Exploring Emotion with “No Fits, Nilson!”

No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora is the story of Amelia and her larger-than-life gorilla, Nilson, who is prone to some larger-than-life temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. Inspired by Ohora’s experiences with his own young children, it’s a wonderful exploration of emotion that reminds us that sometimes we can all use some help controlling our tempers.

This book is perfect for helping children explore their emotions and allowing them to have some creative release of emotion. It can also be used to give some techniques for helping to control outbursts.

Below are some questions and activity ideas to bring this story to life for young listeners.

Before reading, begin with a few questions.

  • Have you ever been angry before?
  • Can you remember a time you were angry? Why were you angry?    OR    What are some things that make you angry?

Be prepared for any answer. Kids are unpredictable! It might feel like you’re opening a can of worms with this question, but I think it’s important that children feel free to talk openly about their feelings rather than leaving them pent up.

  • When you get angry, what do you do? Show me. What happens to your body?

Help the children to see that anger usually leads to tense bodies.

Fists and teeth clench. Lips purse. Brows furrow.

You may ask the children to tense up different parts of their body until their whole body is tense. Then ask them to release the tension from each part. Ask them which way feels more comfortable — body tense or body relaxed. Help them to see that our feelings and our bodies are connected.

Next, tell the children that today you are going to read them a book about a gorilla with a big temper. Ask them if they can walk around the room as if they are gorillas (first with no sounds, then feeling free to add sounds). Before you begin, be sure to teach the children some cues so they know when to start and stop. (ie; When I say, “Gorilla Go!” you may begin. When I say “Gorilla Stop!” and raise my hands, you must freeze like a gorilla and be silent.) If you don’t establish these cues ahead of time, it may be hard to get back the attention of your wild gorillas!

Once they’ve had the chance to move around like gorillas, tell them to imagine that they are a very angry gorilla. Perhaps someone took the last banana that they were hoping for! Ask them to act like angry gorillas — but don’t forget to reinforce the cues before you start! Angry gorillas are even harder to control!

  • How did it feel acting like an angry gorilla? When you get angry, do you think it’s good idea to have a fit and act like an angry gorilla? Why or why not?

You may want to let children know that we can’t always control how we feel, but we can control how we respond to our feelings.

Read “No Fits, Nilson!”

After the reading, ask the children if they have any ideas of things they can do when they feel angry rather than having an angry outburst. Encourage them to use their imaginations. Silly answers are perfectly acceptable! Have a few ideas on hand in case they have trouble coming up with their own.

Can they count to three and take three big deep breaths?

Can they sing a favorite song?

Can they release all the tension from their body then wiggle like a blob of jello?

Can they freeze like their favorite animal?

You might follow this up with having them act like gorillas again. Use some of the scenarios in the book that lead Nilson to get frustrated. Say, “Nilson is angry because. . . . ! He’s about to have a fit, but then he stops himself by _________. ” Fill in the blank with some of the ideas that the children have come up with. Allowing the children to practice their anger-control strategies in a role play situation may be the first step to helping them respond positively when a real-life anger inducing situation arises.

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