Achieve Positive Goals through Healthy Anger

Anger is a challenging emotion, but it can also be one of the major bumps in the road to modeling a Christ-centered life for your child. In our marriage and parenting workshops, parents have told us that they struggle more with their anger than with any other emotion. Parents have also told us that they have a difficult time knowing how to deal with their children's anger.

Modeling for your child

Many Christian parents feel discouraged or defeated by the ways in which they deal with their own conflict and anger. However, we have discovered that these situations present a unique opportunity to model for your child the difference that Jesus Christ can make in your own life and your family.

Why is anger the most difficult emotion for most parents to deal with, both in themselves and in their children? What is so unique about anger? Why is this emotion such a problem? The real problem is that most people do not understand what anger is, why God has given anger, and that healthy anger can be used in constructive ways to achieve positive goals.

A basic emotion

Anger is one of many God-given emotions. Many people are surprised to learn that anger is the second most frequently mentioned emotion in the Bible and that the majority of references to anger refer to God's anger. Anger is a God-given emotion. God has designed your body so that when you experience the emotion of anger, adrenaline and noradrenalin are pumped into your central and peripheral nervous systems. Anger is energy. The big issue is what you are going to do with that energy. You can let it control you, or, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can control it.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is to teach her how to make her anger work for her rather than against her. We have talked with many parents who wait until they are in the midst of a knock-down, drag-out anger episode with their children before they want to know what they can do when their children are angry. But that is not the place to begin. The best time to help your child deal with her anger is before she gets angry.

Healthy and unhealthy anger

It took us years to understand that anger is a secondary emotion. Whenever you experience anger, you are probably reacting to another primary emotion, such as hurt, frustration, or fear. Since most people do not understand this distinction, they tend to react to the secondary emotion of anger rather than respond to the primary emotion that underlies the anger.

Anger can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy anger tends to control the individual. It distorts your perspective, robs you of energy, blurs your focus, and creates more turmoil. Whenever anger is healthy, it is usually of moderate intensity. It does not consume you. You are not overwhelmed by it. In Christian circles there has not been enough written on the positive side of anger. Healthy anger has tremendous potential for good. Anger can be a signal that something is wrong. Anger can alert you to the fact that you are in danger or that your rights are being violated. Anger can provide you with immediate energy to deal with a crisis or take constructive action to right a wrong.

It is natural for a child to experience joy, surprise, delight, fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment, discouragement, depression, and anger. Use the following steps to help teach your child about anger.

  • Teach your child how to identify and name her emotions.
  • Ask your child what she is feeling.
  • Help your child develop a vocabulary for her emotional life. This makes it easier for her to understand her own emotional life as well as talk about it with you.
  • Make sure that your home is a place where it is safe for your child to experience and express a wide range of emotions. Let her know that in your family it is OK to be angry.
  • At the same time, let her know that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to express that anger. Make sure your child knows what the unacceptable expressions are and what the consequences will be when she chooses to respond in those ways.
  • Help your child think of positive ways to channel her anger. She might be angry she did not make an A on her last test. Help her to make a study plan to do better. Set up times when she can express grievances that have made her angry.
  • Let your child know that you are encouraged when she identifies her anger. This suggests that she is growing in her understanding of her emotions. It indicates that she is learning how to deal with this powerful emotion in healthy ways
  • Pray with your child about her emotions. Talk about her emotions with her and then thank God for the gift of emotions. Do not leave out the gift of anger. As you thank God for anger, thank Him for the specific positive things that can come from anger. If you have seen your child respond to anger in a positive way, thank God for what she is learning about her anger.

For most parents the emotion of anger in their children is considered negative, a problem, and something to be eliminated or solved. What parents often fail to see is that every problem is really an opportunity in disguise - an opportunity to help their children learn, grow, and mature. If there is any place where your faith can make a visible difference, it is in the way you allow it to transform how you deal with your child's anger.

These insights on anger can encourage and motivate you to understand and cultivate healthy anger in your own life and in the life of your child.

Dr. Gary J. Oliver is a father, university and seminary professor, psychologist, author, Executive Director of the Center for Relationship Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

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