Avoid Getting Into the Boxing Ring

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

When children are angry, they try to bait parents to join them by fighting, arguing, and using intensity to generate conflict. It’s like the child is in a boxing ring, touting the parent to come into the ring and fight it out.

Of course, many parents know that they have a louder voice, better fighting skills, and greater intensity than the child so they willingly step into the ring. That one decision to fight anger with anger causes parents to miss tremendous opportunities. Yelling at kids creates damage in three areas. First, the child receives, and starts believing, the message that they’re unworthy, unacceptable, and unloved. Second, the relationship develops distance, with each anger episode creating another brick in a wall between parent and child. Thirdly, the parent, knowing that anger is the wrong response, ends up feeling guilty, and rightly so.

Anger Works but Has a Heavy Price Tag

James 1:20 says it well, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” There’s a better way, but unfortunately many parents tend to believe that anger represents strength and anything less is a sign of weakness. That belief keeps them in their pattern of anger instead of looking for better solutions. A firm approach is necessary in many cases, but anger is not.-Anger at kids while justified is rarely wise. Strength isn’t measured by one’s ability to pour emotional intensity into a situation. Rather, godly strength is demonstrated by remaining under control yet still being able to proceed through the minefield of conflict in a relationship. Only the most mature are able to move forward through a conflict situation without losing their cool.

So first parents need to develop strategies for parenting without using anger as a consequence, but then they’ll still need to have a plan for when their kids are baiting them into the boxing ring. Kids don’t like to be angry alone. They want company. So they send out invitations to their anger party by pushing parents’ buttons to draw them into the ring. It’s surprising how many parents RSVP and say, “I’ll be right there.” Then they join their kids in the anger episode.

Children are smart and they know those buttons that will set Mom or Dad off. It’s amazing, though, how many parents take the bait. A child may say, “You never let me have a snack,” and suddenly the parent is ready to fight. Or the child says, “You never discipline Billy,” or “I don’t need to clean my room,” and Mom goes into a tirade. Children know that screaming or kicking the wall will provoke a parent. If you find those opportunities irresistible, it may be an indication that you need to do some work on your own anger.

James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” That’s certainly needed advice for parents. See One Ear Always Open.  It’s amazing, though, how easily we get sucked in. When surveyed, most parents say that they get angry when their kids get angry. It’s a common response, but that doesn’t make it the right response.

Transfer Responsibility to the Child

Angry children need to see that the explosive outburst is their problem. (see Emotional kids need this life skill) When parents demonstrate anger too, then the focus is taken off the offense and the child’s problem of anger and is transposed to a relational problem with the parent. By remaining calm and firm you’re able to keep the focus on the child’s problem. See Resources for Anger in Kids.

Another concern is when children grow up in homes where parents use their anger to control people these children learn to make decisions based on avoiding the next angry outburst. Unfortunately they then may grow up to be people-pleasers, trying to keep others happy instead of making decisions based on if something is right or wrong. Rather, children need to learn how to make decisions guided by values and convictions. How do children learn to do that? It comes, in part, when parents discipline with firmness and love instead of anger. See Yelling isn’t Necessary but Firmness is.

Other Options Besides Anger

Some parents seem quite content to use anger as a solution for discipline problems. After all, anger often works, at least in the short run. It gets kids moving or motivates them to stop and listen. But in the end, it does damage to a child’s decision-making ability. Children often need firmness when they’re out of control, but parental intensity doesn’t need to be part of the equation.

So, you might ask, “How do I keep calm when my child loses it?” The answer is that you need a plan. People who don’t have a plan often use anger to solve problems. When it comes to parenting, the lack of a plan results in using anger as a consequence. Anger may appear to be an easier solution, but remember, you aren’t parenting simply for convenience. At least you shouldn’t be. You’re parenting for the long term. When you take the extra time to develop a plan for real heart change, children grow up with the tools they need to be successful in life.

The first part of the plan is to refuse to enter the ring. You might say, “I’m not going to fight with you. You need to go sit in the hall and settle down.” Sometimes it means that the parent must walk away for a bit. Of course children who want to fight will try to woo you back into the ring. Refuse to play that game.

Next you’ll want to develop some solutions for the various parenting issues you face. Identify those areas where you tend to get angry and work on new strategies for addressing those particular problems. That may take some work, but if you have the plan in place then when you start to get angry you can calmly move into your plan.

It takes some strong character and self-control to respond calmly in the face of anger. For a while you may just want to put extra effort into remaining calm when your child’s upset. Instead of focusing on discipline or solutions or getting kids to do the right thing, it may be most effective for you to make your primary goal to remain calm. You’ll be surprised at the long-term benefits for you and your child.

This idea is just one of the many great solutions found in the book Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids. The book contains several chapters that each focus on a different challenge parents face. My Kids Don’t Listen and My Kids Have a Bad Attitude are two of the favorites.

One mom told us, “This book has saved my family.” It’s the forward looking approach that has practical solutions that makes this book so valuable.


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