
First, the child blows up a balloon, and then the therapist helps tie it. Second, the therapist explains that the balloon represents the body, and that the air inside the balloon represents anger. The therapist asks the child, “Can air get in or out of the balloon?” “What would happen if this anger (air) was stuck inside of you?” “Would there be room to think clearly?” Third, the therapist tells the child to stomp on the balloon until it explodes and all of the anger (air) comes out. Fourth, the therapist explains that if the balloon were a person, the explosion of the balloon would be like an aggressive act (e.g., hitting a person or object). The therapist asks the child if this seems like a safe way to release anger.
Next, the child blows up another balloon, but instead of tying it, the child pinches the end closed. The therapist tells the child to slowly release some of the air and then pinch it closed again. (The child will love the noise that the air makes as it slowly seeps out.) The therapist asks the child, “Is the balloon smaller?” “Did the balloon explode?” “Did the balloon and the people around the balloon stay safe when the anger was released?” “Does this seem like a safer way to let the anger out?” At the end of the activity, the therapist again explains that the balloon represented anger. By talking about what makes us angry and by finding ways to release the anger appropriately, the anger comes out slowly and safely. The therapist reminds the child that if he or she allows anger to build up inside, it can grow and explode and possibly harm the child or someone else. The therapist then discusses various anger management techniques.
Balloons of Anger is effective for aggressive children who have difficulty controlling their anger and for withdrawn children who internalize their anger instead of expressing it. This technique can be used in an individual or a group format. Bottle Rockets, by Neil Cabe (see Kaduson & Schaefer, 2001, pp. 282–284), is a variation of this technique that uses exploding canisters to demonstrate what occurs when anger is not released slowly and safely.
Tara M. Hall, Heidi Gerard Kaduson, Charles E. Schaefer. Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2002, Vol. 33, No. 6, 515–522