Photo by yang miao on Unsplash
Photo by yang miao on Unsplash

Temper Tantrums Again

Question

With all of the changes, interruptions and instability our son and daughter have experienced over the past several months, they’ve struggled a lot more with uncharacteristic outbursts of anger that sound a lot like the temper tantrums when they were young.  Other parents in our home group have noticed similar problems.  Any suggestions?

Answer

      Whenever you are faced with someone who is expressing anger the healthiest first response is to STOP or pause, LOOK & LISTEN, and then REFLECT. . . don’t even think of saying anything quite yet.

      The STOP or pause can take less than 60 seconds.  Simply ask God to help you be present, to be aware of your own emotions, to “seek understanding” (Proverbs 17:7).  To respond out of strength and not react out of weakness.  We respond out of strength when we remind ourselves that this is a teachable moment and a growth opportunity for our child.   

      Then LOOK and LISTEN.  Don’t try to fix it or solve it, simply seek understanding.  Ask clarifying questions.  Rephrase their responses. 

      Remember that anger is always a secondary emotion that is caused by one or more of three primary emotions: hurt, frustration, and fear/anxiety.  Ask God to help you discern what the primary emotion underlying their secondary emotion of anger might be.

      Be sure to thank them for letting you know where they are hurting and what’s going on for them.  Then take a minute to take their hand and pray with them and for them. 

      Lastly, take time to REFLECT. What can you learn about your child (and yourself) from this interaction?   Has this happened before? When and where they are most likely to “lose it?”  A certain time-of-day?  Before a mealtime or bedtime?

            What makes anger especially tricky is that it is the most contagious of all the emotions and the one most likely to cause others to react.  It’s easy for parents to get their buttons pushed and react in ways that actually fuel the fire rather than manage it

      You experienced their anger . . . but what might be the primary emotion they were experiencing.  Often they don’t know.  In the chaos of today's world our frustration, fear, and anxiety buttons are easily triggered.  It’s hard for you to help them understand and manage what they haven’t identified. 

      In  God’s hands angry outbursts can be an invitation for you to model healthy Christlike responses to frustrating and fearful situations.  They can become a powerful opportunity to be patient, be kind, demonstrate self-control, to seek understanding and in the process communicate love and the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in practical ways they will be likely to remember for many years to come.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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