A couple of weeks ago I came home from work very tired and had to head back to church for our Prayer Summit in a few hours so I decided to take 20 minute nap. I felt a bit guilty because the house was a bit tense and I fell asleep to a fairly energized conversation going on in the background. There are a few rules, which I’ve previously written about, in our home that are non-negotiable and without mercy; lying and disrespecting Mom. So when I woke up, not to the alarm on my phone, but to the same conversation and attitude, I managed to go from a deep sleep to bellowing “GO TO YOUR ROOM!” in mere nanoseconds. I’m not sure if I was more shocked or impressed with myself, however on reflection I realized that I probably didn’t handle the situation in the most effective way. I certainly got the results I wanted in the moment (which was an end to the nonsense) but gained virtually no change for the future unless what I wanted was to have my son fear that I could explode and make him behave from even the deepest sleep.
Two verses in scripture express the same sentiment, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” Colossians 3:21 warns that exasperation might lead to their discouragement and Ephesians 6:4 suggests that exasperation is the opposite to the goal of bringing up our children in the “training and instruction of the Lord.” You will notice that the exasperation is parent induced, and that the passage doesn’t seem to care if you are exasperated in that moment – parental exasperation is not an excuse to induce exasperation in our kids! So what can we do so that we deal with anger in such a way as to produce godly results.
To begin there are several critical preemptive strategies that have to be in place. The first of these is that you yourself must be working on your anger. Look if your kids can make you angry then you are not a completely healthy person. It is true that we will never be completely healthy and that is all fine and well, but we had better be working on becoming healthier. There are always reasons for our anger and I can almost guarantee that when you feel your temperature rise it is because of a wound in your past and is being exposed. This is actually great news because once a wound is exposed, Jesus can go to work on it! You may not be able to navigate the waters of your past on your own, but you cannot afford to stay where you are!
Second, you and your spouse need to be on the same page. There are few things as exasperating for children as parents who are not parenting in the same way. You need to be able to talk to your spouse about your anger and frustration, their anger and the rules that are necessary to help your kids. If that isn’t possible, and I know that it isn’t for many couples, then you need to seek a mediator who can help you sort out your difference.
Lastly, if you want to be able to address your kids’ anger then you need to have a good relationship with them. I don’t mean a permissive relationship where they can get away with stuff and I don’t mean a relationship where you are their best friend, I mean a good parent-child relationship. If you don’t know what that looks like then spend some time reading good parenting blogs and reading good parenting books as well as watching other successful families and trying their strategies. The simple truth is if you never make time for your kids to build solid relationships you won’t be able to address their anger (because the lack of attention they receive is probably a source of their anger in the first place!)
These are foundational principles that will help your home be a more peaceful place, but what can you do when kids explode? Here are some quick fire suggestions.
- Shock them. I’m a big fan of shocking kids. I had a friend who’s kid was throwing another temper tantrum in the grocery store and she had had enough so she threw the can she was holding on the ground and lay flat out in the aisle kicking a screaming. That diffused the situation pretty quick (and got some amused looks.) So that’s one method of shocking the sense into our kids. Another would be to go up and give them a big bear hug and tell them you genuinely love them. I believe this might even be a biblical idea… (Proverbs 15:1). I remember being a kid and getting myself all worked up and frustrated before I even encountered my mom! When mom would respond differently than I expected it diffused the situation. It’s kind of like a splash of cold water in the face to get someone to breathe again.
- Make space. Let’s be honest sometimes a bit of space is all that is needed to clear up the tension. I am not a fan of giving young kids time-outs that create physical separation because in our experience time-in’s, where you pull your child up onto your lap and hold them firmly is much more effective. However I would be totally game for giving kids the option of sitting quietly beside mom or dad on the couch or going to their room for a bit of time. Choice is always good because it shares the power and the choice between two consequences communicates that they have a voice but that there are still expectations of good behaviour. I will say that I am a bit of a fan of time-outs for parents though, because let’s be honest, sometimes we need to just get ourselves out of the way for a bit for the benefit of everyone involved.
- Let it play out. There will be times when it is extremely healthy for a kid to just get it out. We shouldn’t expect that a kid knows how to deal with their emotions as an adult should so we should expect that there will be anger outbursts from time to time. In fact, if you have a child who keeps everything inside and is finally “letting it out” you are seeing something very healthy. Remember that we can’t excuse bad behaviour but there are times when we can just wait until the storm passes. Not to mention there are actually valid reasons for anger such as injustice. So to say that all anger is bad or sinful is simply wrongheaded, we need to help our kids understand anger in a healthy way.
- Follow up. If your child actually needs to blow off some steam when they are angry talk about a strategy to help them safely do this before they get angry (or after things calm down.) With our 13 year old the go-to activity is chopping wood. If it seems like things are just getting too wound up in the house we assign a number logs that need splitting; I get firewood and he gets a healthy release of energy, angry or otherwise. But this works with much younger kids as well. When they are calm talk to them and ask them what was making them angry and talk about whether there is something that would be a good idea to do when they feel that way. You could suggest that you build block tower and they are allowed to knock it over – this will get them giggling and might actually work to diffuse their anger the next time.
I hope that helps! I’d certainly love to hear your strategies for combating anger as well! Put them in the comments!