TLP 293: Parenting Angry Children, Part 7 | how to help our kids with their anger
Are your kids angry? How can you know? What do you do if they are? Today AMBrewster discusses how to detect anger problems and learn to head them off. But it’s going to take work. Are you ready?
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“Is it okay to get mad?” (episode 153)
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If you’re just joining us today because the name of this episode caught your eye, and you thought, “I have angry kids!” I’m very glad you’re here.
But I want to mention that this is Part 7 of much longer series, and each of the ones that have gone before are super important to being able to parent angry children.
The first episode discussed why our kids get mad. The second and third looked at the biblical categories for how our kids get mad. And then from episode four and on we’ve been looking at the individual manifestations of anger and how we can parent our kids through them.
So, if you’re just joining us, you’re missing some really important information, including the fact that we’re using the word “angry” in this episode to describe a very specific manifestation of what we may generally call “anger.”
Again, if you’ve just stumbled onto this episode, please go back to episode 285 and take this journey with us. It’s never good enough to do Duct Tape Parenting. We want to know, understand, and be able to apply the biblical understanding of God, our kids, and ourselves within our parenting.
Now, if you’re returning and ready for this discussion, let me take a moment to thank Josh and Heatherly for making this episode possible. And allow me to encourage you to click on the “5 Ways to Support TLP" link in the description of this episode to find out a little more about what it means to be a Patron.
But, until then, let’s talk about angry kids.
If you remember from Part 2, we defined “anger” as that smoldering, under-the-surface thought process where the child dwells on the perceived source of their anger.
This is different than the non-intellectual explosion of raw emotion we see in wrathful responses. This involves reasoning and mulling.
Now, the child may be believing a lie or their logic could be very fallacious, but they’re still thinking about it and stewing,
We all know what this is like. We’ve all done this. We’ve all been obsessed and consumed with a situation we just wouldn’t let go because “we were so angry.”
In episode 153 we answered the question “Is it okay to get mad?” And we were able to put together a number of ways to judge our anger to determine if it were Christ-honoring or not.
One of those criteria was that Christ-honoring anger has to end the right way.
If our anger continues beyond those boundaries, we can know our anger is sin.
This is the anger we’re discussing today.
Let’s say a bully broke your teen son’s bike. Of course, there’s no proof, but your son is certain that’s how it happened. Your son confronts the bully, the bully admits it to your son, but refuses to admit it to an authority. So, the bully refuses to submit to Truth, and so far, it appears as if the bully’s sin hasn’t found him out.
Now your son has to make a very important decision. Is he going to give the situation over to God, or is he going to try to be god.
If he’s willing to trust God, then for the moment there’s nothing more he can do, and he’s left school, and his head is on the pillow, he’s trusting God and is not all hot and bothered.
However, if he views himself as the only person who can “make this right,” then he’ll likely fall asleep dwelling on how unfair it is and how he can make the bully pay for what he did.
That is sinful anger. That’s what we’re discussing today. And — as we can see from our example — that’s what can easily give way to clamor and slander and malice. That boy is going to be hardcore tempted to lose his cool around the bully, tear him down around others, and potentially try to give him a dose of his own medicine.
So, how do we help our angry child?
Before I answer that today, I need to explain something to you. This series started as a three part episode. We’re currently on episode 7 and potentially going to end on episode nine. It’s become one of, if not our longest series.
There’s so much information here, and there’s so little time to talk about it. As I studied the Word, I couldn’t justify trying to handle this very real parenting struggle in just a few episodes, but I also faced the huge task of making this material accessible and helpful.
I’m trying hard, and I pray it’s been helpful for you. A few of you have emailed me recently and lifted my heart as you shared how this has been beneficial for both you and your kids. So, I praise God for that, and I soldier on in this task.
What complicates this even more is the fact that each of these manifestations of anger are like concentric circles with bitterness at the center. To rightly deal with any of them is to eventually strike at the bitter heart. But we couldn’t just do an episode about that and leave it there because — as we’ve observed many times — most of the time you have to work through the Angry Onion layer by layer until you can reveal the heart.
The malicious child is convinced it’s the other person’s fault. They’re only doing what is right and equitable by getting back at them and making them feel the way they made the child feel.
Even this angry boy is convinced the bully is the problem. In his eyes, anyone who can’t see that is blind to justice. How could anyone confront him about his anger when it’s clearly the bully who’s the problem. In fact, the child could easily argue that if it were not for the bully, he wouldn’t be angry in the first place!
So, it can be very difficult to work that child through the stages necessary to come to grips with the fact that the bully is not his problem . . . he’s his problem.
Our disobedient kids aren’t our problems . . . we’re our problems. Our bitter heart is the issue every single time.
So, when it came to the malicious child, we focused primarily on managing the physical violence. The same was true for the slanderous child and their verbal violence. And our focus for the clamorous child was helping them communicate in a valuable way.
Today we’re going to look at the necessity of open, constant, quality, transparent communication as we deal with our angry children.
Lord willing, next time we’re going to discuss the emotional aspect of anger.
And then on part 9 I pray we’ll be able to put a glorious cap on the root issue that spawns all anger problems.
