We were watching old videos of my children the other night. In one scene, my then 2-year-old daughter became upset because she didn’t have a ball her baby brother was playing with. She was angry. So she marched over to him, grabbed the ball, and threw it across the room. My wife and I looked at each other and were thinking the same thing, “That’s the famous temper we grew to know so well!”
Over the years, she’s gotten a lot better, but I wish we would have had these 15 questions to ask to see if your child has an anger problem. Take it with your children in mind, and then follow the suggestions for dealing with children with anger issues.
Take the Test
The following inventory covers the more common signs of anger in children. All children manifest these signs, but if several of them are persistent or if your child evidences many of them, you may have a problem.
Rate each statement according to the following scale and enter the rating in the appropriate space:
0= My child never or rarely does this
1= My child occasionally does this (no more than once a month).
2= My child often (once or more a week) does this.
3= My child does this frequently (daily or several times a week).
_____1. My child blames others for his or her troubles.
_____2. My child throws or breaks things whenever he or she feels frustrated or irritated.
_____3. Whenever my child gets angry, calming him or her down takes a lot of placating.
_____4. My child does not like change of any sort and becomes angry when change is forced on him or her.
_____5. My child changes the rules of games when playing with other children.
_____6. My child says spiteful or hateful things whenever he or she is thwarted.
_____7. My child is negative, deliberately slow and resists doing what he or she is told to do to the point that discipline becomes a standoff.
_____8. My child seeks out arguments or reasons to become upset, even when everything is at peace.
_____9. My child ostracizes, scorns, and complains about others.
_____10. My child loses control when she or he is angry and shows it with facial expressions or body language.
_____11. My child uses foul language whenever he or she gets angry.
_____12. When my child is learning something new, he or she easily becomes frustrated and wants to do something else.
_____13. My child is stubborn and refuses to do what he or she is told to do unless you use the right tone of voice or approach.
_____14. My child’s friends don’t like to play with him or her because he or she is such a bad sport.
_____15. My child gets into fights with other children and has great difficulty controlling his or her temper when teased.
0-5: Your child is remarkably free of anger and is not prone to frustration. If anything, he or she may be a little too passive but don’t try to change this!
6-10: Your child is showing a normal degree of anger and irritation, but a higher score (nearer 10) is more appropriate for younger children ( under 6) and lower score (nearer 6) is more appropriate for older children.
11-15: Your child is beginning to show an above-normal degree of anger response. Again, a higher score is more appropriate for younger children. Some attention to your child’s response may be needed.
16-20: Clearly your child has a problem with anger and should receive your attention.
Over 20: Your child has a serious problem with anger, especially if he or she is already of school age. Take immediate steps to help your child cope with his or her anger, and seek professional help, if necessary.
What You Can Do
1. Help Your Children Be Aware of their Anger
How often are you aware of your children being angry? What situations do they encounter that might make them more vulnerable to anger? How do their bodies respond to anger? What are their physical manifestations of anger? How do they treat others when they are angry? What is unique about the ways in which each of your children experiences and expresses anger?
2. When Your Children are Aware of Being Angry, Help Them Process their Anger.
Make sure you pick the right time to talk to your children. Take into account their personality types, most extroverts like to process things externally. They like to talk about things right away. Most introverts prefer to process things internally. They like to think about it before they talk about it. Being insensitive to your child’s preferred way of processing anger could only increase frustration and thus increase his or her anger, making it more difficult if not impossible to deal with.
Eventually, you will be able to help your children develop other words for their anger. When your children say, “I’m angry,” you can respond by asking, “Do you think your anger is from being afraid, hurt or frustrated?”
3. Help Your Children Admit their Anger and Accept Responsibility for it.
One of the characteristics of a godly person is the ability to take responsibility for his or her actions.One of the characteristics of a godly person is the ability to take responsibility for his or her actions. We can teach our children that when we are angry, it is easy for us to blame someone else and say, “It’s your fault; you made me angry.” This is especially true with brothers and sisters. If your child has a brother or sister, that child has a built-in cause for all of his or her problems.
But as our children see us take responsibility for our anger, as they see us be angry and yet not sin, as they see us speak the truth in love, it is more likely that they will follow our example. Over time we can teach our children that though other people can say or do things that cause hurt or frustration, we are responsible for how we choose to respond. If we are angry, the anger is ours and choosing how to express it is our responsibility.
4. Help Your Children Decide Who or What Will Have Control.
When our children become aware that they are angry, we can help them learn that they are faced with a choice. A simple yet powerful response can be, “Honey, I can tell that you’re feeling a lot of anger right now. It’s OK to experience anger, I’m glad you are able to talk about your anger. It sounds like you’ve got some good reasons to be angry. Now you need to decide: Are you going to let your anger control you, or do you want to control your anger? Do you remember what happened last week when you let your anger get out of control? Do you want that to happen again? Would you like me to pray with you to ask God to help you deal with your anger in a healthy way?”
5. Help Your Children Identify and Define the Cause or Source of the Anger.
Children get angry for many of the same reasons adults get angry. Anger is a normal response to all kinds of daily events that can produce fear, hurt, and frustration. Be careful not to overreact to your child’s anger. Remember that anger is a secondary emotion. Ask yourself these questions: Where is the anger coming from? What’s the real issue? What is his or her anger about? Often a child’s anger is communicating a need that he or she may not be aware of. Your son or daughter may be frightened, sad, insecure or confused and it comes out as anger.
6. Help Your Children Choose their Responses and Develop their Own Solutions.
As much as possible, allow children to develop their own solutions to their problems. You may have to prime the pump a bit more with younger children, but as they get older they will develop their own wide range of responses to choose from. If Julie didn’t have any ideas, you could say, “I can think of four different ways you can handle frustration. If you want to hear them, I’d be happy to share them with you. Think about it and let me know.”
7. Help Your Children Review Their Response to Anger.
This is a step that many parents leave out. For years I was one of those parents. After a couple of days have passed, ask your child what he or she learned about dealing with anger from what happened. What went well? What would he or she like to have done differently? What did he or she learn? What would he or she like to do next time?
This conversation doesn’t need to take more than a few minutes. It should involve what the child learned and now what you as a parent think the child should have learned. The brief conversation can easily turn into a lecture; if that happens, you’ve undermined the process and robbed your son or daughter of a great learning experience.
Remember that learning how to understand and deal with emotions is a lifelong process. I know I am still working at understanding and dealing with my own emotions, and so are you. It takes time, trial, and error, but the product is worth the process. Encourage each little step your child takes and congratulate your child whenever possible. Praise him or her for even making an effort in a healthy direction.
Sound off: What types of anger problems have you had with your kids?
Used with permission from the book Raising Kids To Love Jesus by H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some things that make you angry?”