How to Guide Children through Anger

Question

Sometimes my 9-year-old daughter will shout “I Hate You!” to one of her siblings, her friends or even to one of us.  How can we help her learn not to do this?

Answer

Many kids will say “I hate you” as an emotional reaction to something in their lives.  Let her know that it is a very serious and hurtful thing to say but don’t “react” to her “reaction.”

It’s clear that an emotional button has been pushed.  She is having some painful emotions but she doesn’t know how to express them

Begin with a short prayer asking God to help both of you understand what’s going on in her heart and mind.  Then ask her what happened and then listen.  Try to see through her eyes and feel with her heart.  Give her time to slow down, clarify and focus.  What might she be really feeling?

That reaction is an angry one, but don’t focus on her anger and don’t condemn her for her anger. Telling her not to be angry will only increase her frustration and anger.

Remember that anger is always a secondary emotion.  Underneath the anger is either hurt and/or frustration and/or fear.  The wise and patient parent can learn how to get beyond the primary emotion of anger, and identify whatever the primary emotion might be.

As soon as you identify it, you can then speak to her about the who, what, where, how and when of the event that caused the hurt, frustration or fear.  As you listen and seek to understand it you are helping her to understand it.

She’s not too young to understand that hurt people, hurt people . . . and that words do hurt.  What was she really trying to say?  What might be some better and kinder ways of expressing her hurt, frustration or fear?

As the two of you generate some options you can then role-play those with her.  This is a great opportunity to help her learn that we are responsible for whatever we say.  If she needs to apologize for what she said, you can help her understand why that is important and then rehearse what she wants to say.

In God’s hands and through the mind and heart of a wise parent, this can become an invaluable opportunity to teach her a variety of Biblical principles on understanding, listening, forgiving, asking for forgiveness and praying for others.

Be sure to end your time with her in prayer and let her know that she is loved by both of you and by her heavenly Father.

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