Today AMBrewster unpacks the biblical cure for angry children as he helps Christian dads and moms discover the root of all anger problems.
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Today’s episode makes “Parenting Angry Children” tie for longest TLP series.
Setting a new longest series record would be cool considering that we’re coming up on our 300th episode and our 3rd podcast anniversary!
In fact, we’re setting a bunch of new records and doing a ton of cool things, but I’ll be telling you more about that later.
So, our previously longest series will now be our second longest study. Earlier this year we did the “How do you become” series which had exactly 9 episodes as well. If you missed that one, you should check it out because it talks about the process behind becoming — not perfecting — but becoming an intentional, premeditated, disciple-making, Ambassador Parent who teaches and interprets and counsels and trains their kids.
Isn’t it encouraging that the Parent’s 5 Jobs are the only expectations God has for our parenting? That’s really it. It’s just those five.
So, if you haven’t heard “The 5th Parent” series or the “Parent’s 5 Jobs” series, I will link those for you in the description of this episode.
We’ve made an update to those links as well. Before, only people with Apple Podcasts could benefit from those links, but now anyone can click on them. And — even if you don’t have the Apple Podcast app — you’ll be taken to Apple’s website where you can listen to the episode.
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Okay, now before we talk about the core of our Angry Onion, I want to thank Dave, Adam, and Nichole for making today’s episode possible.
As always, you should click on the “5 Ways to Support TLP” link in the description of this episode. We’ve updated one of the 5 ways . . . it’s super cool I’m really excited about it . . . and I’m going to tell you more about it later, but for now you can read about it by clicking on “5 Ways” link.
Let’s just say that it’s never been easier to support TLP. You can do it simply by doing what you always do.
Anyway . . . let’s jump into our discussion about helping our children with their bitterness.
Let’s start by reviewing our list and then reclassify what the Bible means when it talks about bitterness.
As we’ve pulled back the layers on our Angry Onion we’ve discussed how Malicious and Slanderous kids (as well as their victims) need to be protected from their hurtful impulses. Clamorous kids need to conform their communication to God’s expectations. Angry kids need to reveal their hearts so those smoldering embers can be extinguished before they start too big a fire. And Wrathful kids need to understand the nature of their emotions and the part God wants them to play.
And yet, each of these layers will only be truly “cured” — if we can say it that way — by addressing bitterness.
But what is bitterness?
This particular Greek word is only used 4 times in the New Testament. Once in Ephesians 4:31 and then once in Romans 3:14 where Paul quotes Psalm 10:7.
Then again in Acts 8:23.
And lastly in Hebrews 12:15.
Ephesians 4:31 tells us that Bitterness exists.
Romans 3:14 explains bitterness in a little more detail and connects it to the unrighteousness that damns people to hell. Verses 10-18 read, “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Among other things, apparently bitterness can refer to the words that come from our mouths.
Of course, that should have you thinking of Matthew 12:34, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Bitterness, therefore, is a heart problem.
Moving on . . . the Acts 8 passage is interesting — and we’ve alluded to this passage before — because it talks about Simon the Sorcerer. The passage reveals that Simon is a Thorny or Rocky-Hearted individual who displays partial belief in the message of the apostles.
Then Peter and John show up, they lay their hands on the new saints and these new believers receive the Holy Spirit, and Simon gets all excited about that power and says to Peter and John, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” To which Peter responds, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
Peter is helping Simon see what his problem is. His thinking is wrong. He thinks he can buy this power.
Peter tells him his heart is not right. Peter says he needs to repent because his thinking is wicked. He compares it to bile, a bitter fluid secreted by the liver, and tells him that he’s in the bondage of iniquity — that is, slavery to sin.
So, Paul tells us to put away bitterness in Ephesians. In Romans he explains that bitterness can be betrayed in our speech which the Lord tells us comes from our hearts — that is, our minds — our spirits.
Then Peter tells Simon that his bitterness is the wicked frame of mind he’s in — thinking he can buy the grace of God with money. It’s something sinful from which he should seek repentance and forgiveness.
So, again, we need to pause here for a minute to dispel the modern understanding of bitterness being the same as resentment. The bitterness being described in Scripture is simply evil. It’s wickedness. It’s sin. And it’s further described as being words and thoughts which we know to be the result of wrong beliefs.
We studied that out in our Merest Christianity series when we asked the question, “Why do your kids do what they do?”
We do what we do because we believe what we believe.
Bitterness is the state of not believing what we should believe. It’s the state of believing a lie.
This is your angry child’s greatest problem.
In part 6 we said, "100% of angry outbursts are caused by believing a lie.”
When I said that, I knew I was laying the foundation for this episode. In fact, you can go back through all the episodes and see this thread weaving through the entire study.
Bitterness is wrong thinking. It’s wrong believing.
