One of the gifts we need to give our children is to teach them to "manage their mad". Ideally, we will teach our children to handle their anger in a healthy way. Unfortunately, it's another one of those tricky lessons that we may not have fully mastered ourselves before we become parents. It's hard to know where anger is healthy, and where it is destructive.Many of us grew up in homes where anger was unacceptable. We learned from an early age to stuff it down deep inside and never give in to it. Others of us grew up in homes where unbridled anger was the norm; self-indulgent rage was tolerated, and contagious. How was anger handled in your family when you were young?
At some point on my journey I stored away a bit of Biblical advice: "In your anger, do not sin." This wise saying is found in Ephesians, right beside the better known "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." What a great way to measure how you manage your mad! Anger that causes you to do harm to another or turn away from God is probably unhealthy. Jesus models anger as a healthy response to injustice and lets his anger spur him to act well: healing, helping, bringing about change.
So how do you teach your child to manage the mad? Here are a few useful ideas:
- Teach your children to name their emotions. Children who can differentiate between angry, frustrated and scared are well on their way to managing their mad.
- Teach them acceptable behaviors to use when they are angry: stepping away, writing about their anger, or working the anger out on a tetherball or punching bag are all acceptable ways to discharge anger. Hitting your brother or sister is not.
- Help them channel righteous anger. Don't dismiss what they are angry about or teach them to distract themselves. If they think it's terrible that someone is bullying another child, help them find a way to help. Channel their energy, talents and innate sense of justice.
- Model appropriate angry behavior. Don't hit, rage, or stuff your feelings when you're angry. Model what you'd like to see your children do. (And don't provoke your child's anger for your own entertainment. That's another whole post.)
- Establish consequences for mismanaged anger: doing the chores of the sibling he hit, paying for the item she broke, losing privileges. That can also mean rewarding good anger management, perhaps a word of praise or some one-on-one time when you see your child walk away from a fight.
Anger management is an important life skill. Mismanaged anger will harm your child's relationships with others or will head down a self-destructive path. Well managed anger will bring about positive change in the world. Like many other important life skills it is best taught intentionally, not in reaction to something that has already happened. May you have success on this important voyage.