Nicole shook her head in dismay. She was at a loss on how to control her 8-year-old son Justin. He seemed to get angry very often and this worried her. That day he had gotten into a fight at school, yelled at his little sister and even kicked the dog. She sent him to his room and minutes later discovered that he had torn his sheets off the bed and knocked his lamp to the floor. “How will I handle him when he is a teenager—and bigger than me,” she wondered as she looked at Justin’s scowling face.
Have you ever felt as Nicole did on that very bad day? Are you at a loss as to how to help your child with his or her anger? What insights can God’s Word give us in raising our children? Are you practicing loving authority in your child rearing and how can that help your angry child? Below are some questions to ask yourself and tips to guide you in helping him or her.
It won’t just happen
The first step is finding out why your child becomes angry. In some cases children who appear angry are actually sad or depressed. Anger may also be a response to feelings of low self-esteem or anxiety. Has there been a significant change in your child’s life or are there stressful situations that could be affecting him or her? If your child exhibits extreme unresolved anger or shows signs of anxiety or depression, it would be wise to talk to a mental health professional.
In most cases, however, angry children have just never been taught how to control this powerful emotion. One of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their children is self-control. You can teach your child self-control by giving guidelines as to the behaviors that are expected and then, with loving authority, correcting them for disobedience. This may seem harsh and not in line with what some psychologists will tell you. However, God instructs us to discipline our children. Notice Proverbs 29:17 Proverbs 29:17Correct your son, and he shall give you rest; yes, he shall give delight to your soul.
American King James Version×, “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul.” Also Proverbs 19:18 Proverbs 19:18Chasten your son while there is hope, and let not your soul spare for his crying.
American King James Version×states, “Chasten your son while there is hope.”
If you allow your child to have temper tantrums at a young age, you may be setting the stage for lifelong problems with anger management. Many feel that their children will outgrow their angry outbursts, so they fail to teach anger management skills. Unfortunately, this seldom occurs, and angry toddlers eventually become angry, hard-to-control teens. The best time to teach anger control is while your child is young and easily moldable.
Skillful parents learn the balance between teaching their children self-control and helping them to develop self-esteem. Authoritarian parents often focus on strict obedience to rules, and their children can end up feeling unloved. This can lead to feelings of anger and even rebellion as their child gets older. Parents who are strict in an unloving way can actually provoke their children to anger or discouragement. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:4 Ephesians 6:4And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
American King James Version×, “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21 Colossians 3:21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
American King James Version×states, “Fathers, do not provoke your children [to anger], lest they become discouraged.”
Permissive parents are often more focused on their child’s self-esteem and therefore discipline less. In many cases these children develop very little self-control, which will undoubtedly cause problems throughout their lives.
Parents who are balanced give their children unconditional love, but they also set high standards of obedience and self-control by utilizing loving authority. Not only do these parents set and enforce rules, but they also listen to their children’s feelings and encourage them.
Now that we have discussed some basics of effective parenting, we can focus on specific points to help you with your child’s anger problems. First, realize that anger is a God-given human emotion and that it is unhealthy to suppress feelings of anger. Your focus should be on teaching your child how to manage his or her angry feelings in appropriate ways. It is also important that you teach and encourage attitudes of love, sharing and forgiveness in your child. This will help him or her to develop the mind of God and, consequently, become angry less often. With this in mind, here are some tips.
Listen and help your child to understand his or her feelings
Allow your child to feel angry and listen to how he or she feels. For very young children, you may even need to help them express their feelings and understand why they feel as they do. For example, if your toddler knocks down a block tower, you can help him understand and learn to cope with the frustration by stating, “I know you’re angry because you knocked down your tower. I can help you build another one, or we can put the blocks away and find something else to play with that will help you feel better.”
In this short conversation you have helped your child to understand his or her feelings, and you have also taught a coping skill of doing something different when you are angry or frustrated. Many adults have learned to do this very thing. For example, if they become frustrated when the lawn mower won’t start, they will do something else for a while.
Teach your child how to respond when angered
The best way to teach is to model the correct way to respond to angry feelings. If you “blow up” in anger periodically, your child will likely learn to respond the same way. You should also use actual situations as teachable moments. For example, if your son smashed his sister’s dollhouse when she took his toy car, explain that it is okay to feel angry, but damaging his sister’s property is not okay. You should then tell him what he should do in that situation. Offer other ways for him to express his anger.
You might say something like, “Here’s what I do when I get angry. I take a deep breath and slowly count to five. This gives me time to calm down so that I don’t do something that I will feel sorry for later.” You may also say, “Instead of damaging your sister’s property when you’re mad, tell me about what happened, or warn her that you will tell on her if she doesn’t return your car.”
If your child is small, it can be effective to use puppets or dolls to model the correct way to respond when angered. You also can use humor to make the example funny to your child. For older children, reading or telling a story can be quite effective. The story should model the correct way to handle frustration and anger.
It is also important to teach your child how to relieve feelings of tension and anger. That can include engaging in an activity such as a sport or exercise, preferably outdoors. It may be helpful to provide physical outlets for your child, such as regularly going to the gym to shoot basketball hoops or running in the park.
Older children can be encouraged to write in a journal to express their feelings. If they are angry because of what someone has done to them, teach them about writing a letter to the person, with the intention of mailing or not mailing the letter. Letter writing is a very effective tool to help children process their feelings. By putting their true feelings down on paper they are able deal with their emotions effectively. Younger children can create a picture journal to express their feelings.
Set and enforce rules and guidelines with loving authority
Ideally, setting rules and guidelines for appropriate behavior should be done at a time when your child is not angry. You should not only set clear rules, but also state the consequences for disobedience. For example, you may tell your children that they must not hit a brother or sister when angry. Tell them that if they do so, they will have to accept the consequences, which would be some form of punishment. Be as specific as possible so that your children will clearly understand the consequences of their actions. If you want success, it is very important that you consistently enforce the stated punishment.
Praise your child and reward with love and affection
Make it a point to find situations when your child has successfully handled anger or a frustrating situation and praise him or her. For example, you might say, “I liked the way that you did not get mad when your sister took your toy car.”
Also look for others areas to praise your child, and make sure you are giving him or her a lot of affection. Unfortunately, some children act aggressively just to get a parent to give them attention. Could this be true for your child? If you want your child to be successful, it is important to give him or her adequate praise and attention. At times you may even want to reward your child for behaving appropriately by giving a special gift or activity to enjoy.
When possible, control your child’s environment
This would include the children that he plays with, as well as the media he is exposed to. If a neighborhood child is aggressive and angry, it would be wise not to allow your child unsupervised playtime opportunities.
Also carefully monitor and limit television viewing, since it is often filled with angry and violent characters. Recent studies have shown that children can become more aggressive when they watch too much television. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that children under the age of 2 should not watch television at all and that older children should watch only one to two hours of educational, nonviolent television programming a day.