A child who frequently explodes in anger may be struggling in a number of ways that can’t all be addressed in a limited space. Everyone is born with a distinct personality. Some children struggle with disabilities that are very difficult to cope with. Others may be reacting negatively to changes in their lives. These or any number of other factors can lead to anger problems in a child.
When trying to figure out a solution to a child’s anger problem, it’s important to consider the root causes first. Scripture also provides us with some overall principles we can apply in our parenting to help our child learn to cope with problems they encounter in life.
Typically, parenting styles that result in angry children lack consistency. For example, parents may be permissive on a day-to-day basis, but become controlling in a time of stress or tension. There are also parents who are more authoritarian but who struggle to positively connect with their kids in the good times or to help them be more independent.
Often, parents alternate between authoritarian and permissive styles of managing their kids, which leads to a frustrated child who can’t rely on clear boundaries. A lack of consistency in leadership and discipline creates a feeling of chaos, which does not help a child to develop coping skills leading to mature adulthood.
Parenting with Love and Logic is a landmark parenting book written by Jim Fay and Foster Cline. The authors juxtapose “the Drill Sergeant” and the “Helicopter Parent” to demonstrate authoritarian vs. overprotective parenting styles.
A Drill Sergeant constantly gives commands and seeks to control their child’s every move, preventing the child from feeling autonomous. This behavior subliminally communicates to a child that they are not smart enough to make any independent decisions.
Meanwhile, the Helicopter Parent hovers over their child constantly, making sure to protect them from any difficulties they may encounter. The message this sends is that a child is not strong enough to survive in the world on their own and that they must always rely on their parent to protect them.
These two styles are examples of extreme parenting on either end. All children need their parents to provide both discipline and protection. It’s important to meet these needs using a balanced approach, rather than a polarized one.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul writes that fathers are not to exasperate their children, but are instead to discipline and train them in the “instruction of the Lord.” This means that parents should not provoke their children to anger, but instead should teach and train them by exposing them to godly principles for the purpose of building their character.
The authors of Parenting with Love and Logic share four areas of parenting that we can focus on to help our children form their characters. In the same way, we can see in the Bible how God molds and shapes the characters of his people in these areas.
Here are the four areas:
1. Set expectations for behavior
2. Set consequences for failing to meet the expectation
3. Follow through compassionately with a consequence when the expectation is not met
4. Encourage the child to try again
This model seeks to help a child learn from their poor decision-making instead of focusing on how their parents are going to react. Often we see an angry response in children who are trying to be independent but are not being trained how to make their own responsible choices.
This article will discuss how using this parenting approach is a way to model God’s discipline and love for his children.
In Deuteronomy 28:13-15, we see that the Lord set his commands in covenant form before his people, and told them what the consequences of obedience and disobedience would be. In this, we see that he has expectations of them to make a choice for obedience, along with the freedom to make that choice.
Since God created us knowing that we would sin against him, he could have taken away our ability to make decisions, but he didn’t, even though we do read in Genesis 6:6 that he was “deeply troubled” that he had created humans.
Sometimes parents struggle with seeing their children more as extensions of themselves rather than individuals in their own right. Because of this, they desire them not to make any of the same mistakes that they made, not to fail in the areas in which they failed, and not to stress them out by making poor choices.
The problem with this mentality is that it is self-centered. In Scripture, we see that God acted for the good of his people, allowing them to learn from their sin, which was also for their ultimate good.
When we set expectations for our children, our goal should be to make those expectations very clear, as well as to make the consequences of disobedience clear. We must remember to consider each child’s current stage of development and what they need to learn at this point in time.
If at this time a child needs to learn to clean up after themselves, there should be a clear expectation that they need to clean their room every day. To ensure that this is clear, a child should be able to explain what that looks like and what the consequence will be if the room is not clean.
Inconsistent parents often set impulsive expectations based on the emotion of the moment. Then the child has to deal with the emotional parent as well as their own personal decisions.
A child who reacts in anger has probably chosen to maintain their own independence instead of remaining connected to their parent(s). They are frustrated by their parent’s emotional expectation-setting and don’t feel that they have the opportunity to make an independent choice to obey, so they control the environment by getting angry.
