Helping Your Child Deal With Anger

It was no less than one minute from shutting the car door to go home from school that Sinclair asked to play with the neighbors while her sister went to gymnastics. I told her that before I would ask Miss Courtney, she would need to complete her homework. My response didn’t seem insane or earth shattering, but apparently what she heard was enough to invoke the type of response that Jesus likely felt when He walked in the temple that day and overturned the tables. She yelled at me and kicked the seat in front of her. She threw her shoe at me while driving. (Note to self: make sure to not keep weapons like umbrellas, shoes or books in the car.) Then, as I calmly yet sternly told her that was an unacceptable response and what the consequence was, she unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up in the car fire burning from her head much like the anger character in Inside Out. With righteous indignation, she stood for all that was wrong in this world—at least in her world. She was so discriminated against. (Cue eye roll) 

Has something like that ever happened to your kid? Do they struggle to manage their emotions? My child is like a volcano who can erupt any second. She can go from dormant to eruption within seconds. Her emotions change much like the weather. Sometimes she throws things. Sometimes she yells the meanest words that an eight year old can think of. Sometimes she slams doors. Sometimes she sticks her tongue out in my face. Maybe your kid reacts the same way. Maybe you wonder why she’s so angry. You wonder where she picked up the behavior. You don’t feel particularly angry. You don’t throw something at the barista who got your order wrong. You don’t call the driver who cut you off a “stupid head” (or maybe you do, oops.) You don’t stick your tongue out at your husband when he disagrees with you. 

So what do you do when your child struggles with anger? I’ve always been particularly honest with you whether here in written word or on my podcast about my struggles. I struggle with anger in parenting. I interviewed Wendy Speake about her book Triggers (you can listen here) and it was such good content for me. I have different internal and external things that trigger my anger towards my kids.

And that conversation got me thinking about my kids. If I’m not really an angry person but I can be triggered, then so can my kids. We all have the potential to be triggered. So when Corine Hyman contacted me about her children’s book on anger--Teaching Christ’s Children About Feeling Angry--I was excited to read it.

I read it with my eight year old one night and she loved it. Something that we have worked on is not saying that the emotion is bad. I have not done a good job with this in the past. I am not a super emotional person so parenting a child with high emotions is difficult for me. So, one of my constant prayers is, “Lord, help me to remember that different doesn’t make someone better than or less than.” Just because I am not emotional doesn’t make me better than my emotional child. When Sinclair has recovered from her outburst or when I tuck her in a night, I sometimes talk about how good it is that God created her feelings. That one day, you are going to be someone who feels what others feel and that is a good thing.

As we read the book together, we talked about ways that she struggles with anger--when her sister teases her, when she doesn’t get what she wants, or when she is disappointed in herself. We talked about how the emotion of anger isn’t always a bad thing. And anger can be an indicator of something going on inside of us which can even be there to help protect us from harm. Part of helping our kids become teenagers and adults is helping them figure out how to manage their frustration, anger and hurt. We need to help them figure out what to do and not do with those feelings. 

I often tell Sinclair that its okay to be upset or frustrated or hurt or angry, but I need her figure out how to manage those feelings. Throwing things or destroying something or yelling hateful words isn’t a good way to deal with it. Every child is different and I’ve learned that with Sinclair music is like magic with her. One time she was so angry at me that she slammed her door. Then yelled at me, “I’M GOING TO LISTEN TO MY MUSIC AS LOUD AS I WANT!!!!!!” Do you know what music she blared on her CD player? A VBS cd full of songs about Jesus. Bless her rebellious heart. I love it so much. And you know what happened? After singing those songs about Jesus for 15 minutes, she came back out a different person—calm and apologetic. She just needed the time and space to recover.

Think about what helps you deal with your frustration. Do you need to go exercise? Do you need to be alone for awhile? Do you need music? Do you need to talk to someone? There are so many different ways to manage our frustration. And the same is true for our children. We need to help them figure out what works for them. 

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Most days feel like you are doing the same thing over and over. You wake up and repeat. And once you feel like you master one problem, another one usually arrises. I am not a perfect parent. And God is using these girls as the strongest means of sanctification in my life. And I long to help my girls and give them the tools they need to not only survive childhood but to one day be a healthy adult. And learning how to manage anger is one of them.