Some children hear the word “No” and they become frustrated or argue. They are disappointed, but they remain in control. Other children hear the same word and explode into rage. Some adults can discuss differences of opinion and work through conflict. Other adults only need to be inconvenienced the least bit on the highway and they explode into rage. It is all about anger! Anger is arguably the most debilitating relationship cancer there is.
When a parent sees rage explode out of their child, there is a feeling of helplessness. When an adult sees rage erupt from their spouse, fear clouds the house and the relationship is momentarily killed. Why do some people handle their anger, while other people seem to be handled by their anger?
Anger in and of itself is only an emotion. The Bible tells us to “Be angry, and do not sin:…” (Ephesians 4:26a NKJV). There is an acknowledgement in this verse that states the fact that anger is an emotion, and it must be dealt with. As an emotion we will have anger, but we must not allow anger to control us. In other words, deal with it before you allow it to cause you to sin.
Find the source
Rarely is the particular circumstance that brings forth the outburst of anger the real cause of the anger. The fact that someone gets in front of me on the highway, causing me to have to slow down, cannot possibly be the reason for my outrageous thoughts or gestures (not that I ever have to deal with anger myself). The behavior of other people, such as hearing the word “No”, is not the cause of the anger; it is only the vent for anger.
Anger is like an underground irrigation system on a lawn. Like the water, it keeps moving and building up force until it finds a place (a sprinkler) to gush out all over everyone. The anger is an emotional reality, but it must be dealt with long before it reaches the sprinklers.
If the anger in a child is not dealt with by the parent, it will become a guiding and ruining force later on in adulthood. It will get a foothold in the door of that person’s personality and be more difficult to eradicate later on in life (Ephesians 4:27).
Not getting what you want
There are two kinds of anger we see in our children. One is when a child does not get his or her way. They erupt and lash out at the authority figure in front of them.
A second kind of anger outburst comes from frustration. This type of anger outburst happens when a child cannot perform a task they are trying to do, and they begin throwing objects across the room. Neither outburst is about the circumstances at hand. Both are warning signs of anger that is getting control.
It is not easy to pinpoint where uncontrollable anger outbursts originate. Sometimes one child’s anger outbursts are the warning signs of a whole family in pain. Divorce often brings out anger in one of the children. One child might go into a shell while the other child announces the family hurts by exploding all over the parent and life in general. Emotional pain is difficult for a child to talk about. He does not have the words and often times he does not have a listening ear to help pull it out of him.
The fear of being moved to a new neighborhood or school can cause a child to elicit temper tantrums that do not make sense to the parent.
Anger erupts in some people when they feel betrayed or unimportant to the people they love.
Lack of trust
Trust or the lack of trust seems to be an outburst button for some people. The feeling that they thought they could trust a parent, a person they loved, a pastor, or an employer causes some people to build a wall and battle anyone else that tries to get beyond the wall.
Some anger outbursts are not so much deep-seated anger as it is learned behavior. The child’s tantrums show frustration over a parental system that is flawed. Over time the child has been inadvertently taught that the parent’s “No” means no on some occasions, but other times that same parent’s “No” really means maybe. Experience has taught the child that loud outbursts often pay off.
How to deal with anger
A parent cannot take the anger away from the child, but a parent can certainly set the stage for the child to deal with the anger in an appropriate manner.
First, think through the times when the child or young person has angry outbursts. Is there any pattern? Is it with one authority figure more than the others? If so, check how consistent the parent has been in disciplining the child.
Second, choose a consequence for the outbursts. Deal with the behavior! If the small child is out of control, hug the child tightly so he cannot hurt himself or others. For the older child or teen, do not get drawn into the argument. Tell them you will discuss it when they calm down. Then as he/she calms down let him know what he has done wrong. Refuse to discuss the circumstance that brought out the outburst until the child is willing to first discuss the inappropriateness of the actual outburst. As hard as it is to do, stay calm yourself. Your outburst will only give permission for the child to have outbursts.
Third, during calmer times talk with the child and let him know that there will now be a consequence for unacceptable outbursts. Perhaps it is an extra chore that will take thirty minutes to complete. Something the child can complete and then discuss what they were frustrated about. For us it was writing. Our children had to sit and write a letter of apology to the person or parent they “attacked.”
Lastly, find a time (when the child has calmed down) to sit and talk with the child about their anger. A great time for these discussions is sitting on the side of their bed that night. The emphasis is on “that night.” The Bible says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26b). Don’t let the child spend time in bed that night festering over the fact that they have done damage to their parent/child relationship. Parents must deal with the outburst in order to get to deal with the anger. Dealing with the anger is to help the child learn skills for good future relationships.
Life has disappointments and pain that will lead to anger. The parent’s roll is to help the child deal with the anger without sinning.
This process will not work in one month. It will, however, help the child grow up with a plan for dealing with their adult anger. This is what parenting is all about – seeing things in a child’s life that must be addressed while they are still children so that when they are old they will not depart from it from those lessons which have been taught (Proverbs 22:6).
“Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NKJV).
Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts. For more articles by Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-bob-barnes-and-torrey-roberts/