Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
Anger is certainly an issue in our society and increasingly more so. Even among kids who, because they are kids, will get mad. What is bothersome however is that more and more seem incapable of stopping at normal expressions of anger and instead employ heightened levels of aggressive words and actions.
Consider the article “Why are Kids so Angry?“
Clearly, acts of aggression are no longer confined to the privacy of people’s homes. They’re being played out in public places — at increasingly young ages. A recent study by the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, CT, found that preschoolers are being expelled at more than three times the rate of K-12 students. Another recent survey of childcare providers, elementary school counselors, and pediatricians in Tarrant County, TX, found that more than 85% of the counselors who responded said kindergartners today have more emotional and/or behavioral problems than five years ago; 67% of childcare providers reported a similar trend with the young children in their care. “This is happening in schools all across the country,” says Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, CA. “We’re hearing about first-graders and kindergartners who are cursing and punching teachers and hitting classmates.”
While lots of reasons are pointed to, such as increased violence on TV, perhaps a not-so-obvious reason is that we have come to justify and excuse anger too highly as a sacred personal right – “ I have a right to be angry over this or that.”
- Do you find yourself justifying anger on the basis that it is “real to me” and therefore OK?
- Do you expect others to “understand you” based on your personal reality?
- Do your “real to me” emotions correspond to reality or to God’s truth?
Clearly anger can be one of the most devastating emotions we experience, with the capability of causing difficult, life-changing consequences. Even adults find all sorts of reasons (triggers) to be angry: perceived injustice, offense, disappointment, stress, not achieving desired outcomes, being misunderstood, undervalued, overlooked or misrepresented, the innocent victim of another’s wrong-doing. The list is endless. Yet anger, even with seemingly valid reasons, when left unchecked, leads to destructive habits of thought and action.
Parents readily justify their kid’s anger too. It’s easier than having to examine your own child’s heart and motives. Some kids feel anger well upside when they are embarrassed or hurt. Younger kids grow angry when they don’t get their way or get what they want – when they want it! Some live in homes where anger is modeled as the norm in family conflict.Whatever the trigger (or the model they learn under), all kids need to learn healthy responses to the very real feelings of anger.
Joey, my seven-year- old grandson is an over-the-top- competitive boy, which serves him well at times, because it promotes drive and initiative as well as a desire to do well. At others times, his competitive nature becomes his worst enemy, triggering explosive anger when he fails to win or achieve the results he desires. Sometimes he expresses his angry feelings by aggressive actions and defiant statements – and certainly by his facial expressions! As Joey’s awareness of his own emotions and their triggers grows, (foundational to one’s emotional intelligence) he will be more equipped to manage them wisely instead of erupting foolishly. He can be a hasty- tempered young boy one day and a self- controlled, patient young man the next. Slowly the latter is becoming the norm!
How can we guide kids to deal with with their “real to me” emotions in healthy, productive ways? It starts with learning to recognize a feeling or emotion when it happens. Otherwise kids quickly becomes victims of their own emotions, reacting blindly to their intense feelings of frustration, jealousy or anger. When they come to recognize the entire gamut of emotions as they happen – how small irritations grow to frustrations and on to angry outbursts – they become more equipped to manage themselves. Emotionally mature kids don’t spend their days moving from one outburst to another. Rather than screaming, hitting, kicking, or throwing things, they are able to take steps to calm themselves down and apply standards for themselves.
Joey is learning that anger can actually be a “friend” when he sees it as a reason to turn to God, or to improve himself, or to communicate honestly with others about conflicts. Conflicts are a part of living life together with others and that will always be the case! Following are some of the values our family is teaching Joey (and our other grand kids as they age) We find that it is best to wait for teachable moments – and not in the midst of an explosion – when his heart is repentant and therefore receptive. Joey is learning to:
- Recognize his feelings and name them. In order to grow self control, Joey needs to be self aware and understand how he is wired and what his emotions are.
- Establish personal standards for those times when his emotions intensify so that he will know how to respond wisely rather than react foolishly. Rather than slugging the kid who has cut in front of him in line, he can learn to pause, pray, count to then, or breathe deeply instead.
- Identify triggers than can lead to anger. Competition is certainly one for Joey, and especially when he finds others doing better. Another trigger is change to his normal routine. Joey wants to know what’s going to happen and he grows anxious when things change. Transition times are when he is more likely to become angry over anything and everything. A third trigger for Joey (and common for many kids) is not getting his way. He wants what he wants and like many young kids, it is his driving motivation behind his actions. A strong sense of personal awareness will enable him to cope when triggers occur and help him make wise choices regardless of whether things go his way. (It’s important that each adult and kid discover what their personal triggers are!)
- Recognize the emotions of others which is necessary in order or him to have empathy. He is also learning to cooperate with friends and family; how to assert himself without becoming aggressive and how to negotiate with his siblings and peers, working with them rather than against them.
- Learn to take responsibility for his actions and not excuse his inappropriate behavior because of the actions of others. To do this he needs to focus on his own self improvement rather than what others need to do – even when they are wrong!
- Grow content with what he has because one of the keys to emotional stability is actually contentment!
- Be guided by God’s principles and align his emotions with God’s truth. Joey can work at ridding his heart of anger but he has to replace anger with something good and the answer lies in Galatians 5: 16-26 which should be memorized by every child of God! Paul portrays both the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit which directly oppose each other. “Works of the flesh” include enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, etc., while the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. What the flesh produces must be replaced by what the spirit produces.
If we are to grow as Christians we need to be emotionally healthy – stable – in control of our unpredictable and unreliable emotions. We must make feelings our friends, recognizing what they are, what triggers them, and how they can be used in positive ways to grow us closer to God and to others. But what we put our trust in, as well as our actions, must flow from the principles set forth by God, our solid rock, the One who is faithful and true and will never change.
The Bible has a lot to say about anger:
Ephesians 4:26-27 – Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Proverbs 15:18 – A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Colossians 3:8 – But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Ephesians 4:31 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Proverbs 25:28 – A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Colossians 3:13 – Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Proverbs 29:22 – A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
Romans 12:19 – Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Ecclesiastes 7:9 – Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.
Proverbs 22:24-25 – Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
Psalm 37:8 : – Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.