Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Teachable Moment: Anger

I haven't done one of these Teachable Moments posts in a long while, but today certainly presented one I thought I'd share.

My son is 6 and a half. I wrote about him here last year, in my "Introductions" posts right after the first of the year. I love that post. It talks about his wildness, and how I see God's glorious nature in him, at times. My son is an amazing creation.

And he has a little issue with anger. I tend to believe it is a male thing to struggle more with authority. What do you think? Anyway, as the day progressed, he was in the middle of doing some keyboarding practice on the computer when it froze up and he lost his progress. He was so frustrated that it was clearly time for him to walk away. Computers sometimes freeze, and life is disappointing. We've all been there.

As a mom, I know the drill. Empathize, encourage, redirect. I managed to go through these motions with patience and authority. And still his anger flared. In times like these, I can tell that my words may as well be spoken to him under water. His brain is so flooded with emotion, I know he can barely receive my love or make out my instructions.

I could see his frustration escalating despite my efforts. I more strongly exhorted him to "find his self control" with a warning tone, and as he got up, I saw the wheels turning. He picked up a pair of scissors on the table, and I stated in my firm mommy tone, "Put the scissors down," anticipating his next move.

He threw them anyway. Not at anyone. Not even close. But he threw a pair of scissors across the room, and after hearing me say not to. I did not react, but sent him directly to time out so that he could cool down, where his anger flared higher. He stomped and shrieked, while I restated, "When you find your self-control, then we can talk." The more he acted out, the more minutes he got. That stopped him fairly quickly.

After he was composed and totally silent for about five minutes, I called him over to sit next to me. I referenced a conversation we'd had just two days earlier where I detailed 1) appropriate responses to my instructions, and 2) appropriate responses to getting a consequence when disobeying those instructions. We covered those again. But then I talked about anger and what the Bible says. It went something like this:

Do you think it is wrong to be angry? (He nodded.) Actually, it's not. Everyone gets angry, and that is just a feeling. I feel angry when I lose something important. I feel angry when I can't do something I want to do. You feel angry when something breaks, or when someone hurts you. It's okay to feel angry.

But do you know what the Bible says? It says, "In your anger, do not sin." (This is where I use the word "sin" interchangeably with "making a bad choice" because he understands that language already. Nearly all kids by the time they are 2 or 3 understand that they are capable of making a bad choice. They may not yet be able to control their impulses like a six year old, but they understand right and wrong on a basic level.)

Let's look this up. (enter: Bible Gateway, using the NIRV translation which is the NIV for early readers and which I LOVE for teaching my kids what God's word says). Let's read this together:

Scripture says, 'When you are angry, do not sin.' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Don't give the devil a chance.
Ephesians 4:26-27 

So buddy, can you see that verse tells us that it is okay to be angry, but anger will tempt us to make a bad choice? That means we have to use self-control. The part that says, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," means that if you have angry feelings, it's better to work them out before the day is over. If you carry your angry feelings to the next day, then you'll be even more tempted to make a bad choice. That's giving Satan a chance. He wants you to make bad choices. He knows how to tempt you when you're angry. The longer you stay angry, the more chances He'll have to tempt you. 

Then I made him write it out on a 3x5 card, and let him choose where he wanted to tape it up. He taped it to the fridge and I plan to practice it with him all week. Who doesn't need to know this verse by heart, pray tell??

So let me just say, I've been watching his anger get the best of him for several days in a row now. It's a post-holiday funk, I'm sure. Just like we are all in. But particularly when I see a problem being repeated, and the usual daily management skills aren't working, this is how I combat it, people. With God's word. Because what else do I have, as a parent, to back me up? God's word holds my biggest and best arsenal of parenting tools. Nothing else is certain in this crazy world, and I want my kids to grow in both knowledge and wisdom. So I can't afford to parent without knowing what it says.

It went well. My son seemed quite happy to learn the verse, and thought it was a fun little assignment to write it down and tape it up. I gave him a colorful note card and a ball point pen. The little things can make it fun for them.

What he doesn't know is that I do the same for my big-girl self! I forget how to live according to God's ways. So I write down His word. I use cute paper. I tape it up. I memorize. I'm not reinventing the wheel. I'm teaching my kids how to grow just like God teaches me. Because, again, what else do I really have?

And at the end of the day, what else do I really need?



  1. What a great post! Thank you for sharing! OH how I wish I could sit down with students and reference the Bible!

  2. Thank you for sharing that Leslie. Sometimes I have NO idea how to handle my three-year old. It made so much sense the way you explained it. I will definitely be getting the kid-version of the bible. I like that. (for me to :)

  3. Leslie you are so amazing and I love this post. Parenting can be so hard but when you bring the Lord into the mix everything seems to workout. Always. Good job mama!

  4. Thank you for posting your insight, that is exactly what I needed to hear at this moment! I just discovered your blog and love every post so far!

  5. Thank you so very much for sharing this!!

  6. what a fabulous post, les!
    love it!
    my girls have anger issues too... probably b/c they learn from their mama.
    so this post is great for me... as well as my children.
    thanks for sharing your heart, again!!

  7. Sometimes I forget the power of God's word, I mean I know it, but I don't use it to it's fullest-especially with my kids. I need to do this more, I need to memorize more for sure! I'm grateful that God's word supplies us with the weapons we need...but we do need to know how to use them.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the reminder. (now I think I better find myself some pretty paper and pens....)

  8. So very good. I love hearing how parents parent with God's authority. To see it practically played out. I have a 6 year old, too. Anger is a big one right now. I think it's a transitional kind of age and there are a lot of extra emotions going on. (And a big bro that provokes them.) We are talking a lot about self-control and extending a lot of grace to his sweet little heart.