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Explaining Emotions with an Anger Volcano

Updated on February 5, 2016

Green Zone vs Red Zone

When’s the last time you were so angry that you felt like you might explode? Maybe you did erupt, and a stream of foul language came out, or you hurt your toe kicking the wall. As adults, we understand our when we’re losing control, and (usually) know how to calm ourselves before we blow up. But understanding our feelings, and learning how to control them, can be difficult for children. If you have a spirited child like mine, you have probably seen many of these explosions.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Ed. D coined the term “spirited child” to describe kids who have a special tenacity, who are, as she says, “more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic.” My five-year-old daughter, who I’ll call Spirited here, definitely fits this description. (To learn more about spirited children, Kurcinka’s website is, she also has a Facebook page at .)

In her book Raising Your Spirited Child, Kurcinka discusses being in the green zone when you’re feeling calm, and being in the red zone when you’re angry and out of control. I tried to explain this concept to Spirited, but she wasn’t grasping it. Then I had a flash of brilliance, and came up with the Anger Volcano.

Here's what you'll need:

  • empty clear water bottle
  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • red food coloring
  • green marker (optional)
Allowing your child to pour in the vinegar helps engage
Allowing your child to pour in the vinegar helps engage

You probably see where this is going:

  1. Grab your water bottle. Mine is a reusable bottle with a green cuff. If you aren’t so lucky, you could draw a green line in marker around the halfway point of the bottle.
  2. Pour some baking soda into the bottle. I didn’t measure, but I estimate I added a fourth of a cup.
  3. Add some red food coloring to about a cup of vinegar. I used six drops.
  4. Put the bottle somewhere it can’t make a mess, like the sink or bathtub.
  5. Take a moment to explain that the water bottle is your child, and the red vinegar is things that make them angry.
  6. Quickly (but carefully) pour the vinegar into the bottle. The resulting foamy mix will shoot out the top of the bottle. As it does, explain that this is what happens when we get into the red zone. We lose control of ourselves, and our emotions explode out of us.
A simple chemical reaction demonstrates how when we're angry, we can lose control of ourselves, and get into the Red Zone.
A simple chemical reaction demonstrates how when we're angry, we can lose control of ourselves, and get into the Red Zone.

The Results

This demonstration really helped Spirited understand what I mean when I say green and red zones. She asked where other feelings, like sad or embarrassed, fit in. We decided that those feelings, along with tired, hungry, and sick, were in the middle, in a yellow zone. In the yellow zone, you don’t feel well, and it makes it easier for things to bother you and get you into the red zone.

The concept worked so well that the next time I told Spirited I was tired, she suggested I take a rest so I didn’t end up in the red zone. Giving her the words to understand her feelings is helping her gain control over them.

As a bonus, she said “Science is Awesome!” when I explained the chemical reaction.

How do you teach your child about emotions? Let us know in the comments!

Did you try the Anger Volcano? How did your child respond to it?

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