So, when you zoom out, even though I’m only making a few points per episode, if you’re struggling with a malicious or slanderous child, there are many stages and points and directions from which you have to approach this subject.
On one side, I’m not trying to oversimplify, and each episode by itself can seem that way. And on the other side I’m not trying to bury you with material, and when you step back and look at all of it, it can feel that way.
My friends, I love you. I care deeply about your families. I’m dedicating this study and work to God and to you because I know how difficult it is to parent angry kids. Please feel free to reach out to me with your questions. I want to help as much as I can or connect you with someone who can do better, and there a lot of people who can do that.
I know that was a very long intro, but it’s important to keep in mind from where we’ve come and where we’re going and what the point of all of this is.
Now, let’s turn our attention to our angry kids.
The Greek word translated “anger” in Ephesian 4:31 shows up about 35 times in the New Testament, and the vast, vast, vast, majority of them refer to God’s anger and are usually translated in the ESV as “wrath.” Don’t let that confuse you.
I mention that because when you look through the Scriptures for the verses about sinful anger, you’re going to find comparatively few — especially if you focus your study to this one Greek word. And many of the instances you discover are like Ephesians 4:31; anger is just one word in a list.
So, how are we going to fill our arsenal in order to meet the demands of an angry child?
Well, the first observations we need to make actually have nothing to do with the word “anger.”
Remember this, your malicious or slanderous or clamorous child is that way because they’re angry. They’ve been smoldering for a decent amount of time, and those manifestations are simply the external explosion of that building pressure.
And much of this has probably gone unnoticed by you.
You can’t read your kid’s mind. You’re likely giving them the benefit of the doubt when they tell you everything’s okay, but it’s clear that at least something is not okay. And we so often misinterpret all the other verbal and physical cues that might communicate that our child is obsessing or dwelling.
So, here’s our first point:
1. Angry children need to be unpacked.
I’m pretty sure that while I wrote these notes, I stood staring blankly at my computer screen for a solid five minutes trying to figure out the best way to describe what I mean.
As you can tell, I failed to come up with the best word.
But there is a verse that’s jumping to my mind. We’ve considered this before. Proverbs 20:5 — “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
The word translated “purpose” refers to a plan, advice, and counsel. It’s something that is thought out, mulled over, and reasoned. This word perfectly refers to the process our angry kids undertake.
This smoldering happens below the surface. It’s a mental exercise to replay and replay the offense and reimagine and reimagine what you’ll say when you see them next. It’s in our dreams both waking and sleeping. It’s in our hearts.
But . . . a man of understanding will draw it out.
The word translated “understanding” refers to someone with discretion, someone who’s skilled, someone with wisdom.
To “draw out” is exactly what you may imagine if you picture a bucket being lifted from a well. This is what we must do if we hope to prevent our children from becoming angry or to help them grapple with their anger.
Yes, the clamorous child needs to settle down as we attempt to communicate, but the angry child has to engage in communication in the first place. However, until they reach the clamor or slander stage, they’re not really interested in communicating. They’re bottled-up and brooding.
That’s why I chose to say unpacked. A suitcase is not going to unpack itself. It’s not going to ask to be unpacked. If there’s any unpacking to be done, you have to engage it.
Children with a bitter heart or fully in the throws of anger don’t really want to be unpacked, but you — the parent — absolutely need to get inside your kid. You have to know what they’re thinking, you have to understand their struggles and interpretations. You have to listen to them.
The single best way to prevent your child from becoming angry is to have a continual dialogue with them where you can draw out their heart and help them interpret their experiences the way God does. And this is not a hobby for the faint of heart. Having transparent and open conversations with children can be uncomfortable, tedious, and even a little painful.
I’ve repeatedly asked my kids to share with me ways I can be a better dad, to tell me how they think I may be sinning. Both of my kids are going through puberty, and I haven’t simply relegated all the daughter conversations to my wife. I’m involved in those. I’m instigating them.
My kids and I talk about who they like, how they feel, what they’re thinking, and what’s going on in their lives.
It takes time, it takes patience. It’s often awkward and uncomfortable. It requires good conversational skills, the ability to ask valuable and probing questions, being observant. And I’m not saying I do all of this well. I’m just illustrating that I understand how challenging this is, especially if you grew up in a non-communicative home, or a home that didn’t please the Lord in your family talk.
But it has to be done.
If you can unpack your child. If you can instigate an ongoing dialogue where they are comfortable and happy to share their mind with you, then you have their heart. You should be able to tell when their thinking starts to go astray. You’ll be able to head off poor interpretation in such a way that you can short-circuit anger before it’s even annoyance.
And, for a child already on fire, eliciting their heart by asking the right questions will help you understand how they’re justifying their anger.
I wish I could give you an example of how this might sound, but we don’t have the time, and my example could be helpful for some of you and not for others.
The key is to draw out their purpose of their heart. Find out how they feel and think. This takes knowledge and wisdom and understanding all founded on the fear of the Lord, but you can do it, and God wants to enable you to do it well.
And in the same way Angry children need communicative parents . . .
