Dealing with Anger in Children
1. Help Your Children Be Aware of Their Anger.
Justin would not be considered an angry child. He rarely appears to be angry. One of the many myths regarding anger is that if a person doesn’t look or appear to be angry on the outside, then he or she doesn’t have a problem with anger; he or she is clearly not an angry person. But while Justin does not appear to be an angry person on the outside, he is like a battlefield on the inside.
If he has had a difficult day at school, Justin is more quiet when he comes home and tends to isolate himself in his room. He is more likely to be negative and critical of everything and everyone. His mom has learned to watch for these symptoms. When she sees them, she knows that this is frequently the way Justin acts when he is angry.
How often are you aware of your children being angry? What situations do they encounter that might make them more vulnerable to anger? How do their bodies respond to anger? What are their physical manifestations of anger? How do they treat others when they are angry? What is unique about the ways in which each of your children experience and express anger?
2. When Your Children Are Aware of Being Angry, Help Them Process Their Anger.
When your children are feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions, it is tempting as parents to jump in and want them to get over it. This is especially true with the emotion of anger. Even the best parents are tempted to give their children advice and tell them what to do.
However, when our children are in the midst of powerful emotions, they have a hard time listening to anyone. The last thing our children want is advice or criticism; they want to be understood. They want us to understand what they are feeling. Many parents have found that simply taking the time to sit down and listen to the child is enough to release his or her angry feelings.
Make sure you pick the right time to talk to your children. Take into account their personality types, most extroverts like to process things externally. They like to talk about things right away. Most introverts prefer to process things internally. They like to think about it before they talk about it. Being insensitive to your child’s preferred way of processing anger could only increase frustration and thus increase his or her anger, making it more difficult if not impossible to deal with.
Eventually, you will be able to help your children develop other words for their anger. When your children say, “I’m angry,” you can respond by asking, “Do you think your anger is from being afraid, hurt or frustrated?”
3. Help Your Children Admit Their Anger and Accept Responsibility for It.
We live in a society of victims. Nothing is ever my fault; it’s always somebody else’s fault. When “everyone else” is responsible, then no one is responsible. One of the characteristics of a godly person is the ability to take responsibility for his or her actions. If sin was involved, the person should confess it and seek to make it right. This is especially true with the emotion of anger.
We can teach our children that when we are angry, it is easy for us to blame someone else and say, “It’s your fault; you made me angry.” This is especially true with brothers and sisters. If your child has a brother or sister, that child has a built-in cause for all of his or her problems.
But as our children see us take responsibility for our anger, as they see us be angry and yet not sin, as they see us speak the truth in love, it is more likely that they will follow our example. Over time we can teach our children that though other people can say or do things that cause hurt or frustration, we are responsible for how we choose to respond. If we are angry, the anger is ours, and choosing how to express it is our responsibility.
4. Help Your Children Decide Who or What Will Have Control.
This is a very important step for both children and adults. However it’s a bit more difficult for children. They haven’t had the time to develop some of the discipline and control; that we adults have. They don’t have the understanding of consequences that we do. But this is their opportunity to learn discipline and control.
When our children become aware that they are angry, we can help them learn that they are faced with a choice. They can either allow the emotion of anger to dominate and control them, or they can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, choose to control the anger and invest the anger-energy in healthy ways.
A simple yet powerful response can be, “Honey, I can tell that you’re feeling a lot of anger right now. It’s OK to experience anger, I’m glad you are able to talk about your anger. It sounds like you’ve got some good reasons to be angry. Now you need to decide: Are you going to let your anger control you, or do you want to control your anger? Do you remember what happened last week when you let your anger get out of control? Do you want that to happen again? Would you like me to pray with you to ask God to help you deal with your anger in a healthy way?”
Obviously, they way you talk to your children depends on how old they are and where they are in the process of their individual emotional development. But however you choose to express it, your children can be helped to understand that as soon as they are aware of their anger, they can and need to make a decision to either control their anger and deal with it constructively or let their anger get out of control and lead to more problems.
5. Help Your Children Identify and Define the Cause or Source of the Anger.
Children get angry for many of the same reasons adults get angry. Anger is a normal response to all kinds of daily events that can produce fear, hurt, and frustration. Be careful not to overreact to your child’s anger. Remember that anger is a secondary emotion.
Ask yourself these questions: Where is the anger coming from? What’s the real issue? What is his or her anger about? Often a child’s anger is communicating a need that he or she is communicating a need that he or she may not be aware of. Your son or daughter may be frightened, sad, insecure or confused and it comes out as anger.
Once your child has become aware of his or her anger and has had time to cool down, it’s often possible to begin exploring the cause of anger. When you begin this process, your child may be clueless about what triggered the anger response. But as you talk about fears, hurts, insults, rejection and disappointments, the door of awareness and recognition will often open.
Take time to explore what happened on that day or on the previous several days. Listen. Ask questions. Let your child ramble. As you take the time to understand, you will help your daughter or son understand themselves. At the same time, you will communicate your love, support and encouragement.
6. Help Your Children Choose Their Responses and Develop Their Own Solutions.
Anger can be dealt with in many ways. Some are constructive; some are destructive. Some of the destructive ways to deal with anger are to stuff, deny, suppress or repress it. One of the most destructive ways of dealing with anger is to ventilate it or dump it on someone else. Ventilating anger tends to increase rather than decrease it. That’s why it is important for us to help our kids move from a “what’s the problem?” mode to a “what can I do about it?” mode.
One way to initiating the sixth step might be to say, “Julie, now that you know your anger came from being frustrated with your brother, you can decide what you’re going to do about your frustration. What would you like to do?”
As much as possible, allow children to develop their own solutions to their problems. You may have to prime the pump a bit more with younger children, but as they get older they will develop their own wide range of responses to choose from. If Julie didn’t have any ideas, you could say, “I can think our four different ways you can handle frustration. If you want to hear them, I’d be happy to share them with you. Think about it and let me know.”
7. Help Your Children Review Their Response to the Anger.
This is a step that many parents leave out. For years I was one of those parents. After a couple of days have passed, ask your child what he or she learned about dealing with anger from what happened. What went well? What would he or she like to have done differently? What did he or she learn? What would he or she like to do next time?
This conversation doesn’t need to take more than a few minutes. It should involve what the child learned and now what you as a parent think the child should have learned. The brief conversation can easily turn into a lecture; if that happens, you’ve undermined the process and robbed your son or daughter of a great learning experience.
Remember that learning how to understand and deal with emotions is a lifelong process. I know I am still working at understanding and dealing with my own emotions, and so are you. It takes time, trial, and error, but the product is worth the process. Encourage each little step your child takes, congratulate your child whenever possible. Praise him or her for even making an effort in a healthy direction.
During these times, remember that Romans 8:28 is true. God can cause all things to work together for good- your disappointments, your discouragements, even your mistakes. In fact, the act of being open and honest about your own emotions can provide a powerful learning experience for your children. It lets them know that you are human. It shows them in practical ways that what you are telling them really works. When you see that you can learn from your mistakes, they see that can learn from theirs.
Taken with permission from H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver’s book, Raising Kids To Love Jesus.