From Stephen Templeton:
Having children can provoke and expose areas in our lives that are not whole, areas that God wants to restore and heal. The Lord uses these challenging situations for our good, to help grow us up. The pressure of the adoption process and parenting in general almost always reveals things in ourselves-- unwhole areas, past hurts, places in our hearts that need healing and restoration. This exposure is God's kindness and mercy because He loves us so much. In What Angry Kids Need, Jennifer Brown and Pam Hopkins write, "The most important thing you can do to raise a child who manages anger in healthy ways is to learn to do so yourself," and I think they are probably right. The good news is that we have a Father God who has given us everything we need to do this.
Good for Identifying, Not Solving
Scott Turansky explains that "Anger is good for identifying problems, but not for solving them," and we have found this to certainly be true. If you can look on anger not as a way to solve problems, but as a great way to identify problems you can then turn an unpleasant experience into a helpful one.
Some of you may recognize this type of scenario-- you've just told your son it's time to stop playing his video game because dinner is ready.
You repeat yourself.
He repeats himself--that is, he doesn't.
You walk over to him, have him look you in the eyes and tell him he will stop the game right now.
He does, but accompanies his belated response with disrespectful words and an angry accusing tone.
At this point, you have a choice. You can respond to his anger and ugliness with your own version of the same in an effort to let him know you won't be treated that way, and to "give him a taste of his own medicine." And maybe simply because it is offensive to be treated that way and you are just plain angry. However, using your own anger as a parenting tool in most cases will either crush a child, or provoke him to a magnified response. Rather, his anger has given you information as a parent-- you have some work to do. But in the moment, your clear and calm response gives your son some information too.
He will come to the table and eat; he will not be playing video games tomorrow; he will play again (at whatever time you determine is helpful) and when he does he will have another chance to do it right.
The result is a much nicer dinner for the family!
A God-given Emotion
So let's talk a bit more about anger. What is it? Well, anger is just a strong, God-given emotion. In and of itself, anger is not right or wrong. It is not evil, but it is a strong emotion that we all experience at one time or another. It's what we do with the anger that counts! Our goal and responsibility as parents is not to remove any anger responses from our children but to help them express it in appropriate ways. It would be wrong, unrealistic and unhealthy for us to expect our children to never get angry. Living life with people can be challenging-- there are no perfect families or people, and you and I and our children are going to experience anger. That is completely normal and expected. Do not put an unrealistic expectation on yourself or on your children that there will never be outbursts of anger and friction in your home. We are people and not robots. In fact there are appropriate things to be angry about (injustice, the hurting and wounding of the weak and innocent, etc). Long-term suppression of anger is unhealthy and can lead to bitterness, hostility, depression and physical illness. It is documented scientifically that some physical and mental illnesses can be traced to the poor handling of anger. On the other hand, I think we all know intuitively that out of control anger is incredibly destructive to relationships, and that little muscle, the tongue, is incredibly potent and potentially destructive. So should we all go out into the woods alone for primal scream therapy session to deal with our anger? Maybe not.
What's the Primary Emotion?Because anger is good at pointing out the problem, it is considered a "secondary" emotion. It arises from a primary emotion, and helping your child name and discern the primary emotion behind his or her anger can be a very helpful tool in helping to deal with a strong anger response. Some of the primary emotions that elicit anger are:
Disappointment Fear Rejection Frustration Sadness
Powerlessness Hurt Impatience Loneliness Confusion
Embarrassment Worry Overwhelmed
One of our often-told family stories is a good example of fear induced anger. I was at home with two of my daughters, Julia and Rachel, then aged 3 and 5. It was a lovely spring day, and I had cracked the dormer window in Rachel's upstairs bedroom. The girls were having a great time pretend playing, and I was working on something downstairs when I heard Rachel running down the stairs screaming, "Daddy! Daddy! Julia's out on the roof." Well, with my heart in my throat, I tore up the stairs to their room and spotted 3 year old Julia crouched down on the flat section of the roof just outside their dormer window. The "barely opened" window was three feet off the floor, but she had climbed up and just crawled through the opening, and was sitting on a flat landing section of the roof just outside the window. Filled with fear I ripped open the window, grabbed Julia in and began spanking and screaming at her in anger. I was terrified and overwhelmed. I soon gained control and just held her tight. The fear I experienced (the primary emotion) exploded in anger (the secondary emotion) at her and the situation, so I overreacted. The best part of the story, that only came out years later, was that Rachel, then age 5, confessed that she had been the one who urged her sister to climb out onto the roof! Here is a picture of Julia and me-- just so you know that our relationship has managed to recover from my outburst!
Anger and the Scripture
What does the bible say about anger? There are many scriptures that deal with anger, and they are very insightful and full of wisdom in giving us guidance in how to deal with this emotion.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret- it leads only to evil.
Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity.
Proverbs 29: 22
An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Tremble and (In your anger) do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
I find the last two scriptures particularly helpful- "In your anger do not sin". So it is possible to feel anger and not sin. Whew, that's a relief. Again, it is what we do with this strong emotion that counts.
Stay tuned for the last in this three part series on Anger by Stephen