As a parent, it’s easy for me to get upset when my children get angry. I want them to control their emotions. I want them to control themselves. But through the years I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to deal with anger is to figure out where it comes from. Once we figure out what thoughts are taking place in our kids’ minds, the better we can help them.
The best place to start is by simply asking the question, “What’s making you angry?” (You might be able to guess what makes them angry, but it’ll be helpful to hear their thoughts.)
Here are some things your kids might come up with.
I’m mad because:
Things didn’t go as planned.
I messed up.
Things didn’t go my way.
I thought I’d do better.
It’s not fair!
Everyone treats me bad.
He/she was mad at me first.
Everything is just getting worse.
I can’t control myself.
I can’t explain what I need.
People don’t act like they should.
I’m really mad about something else.
Discovering Roots of Anger
Those are the things that kids think are making them angry, but there are often other deeper emotions. Beneath those layers of anger are often layers of hurt, or rejection, or feelings of being unloved.
“Anger is what we call a cover-up emotion, a sign that says something is wrong. But the real problem is always underneath,” said Dr. Lynn Weiss, psychotherapist and author of several books on ADHD.
So what are some of the deeper emotions behind these thoughts?
Things didn’t go as planned. (I feel powerless)
I messed up. (I feel incapable.)
Things didn’t go my way. (I feel unseen or unheard.)
It’s not fair! (I feel anxious)
Everyone treats me bad. (I feel disconnected.)
He/she was mad at me first. (I feel unloved.)
Everything is just getting worse. (I’m fearful about the future.)
I can’t control myself. (I feel helpless.)
I can’t explain what I need. (I am hungry, tired or overstimulated.)
People don’t act like they should. (I feel threatened.)
I’m really mad about something else. (I feel confused.)
For every reason a child feels angry, there is a deeper, underlying emotion. And the truth is, it’s the same with us. When I start getting angry and stressed over something like a messy house it’s because of emotions and fears bubbling under the surface. When I see a mess, I think back to my mother’s words every time I had a messy room, “I’d hate to see your house when your an adult.” At that moment the anger isn’t about the mess, it’s about feeling incapable. Seeing my messy house brings back those old emotions. They surge within me and say, “I’m not enough.”
How to Help Our Kids
So how do we handle this? The best thing is to acknowledge what’s really going on inside our kids. For example, if they are feeling left out by a sibling or friend you can say, “You must be feeling unloved.” Or if your child made a mistake you say can say, “You must be feeling incapable.”
Yet we don’t want to stop at just acknowledging their emotions. We must then spend time helping your child understand the truth of your love and God’s love. An example would be: “You feel unloved, but I love you so much. God does too. And you know what, your sister loves you too, even though it may not feel like it now.”
It’s easy to react to our child’s anger. Even harder is understanding the deeper emotions behind those angry feelings. We can use these moments to understand what’s really wrong with our children and to connect with their hearts. Once we do that, our children will begin understanding their emotions better too, and they’ll also feel our love as we work with them (instead of just disciplining them). And over time, these roots of anger will soon be replaced by roots of care and love.
Want to understand more about your child’s anger? Tricia’s upcoming book: Calming Angry Kids releases soon! You can pre-order it HERE.