Therefore, to stop being bitter requires that we think correctly. We need to believe right.
Since no child is born into this world thinking God’s thoughts after Him, we recognize our necessity as Ambassador Parents to teach our children about God and His reality.
Teaching our children is the first of the Parent’s Jobs. Therefore . . .
1. Bitter Children need to be taught God’s Word.
This has to happen before they’re bitter. It has to happen when they’re bitter. It must happen after they’re bitter.
And, please remember, your kids are bitter.
If they’re not thinking correctly in any area of their lives, then they’re bitter in that area. If they’re believing the lie that they get to take a toy they want, they’re bitter. If they’re believing the lie that they don’t have to eat their broccoli or obey you when you say to take out the trash or lower their voice when you ask them to . . . they’re believing a lie — they’re bitter.
If they believe it’s okay to be afraid of life’s circumstances, follow their hearts, take revenge, complain, argue, or throw a tantrum . . . they’re bitter.
So, let’s just establish the fact that your kids have been bitter, probably are bitter, and if they’re neither of those . . . I guarantees you they will be bitter at some point in the near future.
Biblical bitterness is sinful thinking.
I keep repeating this because I know how easy it is to look at our toddlers and not believe they’re bitter. But if they haven’t chosen to follow Christ and be born again, they’re bitter. That’s foolish, darkened thinking.
And this is why our kids need Bible, not pragmatism. They need to be taught what’s true. They need to be encouraged to believe Truth, not lies.
“But what if they don’t act on what they’re taught?”
Obviously, no child ever will perfectly know, understand, and obey, therefore, every child will be bitter at some point. It’s going to happen. It’s already happened.
So, what do we do when — despite being told how to respond to life — your child believes a lie?
Keep in mind that it may not yet have even manifested itself in wrath or anger or clamor or slander or malice — and, by the way, if it does manifest itself in any of those, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’re responding that way because they’re thinking sinfully. They’re delusional. They’re not believing reality. They’re bitter.
But even if they don’t move to wrath or the following categories, you can still know they’re bitter.
“How can I know what my kid is thinking? How can I know God thinks their thoughts are evil?”
You have to talk to them. You need to ask questions. You need to be that man of understanding that draws out the purpose of their hearts.
Remember, bitter thinking isn’t automatically angry. It becomes anger when they’ve entered the brooding phase and have started to smolder.
Bitter thinking is simply wrong thinking. Let me give you an example:
“Hey, sweetheart. How was school?”
The child, neither upset nor mad, replies, “We lost our game.”
Immediately — obviously — you’re following up: “What happened?” you ask.
“Once the other team caught up in points, Coach should have benched Aaron.”
“He can’t play. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s the principal’s son, he wouldn’t ever play.”
Now, this is subtle. It sounds like a logical conclusion. It could easy be plausible. However, how did you child come to this conclusion? Did the coach announce it to the team? Was there a school-wide memo? Or, are kids slandering Aaron because they’re mad it was his fault the other team got that last point?
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s obvious. He can’t play. He shouldn’t play. But Coach never pulls him from the game — even when it matters the most. It only makes sense that Coach doesn’t pull him because his boss is Aaron’s dad.”
You, attempting to draw out the purposes in your child ask, “Could there be another reason?”
“No way. The kids an absolute waste.”
With that, your child grabs a fruit and heads off to do their homework.
And now you know your child is bitter.
“Wait, Aaron. How exactly do I know he’s bitter?”
Please understand, I’m not suggesting your child is involved in rampant wickedness, and I’m not saying he’s even resentful. But he is believing the lie that he knows exactly why Coach left Aaron in the game . . . even though he’s only making assumptions.
He’s also believing the lie that this kid doesn’t even deserve common curtesy or respect. Remember what he said? He called him, “an absolute waste.”
There was no sympathy or grace or even the smallest attempt to give any I Corinthians 13 benefit of the doubt. To your son, obviously the Coach was braindead to leave this pathetic player in the game. That was the only answer.
And, you know what? It’s possible the coach was braindead. He could have made a huge game-losing mistake. Or . . . perhaps Coach is a Christian man who’s taken an interest in Aaron because he came to him after practice one day in tears because his dad (the principal) tore into him the night before for being such a poor athlete. Aaron tries really hard, but he’s not a natural.
Coach has been giving him more game time in order for him to get some real-world experience. Sitting the bench won’t help him improve at all.
In fact, Coach decided to leave him in during the last crucial minutes of the game because he knew with that many guys out there, Aaron wouldn’t make or break the game. But being out there when the team won would help his confidence significantly.
