Since most of us adults are still learning how to properly handle our own anger, we often end up getting angry inappropriately with our equally inappropriately angry child. So an incident that probably started out as a child sinning ends up with two “children” sinning – one of them an adult.
Correcting wrong ideas and habits related to the expression of anger takes time, humility and the work of the Holy Spirit. In some of us the saved-up anger is buried so deep that we may have to dig a while to uncover the source. Or we may have labelled our rotting anger with words like frustration or stressed out.
We need to work at modelling appropriate expressions of anger:
- Not acting or speaking unless emotions are under control (being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger,” as James 1:19 directs us),
- Directing anger at the specific cause rather than spraying anger at our spouse or other people with a long list of complaints,
- Seeking resolution and reconciliation, not payback.
Remember: Children are like little radar units watching how we will react.
The apostle Paul highlighted the role we parents play in training our children to stay out of the unresolved anger trap. Speaking straightforwardly to dads, he said: “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). In another letter Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21).
Often during the pre-adolescent and teenage years, dads have a tendency to be a bit harsh and clumsy, especially with sons. Perhaps we dads are not as well-equipped to handle the nuances of communication and relational maintenance so critical with adolescents. Or perhaps their independent thinking and behaviour catches us off guard or feels a bit threatening.
From our experience with teens and work with families, we’ve established a list of the things parents do to provoke anger in their children. Many more could be listed, but here are our top five:
- An authoritarian, dictatorial style of relating to a child (parental rules without a relationship of love, affection and fun times together).
- A critical spirit; parents who consistently tear down their teen with a tone of voice.
- Outright neglect of a child.
- Not letting our kids know what to expect from us in terms of boundaries, limits and rules.
- A parent who rejects or withdraws from a relationship with his child.
The emotional tone of your family is important. Crawl inside your child’s perspective. As you look at yourself as a parent, are there areas where you are provoking your child’s anger?
Mom, Dad, brace yourself. Dealing with this trap of unresolved anger in your home is one of the most challenging assignments you’ll ever take on as an adult. It demands that you be above the fray and know what’s going on in your child and yourself and not lose sight of your objective – what it is you are trying to build into the character of your child.
It will take most of us years and many angry incidents to train our children to stay out of the trap and learn how to resolve anger. There’s hope, though. We have found that a more peaceful period will arrive in your relationship with your child in his late teens. But in the meantime, you must steel yourself to endure considerable emotional intensity, hurt, disappointment, discouragement and even feelings of failure as a parent. Never give up. Continue to model godly expressions of your anger for your child and watch God work in his life.
For the single parent
One thing that makes children really angry is hearing their parents cut each other down. Single parents who find themselves raising pre-teens and teens because of a divorce will be tempted to express plenty of inappropriate anger aimed at the ex-spouse.
May we encourage you to resist that temptation, regardless of who made what mistakes in the past? Remember that you are a family and must set the tone for your family by not allowing anger to gain a foothold in your life.
Commit from this day forward to:
- Speak well of your spouse, or say nothing at all,
- Process any anger you experience for your spouse with the Lord in prayer and with a godly friend, not your child.
- Pray and ask God to enable you to model how to handle your anger as daily situations arise that will challenge your emotional responses.