Last time, we talked about what anger really is and how we can view anger through a biblical lens. This article will be helpful for parents who have children who struggle with angry feelings. Ultimately, it is not about managing anger, but uncovering what the anger is masking and dealing with that emotion -on a heart level. Here are some basic tips that will equip you to help your child combat angry behaviors as well as their root cause. Read to the end for a script on how to address the heart issue hiding under the anger.
1) Expand your child’s vocabulary
Since we know that anger is nothing more than a cover up emotion, we need to teach our children the words to express what they are really feeling. If all they can identify is mad, sad and happy, they will not have much to work with. You can use a feelings chart like this one for little kids or a feelings list like this one for older kids. Here’ a great visual (not an affiliate link) to help children of all ages see the different ways that anger shows up (hover over poster for a close-up). Be sure to use diverse vocabulary to identify your feelings in front of your kids so they can see it in action. This brings us to our next point.
2) Model self-control and repair
You can impart important skills to your children simply through modeling. You can model self-control by narrating your own experience with anger. Try talking to yourself the next time you are in the car with your child. You can say something like: “Wow. That person is not staying in their lane. They are making me very nervous and I can feel it turning into anger. In need to take deep breaths. Help me, Lord be calm.“
You can also model repair you do lose your cool. If you are in a hurry and angrily snap at your kids, you can apologize by saying something like, “I am sorry that I snapped at you. That was not a good way to manage my feelings. I was feeling overwhelmed because we were late. I should have taken a deep breath and counted to ten. Will you forgive me?” Show them that it is okay to remove yourself from a triggering situation. Let them see you practice what you preach.
3) Identify triggers
Everyone has their “hot buttons” – those things that get under our skin. If you can take the time to help your child figure out what causes him to fly off the handle, you can anticipate potentially volatile situations and be prepared. Make a list with your child using past episodes to get you started (as long as those episodes are far enough in the past to not have any smoldering embers!).
4) Identify cool-down measures
Finding out what calms your child is important. Everyone is different, but here are some ideas: deep breathing, distraction, hugs, something to squeeze, exercise, humor, alone time, soothing music, picturing a quiet place, etc. Keeping a list of cool-down measures readily available will prevent you from having to scramble in the moment with your child. Use pre-determined cool-down cues such as, “time for an ice cube” or “it’s getting hot in here” to help break into the anger cycle.
5) Provide tools and interventions
Here are some great tools you can print out and use with your kids to better help them visualize, plan for and process angry outbursts.
6) Make sure you get to the heart of the matter
All of the above interventions and ideas provide a great foundation, but without taking it to a deeper level, we are not addressing the problem where it starts, the heart. As Christian parents, our ultimate responsibility is not to shape outward behavior, but to focus on our children’s inner heart and character. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God equips us to do just that.
Here is a sample dialogue between a parent and a child, following a tantrum that seeks to get to the heart issue behind the behavior. At this point, the child is calm and his heart has softened:
Mom: Phew. You had a lot of feelings a little while ago. Do you remember what you were doing?
Child: I was stomping on the floor, yelling at Kyle and throwing things.
What were you feeling?
Well, like we have talked about before, mad is a cover-up feeling – it has a sneaky way of hiding what we are really feeling inside our hearts. If you were to take away the anger, what do you think would be hiding underneath?
I don’t know. I just really, really wanted the remote control and Kyle wouldn’t give it to me.
What is that called, when we really, really want something that isn’t ours to take?
Do you think a greedy heart could have been hiding under your angry outburst?
I guess so.
So if a greedy heart makes us want, want, want, what kind of heart would make us give, give, give?
A giving one?
So the way to fix a greedy heart, is to have a giving heart. Can you think of a way you can give to make up for the way you treated Kyle?
I guess I could let him use my helicopter for a day.
I think that is a great idea. The Bible tells us that when we give to others, we get a lot back – we may not get back things that we can hold in our hands, but what we get back gets stored in our hearts, even to overflowing, and makes us want to give more. (Reads Luke 6:38). Giving is God’s fix for a greedy heart.
While we do not have the power to change our children’s hearts, addressing issues with a heart perspective can create a way for the Spirit to gain access to make the necessary “renovations.”
[Photo credit: greyerbaby from morguefile.com]