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Anger in Children: Tips for Christian Parents

Photo Credit: greyerbaby from morguefile.com
Laura Kuehn, LCSW

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 anger related issues. 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.

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 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 anger management.  You can impart important skills to your children simply through modeling. 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 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.

Anger thermometer

Anger thermometer with cool down ideas

Angry Bird-inspired cool-down strategies

Help older children process their anger with this worksheet

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:

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Mom: What did you do wrong?

Child: I was stomping on the floor, yelling at Kyle and throwing things.

What were you feeling?

Angry.

Well, like we have talked about before, anger is a cover-up emotion – 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?

Greedy?

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.

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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]

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God’s word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

3 Comments

  • Thanks for this article. My 8 year old son has been struggling with anger and self control for years. I’ve read a few of your articles on controlling children and some of your suggestions for helping with that as well. My heart aches for my son, who I seek to help by encouraging him to call upon the Lord during times of loss of self control and anger. We go through a cycle of him getting upset over a decision about something his dad or I have made, him trying to control the decision making by threatening to do something if we decide on whatever goes against what he wants, he then gets angry and starts crying/yelling and at that point we tell him to go to his room to cool off. We have consequences set for the situations where he threatens “if you do this, then I will do this” and we have tried to help him to understand that he can’t control us or the situation by threatening to do something that he thinks might help him get his way. He will either continue to escalate in his passion for whatever he’s fighting for or he’ll decide it’s not worth the consequence. Lately, we have had some very stressful life changes and his controlling behavior has gotten more frequent. We had to evacuate our home in Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria and have been without my husband for about two months now. My son is feeling like there’s a loss of control over his circumstances and now is even more controlling than before. Just this last week we had two episodes where he didn’t what me to leave my sisters house to run an errand and said if I left he would hurt himself. He threatens to hurt himself to control me. He will also hit himself after he has gotten disciplined for something to make himself feel better 😢. This breaks my heart. I’ve talked to him during calm times about how Jesus already paid the price for all of our messes and we don’t need to add anything to that. God removes our guilt and sin. He didn’t design us to hurt ourselves as way to make us feel better. I’ve prayed and prayed, seeking the Lord guidance because I don’t even know how to handle this. I am fearful that if I can’t teach my son to cope with his emotions as a boy, by the time he is a teen, and life is much more dramatic, he will not have the proper tools to control his anger and emotions. I trust completely in the Holy Spirit and that the Lord has given us a helper and I want to emphasize that to my believing child. He has a Helper that can be trusted to help him control his anger and feelings but I would also like to teach him practical tips too. Have you every dealt with anything like this? Any godly advice would be so much appreciated. Thanks

    • Hi Danica,

      I can only imagine the struggles your family has had to face these last several weeks. I can hear your strength and faith in your comment. You have a beautiful way of dealing with your son and encouraging him in the midst of these trials. I know that it may not seem like it, but you are making an impact. It is hard when we don’t see immediate results from our efforts, but please know that your words and discipleship of your son are not in vain. God’s word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

      It is not uncommon for children who have experienced trauma to lash out when in anger (at themselves or others). You are right, he needs some tools. I think it is worthy of your time to seek out a trusted counselor who works with children. I would start by asking for a recommendation from fellow believers or church leaders you trust. For more on seeking counseling, you might want to read this article. In the meantime, you can start by helping your son expand his emotional vocabulary and using some of the tools in this article. When he threatens to hurt himself, find out what feeling he is trying to communicate. Often identifying what you are feeling at that moment can give you a window into what he is feeling (ie, if it makes you feel panicked, he may be feeling panicked) – kids are adept at projecting their feelings when they are unable to express them themselves.

      I hope that helps. I send this off with a prayer for your family. May God’s presence be felt among you during this difficult time.

      Laura

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