In fact, Coach had him in a place that wouldn’t affect the game at all. In fact, had your son been paying close attention to the game instead of ogling that girl in the bleachers, he would have realized that the reason the other team received that last point was the captain of the team brought Aaron into a play that he shouldn’t have run. Had Star Athlete run the play Coach told him to run in the last huddle, Aaron wouldn’t have been put into that position, and the other players would have easily clinched the win.
But your kid had it all figured out with an extra helping of judgmentalism on the side.
Even though your son’s not mad or afraid or depressed, his words have revealed that his thinking is bitter. It’s not perfectly in line with God’s expectations for how we view life.
I share this example because I want us to change the way we think as well.
I can promise you that if we have a malicious, slanderous, clamorous, angry, or wrathful child . . . we probably bear at least a little of the responsibility.
If the first time we’re addressing our child’s actions is after she keyed Mean Girl’s car, there were a lot of layers of the Angry Onion we missed.
Now, I’m not blaming you. Your child made her decision. She’s responsible.
But, if you weren’t actively engaging in her life so as to be able to hear and interpret her thinking and thereby help her work through how God would have her respond to Mean Girl . . . you’re responsible for your own lack of observant and involved parenting.
When we do that, we’re responsible for our own bitter thinking.
So . . . what do we do when we discover our child has bitter thinking?
This is where the author of Hebrews provides the complete picture of what is looks like to restore someone who is bitter.
Let’s pick up in Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
2. Bitter Children need to be reproved.
Reproof is what we call the Interpretation Stage of parenting. This is where we help our kids see how their current thinking doesn’t line up with the reality God presents in the Bible.
And, keep in mind, we don’t reprove our kids because we hate them or they annoy us. We reprove them because we love them.
This is why the Lord chastises us.
Consider God and Cain in Genesis 4.
Cain’s thinking is bitter enough that he offers God an unacceptable sacrifice. God didn’t change. It wasn’t His fault Cain did wrong, but instead of owning his choice, Cain gets upset.
Of course, God’s paying attention and he reproves Cain. He says, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
God reinterprets Cain’s situation. He helps him see that the issue is his own anger. He shows Cain how his emotions are not being controlled by righteous thinking. God helps him see the common sense reality that when you do well, you righteousness is acceptable, but when you sin, consequences come.
God even then gives Cain the hope that he needn’t be ruled by sin — in fact, Cain is told he can rule over sin.
God’s reinterpretation hit all the right notes, and reminded him of the Primary Consequences of sin.
However, Cain didn’t respond well. His bitter thinking turned into smoldering which eventually turned into malice as he stole his brother’s life.
God then has to reprove again, and because Cain didn’t learn from the Primary Consequences, God adds Secondary Consequences.
Remember, consequences are part of the Reproof Stage.
We use consequences to help our children understand that they’re bitter and that sinful thinking hurts God, hurt others, and even hurt themselves.
The way your son thought about Aaron hurt God because it was foolish and unloving. It hurt himself because he was making it easier for himself to think incorrectly later on. Your son was building a habit of bitter thinking. And it hurt Aaron and the Coach because those incorrect beliefs about them weren’t engendering a beneficial relationship. They were setting your child against them.
And, imagine if something like this happens again. Depending on how important it is to your child to win, he’s likely going to start becoming more and more angry at Aaron and Coach. It may even one day turn into saying unkind things about Aaron or roughing him up in the locker room. It may even turn into disrespect for Coach.
That kind of thinking needs to be reproved.
Then the author of Hebrews continues, “7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
God is trying to rectify our bitter thinking by helping us to see how we and our kids should respond to reproof. It’s a good thing designed for our benefit! It’s for our maturity and conformity to Christ’s likeness.
Sure, it may be painful, but it’s good.
Your son should be thinking that way about the game. Yeah, it’s not comfortable to lose, but God wants to use that loss in your son’s life (and everyone else’s as well) to help him become more like Jesus.
Now, if your child responds to your teaching, his thoughts won’t be bitter.
If they have bitter thinking, but they respond to your reproof, they’ll apologize and repent as they work to align their thoughts with God’s.
But what if they don’t?
Well, like we learned in the “5 Jobs,” an unrepentant child is a child who’s demanding that her parents only ever Teach and Reprove her. She won’t experience the joy of a Counseling and Training parent until she first submits.
But, let’s say your child does submit to Truth and embraces the reinterpretation of their wicked thinking.
3. Bitter Children Who Repent need to be counseled in righteousness.
Hebrews continues, “12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
Let’s break this down.
The drooping hands and weak knees and wandering paths and being out of joint represent the bitter thinking that lead us to dislike reproof and respond incorrectly to it.
Instead, your child is encourage to . . .
A. Embrace God’s grace. This doesn’t simply refer to saving grace, but also the sanctifying grace that enables us to be conformed to Christ in holiness. Your angry child needs to rest on God’s Word and look for the Spirit’s empowerment.
