Parents have an important responsibility, as well as privilege, to foster spiritual and mental growth and health in their children. It is in the home where children learn coping strategies to deal with stress and acquire the ability to form trusting and satisfying relationships with others. The need for loving parental protection and an environment of safety is crucial in this important avocation of raising children.The home could be compared to a crucible or incubator where children’s personalities and character develop. Within this bubble, children are passive receptacles and are heavily influenced by parental modeling of appropriate behavior, values, and emotional expression. They respond positively to love and emotional care and find it difficult to deal with neglect, harsh and rigid discipline, and abusive treatment.
From infancy, children track the consistency of their caretakers and discover how their submission to their authority may or may not accrue to the attaining of mutual goals. In a real sense, they come to reflect their parent’s character, self-discipline, and attitudes. It is in the home that children come to refine their identity and develop a unique style of relating to others. It is a place where their vocational and educational goals are set and where they develop (or fail to develop) a sense of God.
The Christian Mandate for the Home
The Christian home is meant to instill faith in and obedience to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. This mandate can be deduced from a number of texts in the Scriptures. Children should intuitively know that their parents love God with all their hearts, minds, and souls (Mk 12:20-31). As a result, they receive the instruction that they, too, should come to trust and obey the Lord. They should witness a godly love between mom and dad (Eph. 5:25) and notice that both are subject to each other (Eph. 5:21). They should not have parents that provoke them to anger (Eph. 6:1). As they observe parents who live out biblical teaching, it is likely that they, too, will seek to do the same.
Quoting from Heinrichs, “In the Christian home, the parents are the ‘temple where God dwells’ (I Cor 3:16). The degree to which parental lives reflect Christ’s image as they relate to the children, to that degree will Christ be a living reality to them. The parental relationship with Jesus Christ, around His love, around His acceptance, around His forgiveness, and around His mercy, serves as the reservoir for the maintenance of the mental health of those living in the home.”
Help for Parents Dealing with Anger Issues in Children
The Christian home is not automatically immune to having an angry and defiant child. Parents may be quite perplexed when a young child becomes extremely agitated if their desires are blocked. This kind of child may demonstrate a low frustration tolerance and an inclination to throw temper tantrums. They may act out with angry and aggressive behavior, while in more subdued moments, they may ignore directions and guidance and vocalize their animosity for what does not strike their fancy.
Christian parents are often not aware of the dynamics that stand behind their child’s anger. They believe that they have been diligent in providing a safe and loving environment for the child and have been modeling a biblical lifestyle for them.
When confronted with an angry child, Michael Emblet of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation recommends that parents get on their knees and examine their hearts before making radical judgments about the child. By doing so, the parents can move away from responding with anger to a place of compassionate intervention.
8 Ways Parents Could Help Their Children with Anger Issues
Parents, whose mental faculties have been trained and conditioned to understand how the world works, how they have overcome difficulties, and how their spiritual journey has been of help to them, can expect too much of their children and “provoke them to wrath.”
First, they may consistently fail to model peace-making for their child. They may not be able or willing to control their own anger and respond in kind to the child’s expressions of anger. Parents may violate their own standards by engaging in unrighteous anger.
Second, parents often do not seek to reconcile with their child after they become angry with them. They don’t tell them they are sorry nor ask for their forgiveness. This is important to do for the sake of demonstrating to the children that they too, just like the child, are under God’s authority.
Third, the parent may not be sufficiently involved with their child and just shout directives to them “from on high.” The anger the child may express may be due to not having a sufficiently loving relationship with their parents.
Fourth, the parents may be inconsistent in disciplining the child or parents may differ in their standards and expectations for the child.
Fifth, parents may develop a style of parenting that consists of never ending threats for wrong doing.
Sixth, parents may use rhetorical language with their child that always sends the message that the child is not up to where they need to be. They could ask them rhetorical questions, like: “What is wrong with you?” “What are/were you thinking?” “Why don’t you do things right?” “What have you done?” These kinds of questions do nothing more than express outrage and solidify a mentality that the child will never come into harmony with the parent.
Seventh, a parent may have an unspoken regret about having brought the child into the world. They may see the child as something that is unwanted or as something that is a barrier to their happiness. This attitude is easily (though, intuitively) sensed by the child and interferes with a loving relationship.
Eighth, a parent may not appreciate the limitations of a child’s cognitive ability. A young child operates largely on their developing limbic system in relating to their parents and cannot yet put two and two together in a cognitive sense.These are issues a parent may want to examine and address as issues of the heart. Though they cannot hope to change their child’s heart, they fully have the capability of changing their own. They can recognize their weaknesses and change their attitudes and behavior and not conclude that they have a problem child on their hands that needs psychiatric care. This is an important consideration, since the issue with a young angry child is “a heart problem.” The parent has the important and sometimes difficult task of “shepherding the heart” of their child.
