Thursday, April 26, 2012


Here is our last in a three-part series on Anger. You can read parts I and II by clicking here and here.

From Stephen Templeton:

Let's Get Practical

I really appreciate so many people who have taught and written about practical, God-led approaches that we as parents can employ to help our children deal with anger in a constructive way. What follows is largely a summary of techniques that Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller of the National Center for Biblical Parenting have suggested. While there is no formula for parenting our children, and every child and potentially every situation is different and unique, requiring us to always be following the Lord's leading (please see Beth's post PARENTING THE ADOPTED CHILD DIFFERENTLY), there are some practical principles that can help you and your family if you are struggling in this area of anger. The following steps help break anger situations into smaller pieces so that you and your child can catch anger outbursts earlier and prevent massive, destructive anger storms.

Step 1

Identify the Trigger Points and Cues

First reflect on what trigger points tend to set your child off. If your having trouble pinning it down, take a look at the primary emotions listed in Part II: 
Disappointment, Fear, Rejection, Frustration, Sadness, Powerlessness, Hurt, Impatience, Loneliness, Confusion, Embarrassment, Worry, Overwhelmed. 
While certainly not comprehensive, this list likely contains situations that may be one of the primary triggers of your child's anger. One of my children has had struggles with anger, and it became quite clear that disappointment was this child's main trigger point. In our recent Hope at Home Webinar, disappointment was also the primary trigger for the majority of the participants. It makes sense-- most adopted children have experienced devastatingly disappointing, out-of-control events, and by God's hand they are now permanently fused into your family. While their identity has been forever changed, this wound of disappointment is often incompletely healed, and when other completely unrelated disappointing things happen-- they can't watch a video, didn't make the grade they wanted, can't spend the night at their friend's house-- well, that can set off a significant and disproportionate anger response. While it would be normal for our child to be disappointed that she can't spend the night at her friend's house because you have something else planned, it is not "normal" for her to go into a rage because of this disappointment. Helping your childen understand this, in an age and developmentally appropriate level, is the first step in helping them exert self control with their anger outbursts.

Step 2

Tune In and Use Words

Helping your child be in tune with his emotions is a great step forward in their emotional growth. Again, the list of primary emotions is a great tool to help your child verbalize how they are feeling before the anger monster takes over and an explosion occurs. You can help them develop a "feelings" vocabulary, and you can help them identify and speak out what is going on inside them. 

Now, in our experience this process has been much easier with our girls than our boys. From a very early age one of my girls was a master at this. She could tell you exactly how she was feeling and was so intuitive in her ability to discern situations. On the other hand, boys will probably need more help in verbalizing what is going on inside. It is our job to help them turn "I just want to hit him" into "What Johnny said really hurt my feelings, and I feel sad". You can help them use feelings language by seeing how they feel and verbalizing it for them. For example, if your child is starting to get mad about not being able to play with his friends after school, you might identify with them by saying "Not being able to play with your buddies is disappointing. I know you really want to go..."

Step 3

Help Them Pull Back Not Push Forward

Helping your child to pull back and not push forward into escalating anger is essential. This is the essence of helping them control their response. The first two steps are geared toward self knowledge, and then we all have to make that choice of embracing the anger response or pulling back in self control. Now, if your child had all the self control she needed, then you wouldn't be having a problem with anger, so one of the primary practical tips is using "The Break" in a constructive way to help break the careening momentum toward a destructive anger outburst. The Break is used as a discipline and training tool, not punishment, and it is not a "timeout". The primary goal is to help settle your child down so that they can then interact in a more positive way. Sometimes you as a parent need a break because you can feel the adrenaline rush coming and it's about to escalate into the unhelpful zone. So you can model this with your child, and this helps lower the emotional level for both of you so that you can shortly come back and achieve resolution. The break is not meant to be used to create emotional distance from your child, but just to help your child, or you, to lower the emotional level and gain some control. We have had occasions when it is has been best to say something like, "I can see that you are very angry right now. Why don't we stop talking about this for now and take a break. We will need to finish our conversation, but we can do it later when we aren't so angry." For some parents, leaving something unresolved can really be a challenge, especially if your child's response to taking a break is more angry words. Some children will look for ways to draw you in with provoking words and actions. Calmly walking away or, with younger children, redirecting their attention to a toy, book, or other activity, is modeling this skill of pulling back, away from the anger, rather than careening full force into it. 

Step 4

A Different Response

Help your child plan ahead for a different response to a trigger or cue to the beginning waves of anger. It is always much more effective to help your child with this step when he is not in the middle of an anger outburst. After the fact, maybe later that evening, when emotions are completely at ease and your child is feeling at peace, present them with scenarios of how they could have responded differently, and what different, positive outcomes would have looked like. For instance, with younger children, reenacting the scene can be a fun way to present a better response than angrily pushing their friend off the swing because it wasn't their turn. Have your child pretend to be the friend on the swing and you be the offended child. Our children always loved this pretend time and found it fascinating to see their daddy or mommy behaving so poorly as we reenacted their actions. Then we would try different scenarios of how else we could respond, using our play-acting as a fun training time. So often we tell children what not to do without equipping them by showing them what they should/could do instead. 
With older children, talking through the scenario is helpful. Ask, "What could you have done differently?" or "What will you do next time instead?"

Step 5

Transfer Responsibility

This is a very important step. We live in a culture where victim mentality is rampant, and it is very tempting for our children to want to blame others and their circumstances for their out-of-control anger response. In fact this certainly is not a problem limited to children! In an age appropriate fashion, it is critical that the child understands that it is his responsibility to respond with self control, and that trying to fix blame on others or circumstances is a no-win game for him.  This does not mean putting your child under condemnation for his actions. What it does mean is that only he can control his response, and that it is his responsibility to grow in this area. We teach our children that, "Your response is your responsibility." Make sure your child knows that you will provide all the support and help that she needs, but that you cannot control her, only she can exert self control. Point them to the Lord as the provider of everything that they need. Help them trust in the Lord for His help and power to overcome. Speak life-giving words of truth over them, of who they really are in the Lord's sight. Help them understand that their behavior is hurting you or others-- "I understand that you are feeling this way, but your behavior is hurting me." In doing this you are helping your child transfer appropriate responsibility for their actions on to them.

We hope this series has been helpful to you. As with all aspects of parenting, we encourage you that prayer is your best parenting technique. 
May the God of Peace Himself fill you, and your children, and your home, with His Reigning Peace at all times and in every occasion. 

Please leave us a comment with some things you have done in your homes to help your child, or yourself, deal with anger. It would be a great help to us all!


  1. Wonderful strategies...thank you.

  2. This is very helpful! As an adopted child of my heavenly Father, it helps me hear and understand the measures of His grace as I learn about anger. Thank you!