Anger is tough to understand. Most parents, in the name of getting their kids’ anger in check, tend to act quickly and without much thought to the deeper layers of what’s going on in both the child and the parent. We have come to firmly believe that if parents are to deal constructively with their kids’ anger, they must first look more closely at their own anger.
This is hard. It is unnatural, especially at first. It takes new ideas and new attitudes. It’s more normal and natural to greet kids’ anger with anger, frustration, commands to stop, punishment, or some combination of these. These approaches may or may not get kids to behave, but for sure they do nothing to teach kids new skills for constructively managing their anger. So over the next weeks, we’re going to share some basic ideas that can help.
Where to begin?
Dealing well with kids’ anger starts by understanding our own. The Bible tells us to “be angry and not sin” (Eph 4:26). This is hard. The “sin that so easily entangles” (Heb 12:1) is perhaps more evident in the anger experience than at any other time. By recognizing that anger is a God-given emotion, intended to help us know what’s important to us, we can become more constructive in addressing our anger. From this perspective we can consider, “What is my anger about?”
For example, there was the day I got angry about all the piles on the workbench in the garage. The workbench had become one of those catch-all spaces for everyone’s “I don’t know what to do with this bulky thing” stuff.
It’s important to me to have a clutter-free work space when I need to use the workbench. The operative words here, “when I need.” So when the mess got in my way, I was irritated. Without thinking about it I simply reacted and headed quickly into the house with a raised voice, directed to whoever might be listening, “The workbench is cluttered and I am NOT okay with that! If any of this is yours you’d best get it out of here fast!”
So much wisdom. So much grace.
My wife heard me and lovingly pointed out that some of the stuff was hers, because she was working on a project. More humbling, she pointed out that some of it was mine, and that the mess of junk on another “catch all” counter in our home office was entirely mine. So insensitivity, lack of observation, AND my own hypocrisy were complicit in my anger. I was sinning. I had to admit that what was important to me was not just cleanliness, but immediate gratification, quick control, and my agenda. The ability to quickly recognize this and say it out loud helped me immediately recover and apologize. I then was more respectful in my request of the kids and Lynne to move the things on the workbench so I could work there.
What’s behind our anger?
Understanding our own anger begins by developing the skill to say out loud the things that contribute to our anger. By simply asking the question, “What’s so important to me right now?” parents can learn to take better responsibility for their feelings and better choose their actions and words when they feel angry. Recognizing what’s important can often deflate the anger and lead to more sensible interactions. Sometimes, like in my example about the workbench, asking this question helps me realize that I’m acting selfishly. Once I recognize this I can more honorably consider how to proceed.
For grace to invade our anger journey, we need to first look inward. This frees us to be models of humility and grace for ourselves as we deal with our kids and their anger challenges. Another helpful question to ask is, “What’s going on beneath the surface of my anger?” This may be a bit harder to sort out, but often, beneath the surface of our anger are other more vulnerable emotions. People who feel sad, confused, or ashamed often use anger as a weapon to defend against others knowing their vulnerabilities. To grow to better understand the source of our anger, and learn to more constructively express it are essential skills if we are to effectively guide our children through their anger.
Dealing with anger can be tough. If you want help implementing these principles with your family, read more about our coaching options.
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