It’s God’s grace that enables us to be positionally righteous in Christ and live righteously in this life. It’s God’s grace that keeps roots of bitterness from springing up and defiling us by leading us into anger, sexual immorality, and other foolish living.
What does this righteous — aka: not bitter — life look like? God wants your child to . . .
B. Strive for peace and holiness with everyone. We could take a long time detailing this point, but — suffice it to say — your child needs to live righteously and lovingly with others.
This is the kind of life that inherits a blessing.
Now — I know we’ve gone long, but this is important — let’s finish off our list in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
This peaceful, holy interaction with those around us — regardless of how they treat us — will result in kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness.
This peaceful, holy life will not produce bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice. It can’t.
So, if our kids repent and embrace our Counsel in order to correct their previously bitter thinking, we can enter into the Training Stage where we assist our kids as they proactively try to hate sin and love God more.
Then, and only then, can we we hope to do . . .
4. Children need to be trained in God’s Truth.
This training is a continuation of the Counseling step. Instead of turning away from sin to righteous, we’re simply helping them stay righteous.
Of course, Ambassador Parenting is a constant flow and mix of Teaching, Reproving, Counseling, and Training. That’s what keeps us on our toes. We always have to be doing whichever ones we can.
This has been such a powerful study for me — primarily — because it’s made angry children more accessible for me.
They’re not as enigmatic. They’re not as scary. They’re a little bit easier for me to understand. I think I’m now easier for me to understand, and that’s invaluable.
And now I know how I can help them work through the layers of their Angry Onion in order to keep them and everyone else physically and spiritually safe.
Will it work our perfectly and neatly every time? No way. Will there be children who spurn our teaching and reproof and continue in their bitterness? Yes.
But, are you now equipped to take the first and most important steps with your angry kids? Definitely.
Let’s review the steps and look at another quick, practical example.
It’s a regular occurrence. Your daughter hates meals. She hates having to sit in her seat. She hates having to focus on eating while everyone else is talking. She doesn’t like the food you make for dinner. This has been an issue for a while.
You tell your daughter to finish her food. She skips lallygagging this evening and trips right into defiance and anger. She tells you she’s not hungry and proceeds to knock her vegetables onto the floor in tears.
You have a full-out Angry Onion in front of you.
Of course, you start with point #10 — managing your own thinking and submitting it to Truth. And then you approach your daughter.
You know you won’t be able to work through the 10 points in the same order. You may even be able to skip some. Sure, she maliciously knocked her food on the floor, but you’re not concerned about anyone’s safety. However, she’s moving toward the entree, so you sidle up and remove her fork from he hand (point #2).
She starts to struggle and decides she’s going to hurt you more by slanderously telling you she hates your food.
Do you address this?
You decide to jump right to The Communication House because you’ve already taught this to your kids and expect this kind of family talk from them.
“Your words and behavior are not pleasing the Lord. You’re not agreeing with God and you’re not being loving (point #4). We can talk about this, but you’re going to have reign in your emotions (points #6 and #8) and step back inside the House.”
Who knows what’s going to happen. It may be one of those nights.
But, for sake of time, your daughter at least stops slandering you and being clamorous. So you move into the reproof stage (point #7).
You explain how her disobedience and disrespect is not pleasing to the Lord. You use the Word to show her the bitterness in her thinking and sin in her behavior. Basically, you do point #3 by showing her delusion.
You then move to point #5 and the heart unpacking. You ask her questions (expecting her answers to be as much inside the house as possible) in an attempt to draw out the purposes of her heart — to really understand her bitterness.
You show understanding, but you also correct her thinking by reminding her of how God would have her respond, always being careful to remember point #9 about taking it all back to the Bible.
There likely will be consequences she will have to bear. That will depend on your family, but I would argue that the situation I’ve created is probably not one where she receives no Secondary Consequences.
She’s going to have to eat her food (unless her unpacking revealed an honestly good reason for her to skip dinner). She’s at least going to have to clean up her mess. There may also be any other number of consequences to use depending on your own daughter, the situation, your relationship, etc.
If she’s willing to submit to Truth, she will need to apologize and then start working to be kind, tenderhearted, righteous, and holy.
Now, we’re done with this part of the study, but I’m adding a bonus episode that will not only make this series the longest one yet, but will also answer an extremely important question some of you have asked us.
I’ve interacted with quite a few people recently who’ve asked me things like: “How should I respond to my child’s anger if they’re autistic? How should I view my child’s anger if they have ADHD, anxiety, depression, Occupational Defiance Disorder, and so on?”
That question is more than fair, and the Bible has the answers.
So, on our next episode I want to address that question is as much detail as one episode will allow.
Until then, thank you for your patience. I love you. You can do this by God’s grace.
And I’ll see you next time.
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