In How to Really Love Your Teenager, Ross Campbell says that “one of the most important areas in which a teenager needs training is in how to handle anger. . . . Anger is normal and occurs in every human being. The problem is not the anger itself but in managing it. This is where most people have a problem” (60). In this post we will learn from God’s Word to see how we can effectively handle our children’s anger and how we can better help them manage their anger.
Before we continue, let us define first the word anger and clarify some misunderstandings about it. According to one dictionary, anger is “a strong feeling of displeasure . . . aroused by a wrong.” Hence, to be angry or to have a strong feeling of displeasure about something which is morally wrong is not necessarily sinful. In fact, Jesus himself got angry, and yet he did not sin (Mark 3:5; John 2:14–16). We can be angry and commit no sin. Also, we have to remember that the Bible never tells us not to be angry. In fact, “Be angry,” says Paul in Ephesians 4:26. However, we must be angry without sinning: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In short, we can be angry, but we should not allow our anger to turn into sin. Therefore, when we deal with our children’s anger, it is important to remember the following four points.
1. Anger is not always a sin. And so, we should not be quick to judge our children whenever we see them angry. It could be that their anger is a result of their holy hatred toward sin. For example, your child may be angry because his classmate has taken the name of the Lord in vain. Aristotle once said, “It’s not a sin to get angry when you get angry at sin.”
2. Righteous anger is permissible. Thus, we should not forbid our children to be angry for righteousness’ sake. The authors of Parenting Today’s Adolescent explain that “God created anger to be an asset, but it gets misused and twisted in a fallen world. In basic terms, anger is an emotional alarm that sounds a warning when something is wrong. . . . The problem is that most of us don’t know what to do with appropriate anger when we feel it” (163–64). However, let us guide our children so that their anger will not turn into danger. Remember that anger, as someone has said, “is just one letter short of danger.”
3. Righteous anger is not only permitted but even commanded, as previously noted. And so, we should encourage our children to have a righteous anger—to have a strong feeling of displeasure toward all forms of evil.
4. Anger is normal. Let us tell our children that everyone experiences anger. They should know that they are not alone in their feelings. But this does not mean that we are going to tolerate their unrighteous anger. By letting them know that we also get angry, we are showing them that we understand them. It is important that children feel understood.
Now, here are ten pieces of advice as we handle our children’s anger.
1. Watch yourself when dealing with your children’s anger. Oftentimes when our children are angry we also get angry unnecessarily.
2. When dealing with your children’s anger, apply the principle of James 1:19: “let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Three principles can be drawn from this verse:
a. Before judging your child, listen first to his full explanation.
b. Talk to your child softly or gently. As Proverb 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
c. As you correct your child, control your temper, lest you mention or do something that will fuel your child’s anger. Henry Ward Beecher remarks, “Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” The apostle Paul, addressing the fathers, writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). It is better to be silent when we cannot control our temper.
3. Since your children look up to you as a role model, teach them to manage anger in a God-honoring way by your good example. Ultimately, let’s point our children to Christ—our perfect example—who got angry but did not commit sin.
4. Help your children understand the main cause of their anger. Then, help them deal with that which has caused their anger. Note that sometimes our children do not know what they are angry about. Sometimes they are not really angry but only frustrated with themselves.
5. Help your children differentiate righteous anger from unrighteous anger. Ask your child, “At what or with whom are you angry, and why are you angry?”
6. Since anger is normal, help your children express their anger in a right or Christlike way. Children often don’t know how to express their anger in a positive way. Campbell explains it this way: Children will tend to express anger immaturely, until trained to do otherwise. A teenager cannot be expected to automatically express his anger in the best, most mature way. But this is what parents are expecting, when they simply tell their teen not to get mad. Parents must train teenagers to take one step at a time in learning to deal with anger. (How to Really Love Your Teenager, 65)
7. Pray for your children regularly, not just when they are struggling with issues of anger. It is a good practice to begin and close with prayer whenever you counsel them. Pray also that the Lord will grant you grace and wisdom as you address your children’s problem.
8. Help your children develop temperance in their lives. Our children need self-control in dealing with anger. Self-control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), is a good remedy for anger.
9. Since self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, show your children their need of the Spirit. Doing so will also give you an opportunity to talk about the gospel with them.
10. Deal with your children’s anger with love. Show love to your children even if you might not like their behavior. Be patient and understanding with them. Once our children feel loved, they will not hesitate to share with us the real cause of their anger. It is sad that some children would rather share their burden with their friends than with their own parents. May it not happen to us!
Rev. Brian G. Najapfour is the pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, MI, and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012) and Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of and Devotion to Prayer (2013). He and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Anna, James, and Abigail. He blogs at biblicalspiritualitypress.org.