2. Angry children need observant parents.
Remember that anger is under the surface. It’s like a shark or crocodile sliding under the water. If you pay close attention, you can probably see ripples and color changes and movements that aren’t quite right.
We need to do that with our children. Yes, we need to keep an open and transparent dialogue, but often our kids may lie or not fully understand the situation themselves.
I once spoke with an elderly man about what appeared to be clear-cut case of bitterness toward another individual, but he just didn’t see it that way. He had all his reasons his feelings were justified, and with every reason he gave, he further justified in my mind that he was very bitter toward this other individual. But he didn’t get it.
The same will happen with our kids. So, we need to listen to their word choices, but also pay close attention to their tone of voice and even their silence. We also need to consider their body language. For example, it’s a cliche that high schoolers will get into the car after school and throw their earbuds in (if they’re not already in their ears). Does this seem okay to you?
That looks like the behavior of a disgruntled child. Would they do that if they got into a car with the boy or girl on whom they had a crush? Would they do that if they entered the car of their favorite actor or musician? Would they even do that if they climbed into a car with one of their friends? Maybe, but I think in most cases they would keep the earbuds out so they could engage in conversation or one sort or another.
But a child who enters your car with little more than a grunt and who immediately shuts you out is angry about something. It may not even be a something so much as somethings. It’s likely the annoyed tolerance of someone who would rather be somewhere else with someone else.
Of course, perhaps they’re not directly mad at you. Maybe they’re upset about their day, their classes, their teachers, their work, their life.
My point is, when I look around an average school, I see hallways and classrooms and cafeterias full of angry kids. When I visit homes and watch families interact, I see anger seething below the surface in many of those relationships.
We must become masters of interpretation. We have to be able to detect anomalous behavior and then investigate that in order to draw out their heart.
And, speaking of annoyance . . .
3. Angry children need low-level accountability.
What do I mean by that?
I love the English language. I love all of our synonyms. I love that we can choose from a panoply of ideas to we give our thoughts and emotions life.
But, we often get ourselves in trouble with our linguistic gymnastics.
“I’m not angry, I’m just annoyed.”
“I’m not angry, I’m agitated, aggravated, irritated, frustrated.”
If we’re only going to probe our children’s hearts when they say they’re angry, and our kids know that saying they’re annoyed or aggravated will keep you from probing any further, they’ll start using those words instead.
I’m not suggesting we oversimplify our language so that we’re only ever using the word angry. I’m the guy who wishes we all still talked like Shakespeare, and I believe those other words do allow us shades of meaning that help communicate better.
But I also know that it’s too easy to use those other words as a smokescreen for a different issue.
So, if our kids are going to use words like annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravate, or aggravated — especially if we know they’re already prone to brooding anger — we need to handle those situations the exact same way we would if they said they were really angry about something.
Whether they’re telling the truth about how they feel or not, annoyance — and all those other descriptors — are the gateway to anger. What starts as a sliver in our minds can quickly and easily fester and become infected by anger. The longer we don’t deal with it, the bigger the problem will become.
So, when I say, angry children need low-level accountability, I’m suggesting that we deal with things for what they really are. Don’t wait for it to become full-blown anger. Keep them accountable for the seeds that may become anger later on.
Now, you may find that your kids stop using those words and just start telling you they’re “fine.” If that’s the case, you need to redouble your efforts at drawing out their heart because it’s become very clear they don’t want to open up to you.
Now, I know we’ve gone long, but don’t forget about our episode notes linked below.
But, before we end we must end with the same point we’ve made the other three times.
4. Angry children need Bible, not pragmatism.
It doesn’t matter that Benjamin Franklin said “A man in a passion, rides a mad horse.” And it doesn’t matter that Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Anger is one letter short of danger.”
What matters is what God says.
What matters is that in James 1:19-21 the Lord tells us that every person must “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
And then He tells us how to do this. He says, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Sinful anger is a filthy bitter creature that does not produce the righteousness of God. Instead, our children must humbly submit to and accept God’s inscripturated Word. That is the only thing that will help our kids.
“Yeah, but Aaron, you’re lacking the pithy advice. The Mayo Clinic says we should take a timeout or ‘stick with ‘I’ statements’ or use humor to release tension or practice relaxation skills.”
Yeah, I know they do. And I know that countless pages have been written trying to describe magic bullets that are guaranteed to help our angry kids. But there’s no method or habit or plan that’s going to actually fix the situation.
Our children need to see their lives through God’s eyes. They need to truly believe what He says about the people and situations that tempt us to anger, and they need to faithfully mature in humble, submissive, obedience.
I know it’s not catchy, but it’s Truth that will save our souls.
Thank you for your patience today.
I’m going to close in the same way I opened. There is so much more that needs to be said. It’s not easy to draw out your child’s heart, and sometimes that’s easier than knowing what to do once you’ve drawn it out.
Please, seek counsel. Get help from people who know God’s Word. No matter how hard it is, the answer is simple — to control our anger we need to know, understand, and believe what God says about trials and tribulations.
On our next episodes we’re going to peel back yet another layer and discuss the emotional facet of wrathful kids.
I love you guys, and I pray the Lord would be glorified in your homes.
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