Really it’s more a question than a topic, and it’s this: how should we handle anger when it arises in our children? And behind that one, this: how should we be thinking about anger in children? There are wildly different opinions on this in Christian parenting circles. Here are two contrasting quotes from Christian parenting authors, representatives of what I’d term two “camps.” The first is the feelings-can-and-should-be-managed-and-adjusted camp, and the second is anger-is-normal-and-shouldn’t-be-suppressed camp.
“You CAN change your emotions. You are not a helpless victim of hurt feelings, irritability, and anger. We can and must learn to alter our tempers and deny our feelings, when necessary, and teach our children to do likewise… All they need to do is obey us, as we wisely discipline them and train them according to God’s word.
One cherished, but highly erroneous belief is that a parent should not correct a child for displaying a wrong emotion, because the child will ‘suppress’ the emotion rather than change it. Experience convinces me otherwise. Require young children to display the right emotions outwardly and their hearts will change, producing the right attitudes and emotions inwardly as well. Get him to smile on the outside and invariably he will smile on the inside… What you really seek is a child who believes it is wrong to be a sour puss, or angry, or fearful, or irritable, and is willing and able on his own, to change his outlook…
In virtually no instance is (a child’s) anger toward a sibling justified.”
~Elizabeth Krueger, Raising Godly Tomatoes
“Scripture instructs parents to train a child in the way he should go. Forcing a child to suppress the anger and not deal with it properly is training him in the way the child should not go. It is crucial to train a child in the proper way to handle anger. This is done by teaching him to resolve anger, not suppress it….
If suppressed too much, the anger will come out as ‘passive-aggressive behavior.’ This is the opposite of an open, honest, direct, and verbal expression of anger…. Passive aggressive ways of handling anger are indirect, cunning, self-defeating, and destructive. Passive-aggressive behavior is very common. Why? Because most people do not understand anger or know what to do with it. They feel that anger is somehow wrong or sinful and should be ‘disciplined’ out of the child. This is a serious misunderstanding.”
~D. Ross Campbell, M.D., How to Really Love Your Child
I’ve been mulling over these snippets- and the world views/parenting methodologies behind them – for weeks.
Which viewpoint do you think is healthier? Which system serves kids better in the long run? Which is more productive to training children in the ways of God — Whose word says, after all, says both “rid yourself of anger” (Col 3:8; Camp-1-style) and also “in your anger do not sin” (Eph 4:26; lends itself more to Camp-2-style)?
First published November, 2013