The use of food in an anger management class

The use of food in an educational setting can contribute to a positive experience for participants.

As someone who practiced clinical therapy with children, adolescents and families for many years, I always knew that the use of food in the form of a simple snack or a piece of candy contributed to building a nurturing environment between a client and practitioner. I started out using it sparingly, but then I noticed that clients would ask for it or wonder where it was when I didn’t have it available. While I do not practice clinical therapy in my work delivering anger management with Michigan State University Extension, I have learned that the use of food can have the same impact and significance in an educational environment as it did in a therapeutic environment.

Here are some of the benefits of having a small snack or candy available to participants in an anger management class:

Food is nurturing and does not judge. I work with many court-ordered adults in large urban areas and they have apprehension and even anger about having to attend the class, even when it is a condition of their successful completion of probation or incarceration. The food acts as my way of “saying” welcome and “this just might be a non-threatening environment if you give it a chance” – without having to say the words.

Food is comforting when participants are nervous. Anger management class is an interactive workshop, but often participants are reluctant to share, open up or discuss their experiences because they are nervous or agitated. I have observed them as they much on the candy or snack and use it as a way of soothing or calming their nerves. Many human beings use food as a comfort mechanism and it can be functional as long as it is not abused.

Finally, having a snack available helps me lighten the mood of the class and build quick repoire with participants who I don’t have the ability to spend one-on-one time with. Sometimes the subject matter gets heavy and participants can feel threatened, so I say something like, “let’s pass the candy bowl” or “who needs a candy break” to lighten the tone. It works every time to bring the class back to the center where I need it to be.

Ultimately, I want participants to benefit from the class and if the candy helps with their ability to feel comfortable, welcome or unthreatened then I will keep using it. A few weeks ago, I forgot to have a snack because I was in such a rush and several participants asked me where it was. I was not surprised and was certain to bring it the next class. I have never had a single participant turn it down – even if they don’t eat it in the moment, they always say, “I’ll just take a piece for later.”

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