The job at hand is not so much getting their child to be polite and courteous, but in guiding, teaching, and training them to adopt godly principles of living in relationship with God. It is important to understand what the root of the child’s anger is, what they want that they are not receiving, or what they fear.
Strategies for Promoting Relationship Health with your Child
Emlet also claims that parents can use “relational health promotion strategies” to deal with a child’s anger. Just like a good diet and exercise can reduce the risk of heart attack, relationship building strategies can reduce the risk of having an angry child.
First, parents should look for ways to accentuate their child’s strengths and not be too focused on their weaknesses and difficulties. Looking for “divine gifting” in the child can be helpful. Just as the Apostle Paul admonishes and rebukes sinful behavior in his epistles, he also makes it a point to point out what people are doing right. He encourages them and compliments them in well-doing. This kind of approach to people diffuses anger and causes a person to become less obsessed with an experience of displeasure over the behavior of others.
Second, a parent should look for opportunities to enjoy the child. Special events or special times together with the child can open the door to a deeper level of relationship with the child. Parents often do not have time to spend with their child doing enjoyable activities but even if they work outside the home, they can plan for such events by setting aside self-centered plans. By having special “relationship building” events, the child perceives that they are cherished and loved.
Third, parents should seek ways in which they can say “yes” to their child’s requests. Many parents develop the habit of saying “no” so often to their child that the child begins to view the parent as a member of an opposition party. Romans 8:32 says that God is not like this, but is so loving and accepting that He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. A simple tracking of how often parents say “no” to the child will provide new awareness of how negative they can be from the standpoint of their child.
Fourth, maintain a positive assessment about the angry child, knowing that God will answer your prayers for him. Know that God is working in the heart of the child. Pray often for them.
There are several things that can be done to help a child when they are “in the throes” of an angry episode. The most obvious thing is to prevent them from happening by becoming a student of the child – by coming to understand the child’s desires and fears and to know what triggers them. It also requires understanding a child’s weaknesses that contribute to angry blow ups. Learning more about the child involves a willingness to listen to them instead of always talking to them. Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger is the standard we should adopt as parents.
Second, it is important to keep the context of an angry episode in mind. If the child simply wants a snack or drink or needs to go to the bathroom, this is not an anger issue.
Third, if instructions are given to the child, they should be extremely simple and concrete so that there is no way they can misunderstand or forget how to accomplish them. Many children do not have the capability of remembering from one minute to the next and need extremely simple steps and an unfailing commitment on the part of the parent to be longsuffering. It is important to try to help the child to obey instructions.Parents have access to a lot of information about the “self-willed” child on the internet and excellent advice about how to help ADHD kids, but often the research that stands behind such articles does not deal with the fact that anger is not solely a “skill-deficit” problem. The Scriptures advise us that anger also has moral and spiritual implications.
A biblical approach shows that God is very concerned about anger. If it is sinful, He punishes it. He sets limits on behavior. He expects His standards to be met. He’s merciful to people who offend. He pleads and woos us to be conformed to His image. He deals with us with a sacrificial love. Some people lower their expectations and sometimes they become very rigid in their approach to child-rearing, but both of these are not helpful.
Parents should try to collaborate with their children just as employees are often urged to work together as a team. By collaborating with co-workers, the job of all becomes easier and more effective. With children, parents should not be too quick to insist on an immediate solution for every problem or conflict.
Sometimes it is good to give it a little time for things to settle to where it becomes more obvious of how to work together with a child toward a mutually agreed upon solution. It is also worth mentioning that parents may do well not to always impose their own solution to a problem without doing problem solving with their child. This helps a child to recognize other people’s point of view and to understand that working together benefits everybody (Phil. 2:4).
Galatians 6:9-10 gives an insight on this:
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Christian Counseling for Anger Issues in Young Children
If you could use some help working through your relationship with your child, or helping your child to deal with anger in a more productive, biblical way, feel free to reach out to one of our counselors. We’re here for you and your family.
Emlet, Michael R. Angry Children: Understanding and Helping Your Child Regain Control. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2008.
Gliebe, Sudi Kate, “Helping Families Deal with Anger: A Biblical Perspective.” Christian Education Journal, 3d ser 9 no 1 Spring 2012, pp 65-80.
Heinrich, Daniel J., “Parental Contributions to the Mental Health of Their Children.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review, 56 no 1 Jan 1982, pp 92-98.
Kenaston, Denny. The Pursuit of Godly Seed. Reamston, Pa: Home Fires Publishers, 2003.
The Bible: King James Version. Glasgow: Collins, 2008.
“Contemplation,” courtesy of Sean Gorman, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sullen,” courtesy of Veronika Balasyuk, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Scream,” courtesy of Jason Rosewell, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of Annie Spratt, unsplash.com CC0 License