Guest Post by Kristin Demery
“He spat on another child.”
Hands over her face as though to block out the embarrassment, my friend groaned with mortification.
She’d recently received a call from her son’s preschool about an “incident.” According to the teacher, her son had become very angry with another child. He was so enraged that he spit at the other little boy.
My friend—usually unflappable—seemed at a loss. How in the world had they gotten to this point? And how could she teach her son how to manage his anger in a healthy way?
Though most of us don’t make a habit of spitting on others, unfortunately, our anger can rise and spill over into ugly words and actions.
Most of us need help to manage our anger, and kids are no different. As parents, we can coach our children through their anger by giving them tips and tools to help develop healthy habits.
What is Anger, Anyway?
While most of us would describe anger along the same lines as Merriam Webster—“a strong feeling of displeasure”—in reality, anger is an emotion that spurs a physical response. Whenever something occurs that doesn’t match up with what we expected, our brain lights up:
Anger can trigger the body’s fight or flight response, causing the adrenal glands to flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline, and testosterone, preparing us for physical aggression. But whether we actually end up swearing or scowling … depends on a second brain area, the prefrontal cortex, that is responsible for decision-making and reasoning. (source)
A complication for kids is that their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, leading to poor impulse control. When they are triggered by a situation, the fight-or-flight response takes them out of their thinking brain and places them squarely at the mercy of their feelings.
Anger can be a natural reaction to situations or circumstances that happen to us or to people we love. But most often, anger is a secondary emotion. We wonder why something happened or question why it couldn’t have been different, and our fear of loss, failure, or pain makes us angry.
Related Reading: Tired of Yelling at Your Kids? 5 Ways to Get Mom Anger Under Control
5 Anger Management Techniques to Teach Your Children
As a parent, helping our kids develop healthy habits when it comes to anger is an important skill. After all, anger—if left unchecked—can have consequences.
As Proverbs 14:17 says, “Short-tempered people do foolish things, and schemers are hated,” (NLT) while Job 5:2 goes even further: “For anger kills a fool, and jealousy slays the gullible” (CSB).
As Christians who are called to love one another, how do we deal with anger in ways that honor God?
Yes, it’s okay to feel all those big, out-of-control feelings, but it’s what we choose to do with them that makes a difference. Anger is not a sin, but what we choose to do with it can lead to sin.
“And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT)
As a mom, I want to give my child the tools they need to have healthy relationships. By working on these skills at home, kids will be equipped to manage their anger in healthy ways when it arises.
In our home, we remind our kids often to follow these healthy habits, practicing them with parents and siblings and then utilizing them in the wider world of school, friends, and church.
1. Teach Your Children to Calm Down Before Responding.
“Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.” Proverbs 29:11 (NLT)
When our bodies experience the fight-or-flight response, we want nothing more than to hurt someone else the way we’re being hurt. We don’t care about the damage we’re inflicting.
Remind kids that calming down before responding is the first way to avoid saying or doing something we’ll later regret. At a time when a child isn’t angry, take the time to teach them a few techniques that can help them calm down in an escalating situation. Remind them that they can:
- Remove themselves from the situation or room
- Take deep breaths (signaling to the nervous system that the fight-or-flight stress response isn’t needed)
- Focus for a little while on another activity to help give them the space they need (riding their bike, coloring)
- Count to 10
The ability to be calm is a powerful force, and it’s one of the best ways we can avoid having our anger take a turn for the worse.
2. Teach Your Children to Attack the Situation–not the Person
The second thing I teach my children is to respond to the conflict instead of attacking the person.
It’s important to help kids make the distinction between the person and their actions or words. Someone can say something unkind, but that doesn’t mean they’re always “mean.” Calling names only serves to make a bad situation worse.
As Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (NLT)
Related Reading: Four Ways You Can Prevent Mom Anger Before it Starts
3. Teach Your Children to Listen to Hear (Not Just to Respond)
When someone is upset, they want to make sure their side of the argument gets heard. They listen impatiently, just waiting for the chance to prove they’re right or slay the other person with a zinger.
Though it can be hard to remember to slow down in the moment, James reminds us of the interconnected nature of listening, speaking, and anger: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19 NLT)
Instead of letting kids barely listen or—worse—try to talk over the other person, help kids practice truly listening to the other person to try to understand their perspective.
This can be done in a couple of ways:
- Ask the child to repeat back what the other person said before they respond.
- Pass a pretend microphone back and forth from one child to the other as a reminder of whose turn it is to speak.
4. Give Your Children the Opportunity to Learn and Make Mistakes
Just like cooking or learning how to do laundry on their own, kids need to practice—with supervision—until they’ve developed the skills themselves. If you have more than one child, set parameters, and then let your kids practice healthy conflict resolution on their own.
Eavesdrop and course-correct as necessary, but let them deal with conflict on their own when they are able to.
5. Help Your Children Learn the Value of Reconciliation
Once you’ve helped kids navigate through their anger, don’t forget the most important part: Reconciliation. Choosing to forgive is essential in the aftermath of anger. Matthew 5:22-24 reminds us of how important this process is:
So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (NLT)
As Johns Hopkins Medicine notes, “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.”
Just as anger can impact our health in negative ways, choosing to forgive can have a positive effect on us—physically and spiritually. God can transform our hearts and lives, and choosing to seek his help in overcoming our anger can give us the freedom we seek.
As Romans reminds us, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18 NLT)
What’s your best tip for helping kids manage their anger? Which one of these five tips would you be most likely to implement and why?
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of numerous truth-telling books, including the latest One Good Word a Day (Tyndale, 2021), and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience.