Anger at Kids May Seem Justified, but is Rarely Wise
“He deserved it,” said Charlie after he chewed out his son for backing the riding mower into the car, leaving a large scratch along the fender. “If he’d just pay attention to what he’s doing this wouldn’t happen. He just doesn’t think sometimes.” Charlie had spent a considerable amount of time teaching his twelve-year-old son Jason to handle the mower. In fact, Dad took pride in the fact that his son could handle this piece of equipment better than most kids at his age.
But Charlie mishandled Jason’s mistakes. Continually yelling at his son weakened Jason’s willingness to try new things and risk making mistakes. Yes, Charlie is right. His son needs to pay more attention to what he’s doing. But Charlie’s response is unwise. It’s not good enough to be right. You also want to be wise.
It’s Not Good Enough to Be Right
Parents often use the fact that they’re right to justify poor parenting responses toward their children. In fact, most people who unleash their anger at others believe that they’re right, and often they are. Kids fall into the same problematic thinking. One nine-year-old boy said to us, “If you had an annoying brother like I do, you’d punch him up too.”
When people develop a justice mentality toward life situations, they justify their revenge and anger. But good parenting doesn’t just look to be right, you also want to consider what’s wise. A wise person recognizes when he’s right and then chooses the best course of action to bring about the desired change.
Alternatives to Anger
Ken worked hard with his daughter Alisha to get a homework assignment completed, but Alisha forgot to turn it in the next day. Ken was angry. He’d gone to all that work to help his daughter and she didn’t even turn in the work. Ken took a deep breath to settle himself down before he went in to confront his daughter. Instead of blowing up at her, he expressed sadness and disappointment in her lack of responsibility. He took away the privileges his daughter was planning for the evening and required a phone call at lunch the next day to report that she’d talked to the teacher, apologized, and turned in the assignment.
Alisha needed correction, but she didn’t need an angry tirade from her dad. Wisdom requires insight, alternative solutions, and the ability to hold back damaging emotions in exchange for helpful solutions.
In the heat of the moment an angry response may seem justified. When a person feels like they’re right, they somehow also feel empowered to release their frustration because “the situation warrants it,” or “the person deserves it.” The next time you feel angry because your child did the wrong thing, take a moment and ask what your goal is. If you’re just trying to get revenge, then anger becomes the weapon of choice for most. If you’re trying to help your child grow or change, then anger rarely does the job. That’s why James 1:20 says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
The Goal is Not Revenge-It’s Bringing About Change
Taking a moment to focus on your goal can mean all the difference. When you’re in a disagreement with your teenager, you likely can win the argument by overpowering the situation with better reasoning or emotional intensity. But if your goal is to change your son’s thinking, then you might take a different approach. Sometimes strategic silence or questions can lead a young person to explore the idea more thoroughly and allow them to come to a new way of thinking. And then you’ve accomplished your goal.
Moving your child out the door in the morning is only a secondary goal. The primary objective is to teach responsibility with time. Getting good grades at school isn’t the most important thing. Rather, you want to teach thoroughness and perseverance in the process. By focusing on the goal you’ll likely choose a more strategic response. Rarely does that come with a focus on being right.
Maybe It’s Time to Do Some Soul-Searching
Pause for a moment and ask the question, “Why am I angry? And what would be the wisest way to handle this situation to maximize change?” Just a few minutes pause can bring the clarity back to the situation and give you the wisdom you need to move forward most effectively.
Marsha told us this story. “I came into the room and couldn’t believe what I saw. My ten-year-old daughter was painting her school project on the dining room table. I felt like I wanted to scream at her. What was she thinking? At the same time I had the presence of mind to realize that she was being responsible with her assignment and trying to make it look great in order to get a good grade. So, I took a deep breath, and asked her to put the brush down and come into the kitchen. I first affirmed her initiative with her schoolwork but told her that I was afraid that she’d damage the table. I told her that I’d like to help her move the project outside and put it on newspaper on the picnic table. I was able to teach her about the danger of paint on our table while at the same time encourage her about doing a good job on her project. If I had exploded like I felt like doing, then I’d have lost the teaching opportunity.”
Kids need discipline. They need to be corrected. They’re kids. But many parents move too quickly to correction strategies that are harsh instead of those that are most effective. We’re not suggesting that you be lenient with your kids. On the contrary, firmness teaches character, but the way you approach the situation can mean all the difference between whether the correction is accepted resulting in change, or it is resisted, resulting in continuing on in foolishness.
Be careful that you don’t use the fact that you’re right to justify unhelpful responses or exaggerated consequences. A lot of parents are right. Few are wise. It’s wisdom that maximizes growth in kids.
This idea comes from the book, “Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids.” The book is full of strategies that can help parents use their anger as a flag that something is wrong and then move into a strategy that has lasting impact.
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