Anger at Kids May Seem Justified, but is Rarely Wise

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

“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, yelling isn’t necessary but firmness is. 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. See Keep discipline positive by affirming approximately right behavior.

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.See how to love your kids when they need correction.

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, change or understand that correction is a gift, 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 and value  balancing firmness with relationship.  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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  • ER
    Posted at 00:02h, 05 February Reply

    This came at the perfect time for me. Thank you so much. I am deeply hurt by my husbands choices to leave me and our two boys for another woman. This was an unexpected turn in our 22 years together. The boys were 11 and 8. We have been going through a terrible divorce and there is parent alienation happening. Now 14 my oldest is rebelling and resisting. I’m 50% foolish and 50% wise. The cancer came back after 2 years and I’m going through chemo. I’m a single mom dealing with all this and I still have to work. I’m tired hurt broken hearted sad and overwhelmed to say the lease, not to mention we had to move three times in three years, so the 50% foolish is when I get angry cause I’m right and just want to be done instead of choosing to be wise and having patiences to grow my son Gods way. Thank you for this great write up on anger. God bless you for sending these out.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 07:34h, 05 February Reply

      ER, I’m so sorry to hear about your pain. That’s so difficult I’m sue. I trust that our God who is great will give you the very practical and specific grace to care for yourself and your boys. Your light can shine into their hearts and be a dramatic testimony of the ability of God’s love to shine in the midst of huge difficulty. May God bless you deeply today. –Scott Turansky

  • Lisa Brown
    Posted at 12:27h, 05 February Reply

    Hello ER,
    My heart deeply feels for you right now. Your story encourages me to try harder to respond in wisdom rather than react in anger. Your willingness to do the right thing in the midst of really tough trials speaks to my conscience and reminds me that I can do better.
    My son who is eleven, carelessly broke the windshield wiper on my snow covered car. It is clearly obvious to me that he needs more training and supervision. His impulsive behavior got in his way. His ability to problem solve was weak. He thought the blade is in my way from getting snow off the window, so I will just wack it a few times.
    We’ll both my husband and I reacted in anger and made harsh remarks.
    This wasn’t helpful to my son and I could see that it hurt him. I rather empower my kids to make better choices when they are feeling selfish and careless. Reacting out of anger is hurtful. I can do better and a bit of parent conviction is definitely needed from time to time. This is a timely article for me. I only wish I had read it right by the incident. We all are growing as parents and by God’s grace, He will continue to lead us.

  • Margely Reve
    Posted at 16:50h, 05 February Reply

    Agreed. This comes at the perfect time. I am struggling to get my son out for School in the morning. Watching how i approach this situation and how I speak may get us in a better place. I will try this. Many thanks and God bless.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 17:41h, 05 February Reply

      Margely, thank you for sharing. I’d be interested to know how it goes.

  • Lupita Fig
    Posted at 07:31h, 17 May Reply

    I have definitely been reacting in anger not stopping to think about how my words and tone will affect my children. I have an 18 and a 16 year old. Is it too late for some healing??

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