Sometimes I have no idea what to do... and maybe you feel the same way. One thing all parents have in common is that we have, at one time or another, experienced intense anger from our kids. The intense cry of a hungry newborn, the toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target, or the angry tween or teen who slams doors and calls you names. Anger, it's prevalent in our kids and it's frustrating for us as adults! So how do we handle it?
Anger in children, just like anger in adults as I talked about in last week’s blog, is primarily a matter of the heart. When kids are angry, they are seeking to protect what they love most, which in many cases is their own self worth, security or value or can even be a means of them trying to gain control. As a parent, I don’t always know how to help my kids in their anger. I found this information from CCEF’s Anger Conference to be super helpful!
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
The Bible is clear that we are not to provoke our children to anger. Often, provoking them to anger comes when our own sin, desire for control, or need for approval gets in the way. As you read the list below, take note of the ways you tend to provoke your child in anger and ask God to speak to you about why you do this.
10 Ways we as parents can provoke our children to anger
- Consistently demonstrating unrighteous anger towards them (holding them to higher standard than we hold ourselves - we expect them to have self control but don’t ourselves)
- Rarely repenting of our own anger to our children - Repent and ask your child to pray for you
- Pronouncements from on High: Yelling to them from another room to stop yelling, fighting, etc. God came down to rescue us and absorb our anger. Many times, anger can be avoided when we step in, talk calmly and work towards a solution together.
- Bate and Switch - we exasperate them when we change our expectations of what they should/should not do or their consequences without warning.
- Disciplining by the seat of our pants - making snap judgements about discipline in the heat of the moment (it then becomes punitive rather than restorative). Plan ahead and stay consistent. Don’t heap on extra punishments. Discipline needs to be corrective and work towards training.
- Parental Verbal Diarrhea - kids get frustrated when we use too many words!
- Rhetorical Questions - when we ask, “what’s wrong with you” or “what were you thinking” we are not looking for answers, we are looking to blame. Ask questions that get to their heart like, Why are you so angry? Or, What made you do ___?
- Film of Displeasure - viewing kids through a lens of anger or disappointment. They then feel like there is nothing they can do right and so they stop trying.
- Unrealistic expectations that that don’t take in their age or abilities.
- Lack of marital harmony - when the marriage is not secure, kids don’t feel safe.
So lets now look at how to address the heart behavior in our kids. How do we help our kids when they are angry? The key is not to build a better pharisee, but to tend to the matters of the heart like Jesus did. Ask questions, nurture them, allow them to express what is in their heart - what does he/she want, desire, fear? What is he/she not believing about God’s character and the gospel, who he is and what he has done? There are three levels (floors) to working through anger with your kids.
First Floor - Relational Health Strategies (build a solid foundation):
- Look for ways to accentuate your child’s strengths. How has God gifted your child and what are they doing right? Make a point of telling them. John Gottman’s research shows that kids need to hear five positives for every one negative - the five positives will outweigh the one negative in their mind. This shows that we are so much more likely to remember the negative. So remember, your words stick, and just like toothpaste, once they come out, they can’t be put back in the tube!
- Look for opportunities to enjoy your child - show physical affection, go on dates, etc.
- Look for ways to say YES to your child’s requests - God loves to lavish good gifts on his kids. If we are always saying no, the child feels like you aren't listening.
- PRAY - intensity of prayer is a sign of humble dependence on God and hope in his power. Repent of self dependence, thank God for your child, pray for the fruit of the Spirit in your child.
Second Floor: Preparing for the angry moments
Study your child
Know their triggers, know their heart and their fears. Recognize the pattern that comes before the blow up and seek to nip the anger in the bud. If your child is triggered by stress, exhaustion, hunger, then meet those needs before you address the heart issues. It makes so much more sense to postpone talking about an issue until a child is rested, fed or calm, allowing the best chance for impact and connection.
Be a student of your child’s weaknesses
- Weaknesses to look for: memory, ability to recognize/plan, transitions from one thing to another, flexibility or lack of, black and white thinker
- Be willing to step in and assist your child in their weaknesses to help them grow
- For example: one of my kids isn’t a self starter. Sometimes when I ask him to clean his room, he just melts down. It is too overwhelming. I know this about him. So I can fight him, or I can go into the room and give him direction and we can work together. The second way is much faster and more enjoyable for both of us!
Scripture gives us ways to deal with stubborn, self willed children
We have to remember that God, the perfect Father deals with each of us, calmly and lovingly. Here are some ways God reacts to our sinfulness and strong wills:
- God sets limits, he disciplines, he expects standards to be met
- He shows mercy Exodus 32:14, and relents Hosea 11:8
- He pleas, he woos, he reasons Isaiah 1:18-19
- He weeps Jeremiah 22:4, Micah 1:8
- He delays judgement Romans 3:25
- He doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve
- He pursues us as his enemy and wins us with sacrificial love Romans 5:8
Floor Three: Ways to deal with anger in the moment:
- Reconsider: What is your sin as the parent in the situation. Are you humble enough to consider that you may have made the wrong decision and are you willing to change your mind? Admit your fault. Often, a great deal of anger can be avoided if you are willing to admit you made the wrong decision and ask for forgiveness.
- Pause: Give child time to exercise self reflection and think time. Find a place where they can calm down and get some self control (predetermine the place and or activity ahead of time when they are not angry). A pause helps you compose yourself and pray.
- Humor/Laughter disarms the child. Tickling them calms them down, provides a window of time to reconsider, shows your love for them, talk later when things are calm.
- Collaboration -Ross Green, The Explosive Child: Address both parent’s concerns and child’s concerns in a calm setting so everyone is heard. Work together towards a solution. Notice patterns and point them out to your child and ask for their collaboration in the solution before the pattern happens.
Overall, remember that the gospel has an answer for every hurt, every pain, every problem. Just like you, your child is a sinful, selfish mess who is more loved by our Father and savior Jesus Christ than he/she could ever imagine. Grace abounds for him/her and may you be the reflection of that grace. Call upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom, patience, love, peace, kindness, and all of the fruits that come from him living within you and know that he will give the same to your child!
Much of the information was taken from CCEF’s Teaching on Children and Anger: 2005 Conference Redeeming Anger in a World Gone Mad. Mike Emlet: Helping Angry Children. Listen to it on CCEF's Website.