We can often see it coming. The clenched fists, the quick breathing, the rising pitch of the voice and the overall sense of tension in the air. When our child loses control of their emotions, for one reason or another, it’s very obvious to us as their parents! What isn’t always obvious is how to help them get these emotions under control. From a purely secular standpoint, we are typically encouraged to let our kids express these emotions to an unhealthy point. “Just walk away and let them throw a fit,” was advice I read in parenting magazines when my first child was young. “They need to let their anger out.”
While it is very true that we don’t want to stifle our kids’ emotions, we need to find more Biblical approaches of helping them express how they are feeling in a healthy way. There are four steps we take in our home with our four children to help them identify their emotions and submit them to God so that He can help them respond to anger or frustration in a more Spirit-filled way. Hopefully these can help you as you parent your children through their emotions as well!
Help Them Identify Their Emotions and Where They Come From
In the Bible, we can see examples of many different kinds of emotions. In Psalm 69, David calls out to the Lord saying, “I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me.” Scripture also gives us the exhortation in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Sadness, anger, and frustration are all a part of the human condition. Our children will experience these emotions and many more! By showing them Biblical examples of emotions and how the Word instructs us to handle them, it helps them understand their own minds and hearts.
Practical Example: If my 5 year old is getting upset with his 3 year old sister because she knocked down his wooden block garage that he built for his Hotwheels, I’ll stop him before he can hit her (if I can) and say “I understand that you are angry because she knocked down your garage. But hitting doesn’t help to make things better. The Bible says that even if we’re angry, it isn’t right to sin against others by hitting or hurting them. Let’s talk about what to do instead.”
By giving our kids the ability to identify when they are getting upset or about to say unkind things or otherwise losing control, they will become more aware over time of when they’re about to “blow”. I truly believe this is a tool that can help us as adults as well!
Remembering too, that “out of the heart, the mouth speaks”, it’s especially essential to help our kids see that the words they speak are a direct reflection of what is going on inside of them.
Help Them Understand What They Can Do to Respond in a Better Way to Frustration or Anger
The key truth behind implementing this technique is understanding that only the Holy Spirit can truly make a heart change in our children. By teaching our kids the “how” of taking their thoughts and words and making them obedient to Christ, we are really just building on what only God can do in their hearts to help them get their emotions under control.
I call this concept put off/put on. Not only do we want to tell them what “not” to do when they feel upset, but we also want to give them ideas for better responses, the “to do” of handling emotions.
Some of the things we have encouraged our kids to do when they feel upset are:
- Put their hands behind their back and squeeze them together to release tension (and so they don’t hit).
- Take a few deep breaths and let them out.
- Walk away from the situation if they know it’s going to make them act out in anger (this works well for older children).
- After calming themselves down, we walk them through a better way to talk to their sibling, parent or friend about why they are mad.
- Practice better responses by using “role play” during times of non-conflict or after they have cooled down.
- Teaching them what the Bible says about the condition of our hearts and how angry hearts cause us to say things we shouldn’t or act out of frustration in a way that becomes sinful. (More on a resource you can use for teaching these principles at the end of this post!)
You may have other ideas that work well for your child’s temperament. Some kids are more sensitive and need a parent to physically intervene and hug or hold them when they are visibly upset. Some children, like my oldest daughter who is 8, need to be removed from the situation when she can’t keep her disrespectful or hurtful words under control (I will usually go with her and sit with her if I can to help her process these emotions).
Embrace the Right Perspective When Teaching Your Kids about Managing Emotions
As we strive to teach our children the right way to respond in times of frustration or anger, I think it’s important to remember the WHY of this kind of instruction. We are parenting and guiding our kids in this way for the purpose of forming a connection with them. We’re not fighting against them in this battle to get control of their negative emotions, but fighting for them.
It’s obviously also good to model a calm spirit when our own emotions threaten to upset us, but sometimes it is so very hard! Often my child’s overreactions are a result of me being over reactive myself. Acting out in anger and yelling is something I’ve struggled with for years but there are some techniques that I have been using that have really helped. I wrote about these, as well as a course I went through to help me with my mommy anger, in a post called When You’re Kicking Yourself for Losing it With Your Kids. If you struggle with anger, know that I am praying for all moms who have this issue, because I’m right there with you! But if we can learn to identify key reasons why we get upset and act out in anger and take even small steps in the right direction, it will go a long way in showing our kids what conflict resolution looks like.
Teach Them Biblical Principles About Handling Emotions During Calmer Times
The concept of being a proactive rather than reactive parent took me a long time to implement. But I’ve found (as you probably have too) that teaching our kids about the issues of controlling our tongue, handling emotions and using self-control works better during times of calm and non-conflict!
Use Scripture verses that talk about not losing control, anger, and minding our mouths. Share with them how “out of the heart, the mouth speaks” and that God can help us to have a better response. Tell them often that you love them and forgive them when they mess up and that God does too!
Keep this truth in mind: The main goal when helping our children control our emotions is to point them to Christ! As they get older, they will learn to go to Him first when they are struggling.
If you want to talk to your kids about these matters but aren’t sure where to start, I’d encourage you to check out my new family devotional study called Minding Your Mouth: A Biblical Study on the Discipline of Taming the Tongue. When it’s released at the end of October, you’ll get it for free (for a limited time), as my gift to Minno readers! Just visit this page for more info and to be notified when it goes live.
It’s a resource that I wrote for the very purpose of providing a way for families to discuss heart issues that affect how we respond to our sometimes overwhelming emotions, how these emotions affect the things we say and the way we act, and a grace-filled, Biblical way of addressing these struggles.
Know that even though teaching kids to manage their emotions can be a long process with lots of twists and turns, your investment in your children is not in vain! Christ has given us the grace and patience we need to help our kids and He is always there to help them as well!
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10