Anger seems to be a popular emotion with young people. Thankfully, God understands the actual emotion of anger is something our body does in response to certain triggers. He does, however, command us to be slow to anger (James 1:19-20), not hold on to our anger (Ephesians 4:26-27), not to sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26-27) and not to give full vent to our anger (Proverbs 29:11).
So what do you do if you have a child who seems to anger easily? Even though the tendency may be a part of his/her personality, you still need to work with him/her on how to better control the impulse to get angry and especially how to act in godly ways when angry. There are probably plenty of things you can do, but here are some of the first things you need to think about when helping a child who seems to be angry all of the time:
- What are the triggers? Does your child seem to explode at the slightest thing right before dinner? Or when she is hormonal? Or when stressed about something at school? None of these is an excuse for ungodly behavior, but if you can identify the common triggers for an angry outburst you can better target the rest of your plan to help your child with his/her anger. Take a couple of days and make a mental note of the circumstances surrounding every angry outburst and for the day itself. After a few days, do you notice any patterns? These are your first areas to address.
- Is there a basic physical need not being met? Adults don’t want to admit this, but kids need a ton of sleep, regular meals and snacks, and a consistent schedule and routine. A child who is tired and/or hungry is primed for anger. If your child is regularly angry, try adding an extra hour or two of sleep at night and making sure meals and snacks are evenly spaced throughout waking hours. Other less common physical situations like being too cold or too hot, coming down with an illness, hormones, too much or too little exercise and even growing pains can make a child temporarily cranky.
- Is there an emotional need not being met? I have seen way too many children get angry because they can never, ever seem to get their parents’ full attention. If your child seems to meltdown every time he/she talks to you, notice your own behavior. Are you distracted or paying attention? Are you seeking to understand what your child is really saying? Children will also become angry on a regular basis if they are not getting appropriate physical attention from their parents. Another popular trigger is parents who don’t allow their kids to vent anger or other emotions in appropriate ways. If you refuse to listen to why your child was so hurt when her friend ditched her, then the anger may continue to build and grow. The younger the child, the less likely “Just stop being angry” is going to work. They need help processing the emotion and you are the best equipped to help.
- Is there a health or mental health issue? If your sweet child suddenly becomes angry all of the time, something is wrong. If you have a child who appears to have been born angry and stays angry all of the time, something is not right. It probably isn’t a health issue or mental health issue, but if you have tried everything else, your pediatrician or a Christian counselor may be able to give you some guidance.
- Have you discussed the issue with your child? Remember the guy who had a bad day? Everyone in a position of authority over him was screaming at him and he couldn’t do anything, so he went home and kicked the cat? Just because your kid is angry at you for letting his spinach touch his mac and cheese, doesn’t mean that is really the issue. Have constant conversations with your kids. Be aware of stressors when your kids aren’t with you. Academic pressures, peer pressures and other things you don’t see could be putting your child in an angry mood.
- Have you taught your kids anger is not an excuse for poor choices and ungodly behavior? Your kids should never think being tired, having a bad day or it being that time of the month allows them to take their anger out on everyone around them. They need you to help them learn to recognize when they are having the type of day that will tend to make them susceptible to anger. Help them develop strategies for managing those types of days so they don’t end up having angry outbursts or making bad choices. In the meantime, constantly reinforce the concept that whatever the issue, it may make them more tempted to act out in anger but it doesn’t remove their responsibility to behave in godly ways.
- Help your kids discover healthy, godly ways to burn off anger. Anger creates all sorts of things in our body to protect us from angry tigers or whatever. These chemicals don’t just disappear on their own after we become very angry. Help your kids find ways like running, jumping rope or some other healthy way to work off those physical effects of anger.
- Give your kids tools to use when they are angry. Of course scriptures are great – especially Proverbs for reminders of appropriate behavior. Some kids may respond to karate or some other sport that teaches them to control anger. All kids can use training on conflict management skills. Help them practice appropriate things to say and do in the situations that regularly make them angry.
- Don’t be afraid to give consequences for inappropriate behavior when angry. Anger is so dangerous. If your kids don’t learn how to control and manage their anger, all sorts of horrible consequences can happen as they get older. It’s much better they lose a privilege or have some other consequence now that reminds them they need to be very intentional in their behavior when angry than for them to end up in jail or worse.
An angry child is normal. Don’t let the fact that anger is normal, keep you from working with your kids on behaving in godly ways when they become angry. It’s an issue you can’t afford to ignore.