Today I am pleased to introduce to you a guest post from Ginger Hubbard, author of, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!
Getting to the Heart of Anger in Children
With a society that puts so much emphasis on the feelings of children, their self-esteem and their freedom to express themselves, it would seem that children would not be so consumed with anger these days. However, we are witnessing more and more children with all sorts of anger-related problems, leaving parents to wonder how they lost control, what went wrong and why their children are so bitter, stubborn and rebellious. These feelings and behaviors are full-blown results of a seed of anger that was nurtured and allowed to grow rather than weeded out.
Anger that is left unchecked and not biblically handled matures and expresses itself more consistently, establishing a bondage that slowly enslaves its victim.
Parents are wise to evaluate whether or not they are modeling sinful anger through their own words and actions, consider ways they might be provoking their children to anger and learn to respond to angry children with a heart-oriented, biblical approach.
Parents are often responsible for the habits of their children. Angry parents can lead to angry children. One way parents model anger is by scolding.
It was a cold day in February when my children asked if they could go outside to play. I gave them permission but instructed them to put on their coats and shoes first. My daughter Alex has always loved to play outside barefooted, so as she whizzed by, I confirmed my orders by repeating, “Don’t forget to put on your shoes.”
Twenty minutes later, as I was taking the trash outside, what should I find but Alex, running around on bare feet that had turned a bluish-purple color. To make matters even worse, she was sporting pants that were a little too long for her legs so without shoes, she was stepping on them. The results? Two holes in her brand new pants. To put it mildly, I was ticked. It may have been cold, but the heat building up in Momma could have warmed the whole neighborhood.
Alex had chosen to directly disobey me, but I, too, had a choice.
Option one: I could scold her by yelling, “Alex, I TOLD you to put your shoes on! Now your feet are HALF FROZEN and just LOOK at what you’ve done to your pants! YOUR DADDY works so hard to buy you these clothes, and THIS is how you show your appreciation! You just see how fast you can get your tail in your room! You are in major trouble young lady!”
Option two: I could biblically reprove her in love by gently saying, “Alex, Honey, I told you to put on your shoes before you went outside. Have you obeyed or disobeyed?” Then, after she acknowledges that she has disobeyed, I could say, “Well, Sweetheart, God says that children are to obey their parents, and I love you too much to allow you to disobey. You need to go to you room, and I’ll be there in a minute.”
To which response do you think she will be more receptive? Which one shows unconditional love and careful instruction? Which one will she learn from without being provoked to anger?
Scolding is an angry response that stirs anger into the hearts of children. We are told in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
A wise parent will avoid scolding in order to model gentleness and self-control.
Paul warned parents to not provoke their children to anger in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This verse contradicts those who would have us to believe that discipline leads a child to anger. Through Paul, we learn that in order to avoid provoking our children to anger we must bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Part of this training and instructing involves loving, gentle and consistent biblical discipline. King Solomon, known as the wisest man on earth, confirmed, “A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
There are many other ways a parent might unintentionally provoke his/her child to anger such as: lack of marital harmony, maintaining a child-centered home, being inconsistent with discipline, being legalistic, not admitting or asking forgiveness when they are wrong or constantly finding fault. Parents do well to consider ways they could be provoking their children to anger.
Responding to Anger
Anger is a God-given emotion. It is not always sinful. The Bible does not say, “Do not become angry.” It says, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger becomes sinful when it dwells within the heart or outwardly attacks someone. It is important that children understand their anger and learn to express themselves without sinning. When your child demonstrates anger, consider the following three steps:
Ask your child heart-probing questions. Rather than simply asking, “Why are you so angry?” ask more thought-provoking questions such as, “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” or “What happened that caused you to become angry?” These type questions help to move beyond behavior and words by getting to the heart of the matter.
Discuss an alternative to sinful anger. Help your child learn to demonstrate self-control while angry. You might ask, “Sweetheart, rather than hitting your sister, what would have been a better response?” You may have to make suggestions such as, “When your sister grabbed your toy without asking, perhaps you could have calmly asked her to return it. If she refused to respond to your appeal to do the right thing, you are welcome to come to me for intervention. Do you think this would have been a better and more self-controlled response?”
Have your child practice an alternative. Children learn by doing. When they put head knowledge into practice it becomes part of their lives. The training sticks better when they learn how to use it in a hands-on situation. Role-play the situation where your child demonstrated anger by re-enacting the whole scene, guiding both children in biblical resolution that leads to peace. Keep in mind, when children are learning to resolve conflict biblically by communicating with self-control, you may need to demonstrate appropriate words and tone of voice. It’s okay to have your children repeat your words in order for them to understand what self-controlled responses look and sound like.
When parents are willing to model self-control, resist provoking their children to anger and respond to anger with a heart-oriented approach, they are more likely to raise emotionally healthy children.