She was an angry child. There was no doubt about it.
Her words, “You stupid egghead,” made it clear … even if they proved to be an oxymoron. After all, it’s common knowledge that eggheads are smart, right? Well … at least to all of us over the age of five.
I swiftly placed her on our designated “thinking spot” and set the timer. I knew she needed a few minutes to calm down. Her anger had to subside before we could really talk about her words.
Five minutes later, the timer beeped.
“Do you remember our verse?” I asked her. “‘In your anger do not sin’?”
She nodded, ever so slightly.
“You were angry at your sister, weren’t you?” I probed.
Again, a nod.
“Did you act unkind when you were angry?”
I hate to admit it, but I haven’t always been this intentional when it comes to helping my kids process anger. I hadn’t needed to be.
Our other kids had never struggled with anger to this degree. This particular child threw a definite curve ball Ted and my direction. Even though she was only in kindergarten and couldn’t spell the word “anger,” she felt it intensely.
Several years have passed since this “stupid egghead” interaction and she still battles anger at times.
It surfaces when things don’t go her way, or when we tell her “no” instead of “yes.” It often happens when one of her sisters doesn’t listen well or choose to play with her.
Yet, over the years, it’s been encouraging to see the significant progress she’s made. She’s grown immensely in how quickly she calms down and how soon she is to apologize.
Maybe you have a child who struggles to control her temper too. If so, what have we done and continue to do when our daughter feels angry?
For us, it is a two part-process that consists of connecting and equipping. Here’s what it looks like.
First, connect with your angry child.
Why is it important to connect with an angry child first?
Connection equals relationship. Our daughter is more likely to come to me and let me help her if she has a strong relationship with me.
Not only that, but in connecting with her, I affirm that no matter how she acts, our relationship will endure. I am not going to give up on her.
You’ll notice in my opening story, that after giving her time to calm down, I immediately started the “equipping process.” Meaning, I first gave her the practical tools she can use to process anger better. While I still often ask her to calm down before I talk with her, now I attempt to connect with her before any equipping happens.
How do I strive to first connect with my angry child?
1. Empathize or say, “Me Too.”
My daughter needs to be reminded that she isn’t the only one to feel intense anger and responds poorly as a result. Sometimes I do too.
When I come alongside her and say, “Me too,” I affirm that anger is a human emotion with which many of us struggle. It isn’t an isolated issue only she faces.
“Me too” offers her hope because she hears that she isn’t alone. She doesn’t need to carry around shame over the anger she experiences.
2. Affirm unconditional love.
As I say “Me too,” I also come alongside her with the affirmation of “I love you no matter what and I always will.”
Honestly, this doesn’t mean I always feel that love in the moment. Sometimes what I feel is my own anger and frustration over the manner in which she’s expressed herself. Often, the last thing I want to do is respond with gentleness. It’s definitely not a natural, easy reaction.
However, I’ve discovered that under the anger my child displays is a sensitive and tender heart that desperately needs to hear, “Nothing you do is going to change my love for you.”
Second, equip your angry child.
It is after I take the time to purposefully connect with my daughter that I directly address her angry behavior. Here are two ways I do this.
1. Focus on how anger is expressed.
The truth is, our daughter will feel anger. We all do sometimes. Remember the “Me too” from earlier? The primary problem isn’t that she feels anger at all, it’s what she chooses to do with it.
While I do offer correction, such as, “When you’re angry, you can’t hit or call names,” I also go beyond this.
When she was younger, I instructed, “Here’s what you can do when you feel really, really upset. First, you can pray. You can say, ‘God, I’m really angry at my sister right now. Please help me not to be mean to her.’ Second, you can run to Papa or me. You can tell us you’re upset and ask us to help you calm down.”
Now that she’s older, I attempt to work with her to establish her own “Plan of Escape” when she feels angry. After she’s calmed down, I ask, “Okay, what could you have done differently? How can we implement that into a plan you can use next time you find yourself feeling this angry?”
2. Ponder God’s plan.
When our daughter gets angry, she tends to primarily lash out verbally, but sometimes if her anger is directed toward one of her sisters, she may hit or throw a toy.
While I do instruct her not to do these things, I also remind her what God made her hands and mouth for. He wants her to say kind, encouraging words to others, for example. He wants her to use her hands to offer loving hugs and affirming pats on the back.
The older she’s gotten, the more I employ probing questions rather than supplying answers for her. I want her to thoughtfully ponder what God’s plan is for the way she speaks and treats others, especially when she feels angry.
3. Encourage humility and reconciliation.
Lastly, we encourage her to humbly apologize to those affected by her anger. And, when it comes to apologies, the more specific, the better. When she fully owns her behavior, it helps drive home that what she’s done in her anger isn’t okay.
Helping my child learn to control, process, and express her anger better isn’t something I’ve mastered or do perfectly every time. However, this process of connecting and equipping has definitely made a difference.
Perhaps you too will find it helpful as you seek to do the same with a child in your life.
This post originally appeared on AshleighSlater.com and was republished with permission.