We have two young boys who are 19 months apart and they both struggle with anger. We’re doing a better job at managing our anger but need some help in teaching our boys how to deal with their anger. Any suggestions?
The critical first step is that we as parents understand the emotion of anger and are learning how to make that God-given emotion work for us rather than against us. Based on the foundation of we as parents modeling healthy anger, here are seven specific steps we’ve found valuable and many other parents have told us were helpful in their families.
- Help them be aware of their anger. How often are you aware of your children being angry? What situations 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 experiences and expresses anger?
- When they are aware of being angry, help them process their anger. Many parents have found that simply taking the time to sit down and listen to their child is enough to release the angry feelings. Pick a good time to talk with them. Take into account their personality type. Most extroverts like to process things externally. Most introverts prefer to process things internally and then talk about it. Being insensitive to your child’s preferred way to process their anger could only increase their frustration and thus increase their anger, making it more difficult if not impossible to deal with. Over time you can help your children develop other words for their anger. When your child says, “I'm angry,” you can respond by asking, “Do you think your anger is from your being afraid, hurt, or frustrated?”
- Help them admit their anger and accept responsibility for it. As they 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 follow our example. Over time we can teach our children that while 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 it is our anger and it is our responsibility for how we choose to express it.
- Help them decide who or what will have control. When they 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 mom and dad and 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 are feeling a lot of anger right now. It’s O.K. to experience anger and it sounds like you’ve got some good reasons to be angry. Now you need to decide if you are going to let your anger control you or if you want to control it. Would you like me to pray with you to ask God to help you deal with your anger in a healthy way?”
- Help them identify and define the cause or source of the anger. Ask yourself where your child’s anger might be coming from. What’s the real issue? Is their primary emotion hurt, frustration, or fear? Often their anger is communicating a need that they may not be aware of. They may be frightened, sad, feel insecure, or confused and it comes out as anger.
- Help them choose their response and develop their own solutions. It’s 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 might be to say, “Julie, now that you know that your anger came from being frustrated with your brother you can decide what you’re going to do about your frustration. What do you think you’d like to do?” As much as possible it is important to allow children to develop their own solutions to their problems.
- Help them review their response to the anger. After a couple of days have passed ask your child what they learned about dealing with their anger from what happened, what went well and what they learned.
Remember that learning how to understand and deal with emotions is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and that it is a lifelong process. Encourage each little step your child takes. Congratulate them whenever possible. Praise them for even making an effort in a healthy direction. When your frustration seems overwhelming remember that Romans 8:28 is true. God can cause all things to work together for good. With some prayer and perseverance we promise that you will see some positive signs of growth in the lives of your children.