Instead, what they need is for their parent to help them think through their actions. This starts by setting those clear expectations that are developmentally appropriate.
Consequences can be challenging for a parent to deliver. It’s important not to give a consequence out of an emotional reaction or on the spur of the moment. Consequences are part of training.
A parent who isn’t thinking of the big picture simply reacts to their child’s behavior instead of acting deliberately and intentionally. This is modeling emotional reactivity and ultimately anger for the child. This lack of proper boundaries provokes a child to anger by failing to teach them how to learn from their mistakes.
In Scripture, we see that God disciplines his children out of love and for their good. In Genesis 3:17, Adam fails to accept responsibility for disobeying God’s command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In response, God disciplines Adam by telling him that he will now have to work for the food he eats. In the future, if Adam doesn’t obey by working, he won’t have anything to eat.
Consequences are simply healthy discipline. They are a way to train a child to behave properly by allowing them to experience the results of disobedience. Proverbs 22:15, which refers to the rod driving folly out from the heart of a child, is more than just a lesson on spanking – it also refers to wholehearted discipline.
Angrily spanking a child may not help them learn how to behave well. It may just model anger. The purpose of discipline is not to get revenge on a child for their behavior; it’s to provide a safe environment in which they can learn how to change their behavior by experiencing consequences when they don’t obey.
A child who is allowed to watch television, use electronic devices, or play video games, but does not clean their room until being yelled at repeatedly, is not being taught about the importance of “work before play.” We can see an immediate correlation between this type of parenting and students who fail the first semester of college because there’s no parent to yell at them, and no one has taught them the value of delayed gratification and a good work ethic.
Instead, a child should be taught that the expectations for cleanliness must be met before they are free to enjoy entertainment. This expectation can be clearly set and relies on a logical consequence, not merely anger or a momentary emotional reaction from a parent.
Disciplining a child this way is done out of love. It’s a necessary part of preparing them for adulthood. A needy, permissive parent does not discipline properly because they are worried about their children liking and affirming them. A controlling, reactive parent takes disobedience personally instead of seeing it as their responsibility to train their child.
Empathy and Do-Overs
When a child understands what they are expected to do and exactly what will happen if they don’t do it, they can focus on their own behavior rather than on their parent’s anger. In Jonah 3:10, we read, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
God uses compassionate discipline to bring people to repentance, whether they experience the discipline themselves or see someone else experience it. Through his grace, he allows us to start again after we’ve been disobedient. This is the process of sanctification in the life of a believer.
This is not to say that it’s easy to know when you’re being too harsh vs. too lenient as a parent. Either extreme is not healthy and can provoke a child to anger. To find a balance, make sure to tell your child you love them even as you follow through with a consequence.
Express your disappointment that your child has to experience the negative consequences of their behavior; not because you are personally offended by their behavior, but because you truly want them to enjoy the blessings of obedience.
Always be sure that anger is not used as a tool to try to teach your children how they’ve messed up. Healthy discipline helps a child realize that they are responsible for their own behavior. When they know their parent loves them and has compassion on them, and will give them another chance without defining them by their failures, a child can feel free to reflect on their own choices without shame. Yelling does nothing but cause resentment.
The principles in Parenting with Love and Logic can be tied to principles we find in Scripture about godly, loving discipline. For the first 18 years of their lives, children depend on their parents to learn how to manage their impulses in a constructive way.
If a child is not struggling with a learning or developmental disability, anger problems are possibly a signal that they are frustrated with something in their home environment, and that parents are reacting instead of acting with love.
If you are seeing angry outbursts in your child on a regular basis, let me encourage you to reach out to a licensed christian therapist to help you get to the root of the issue. This can help give you the tools to train your child without exasperating them, providing you with a healthier relationship and a more peaceful home.
“Pouting,” courtesy of martakoton, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Smile,” courtesy of Andrik Langfield Petrides, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Scream,” courtesy of Jason Rosewell, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Down and Out,” courtesy of Hunter Johnson, unsplash.com, CC0 License