In my last post about kids and anger, I quoted juxtaposing views from two Christian parenting authors on the best way to address anger in kids. Camp One is the “feelings-can-and-must-be-managed-and-adjusted camp,” and Camp Two is the “anger-is-normal-and-shouldn’t-be-suppressed camp.”
I benefited from seeing the two positions laid out side by side, and the thoughts of other moms on this intrigued me. My own input:
1. There’s truth on both sides. Truth in Camp One: emotions shouldn’t be allowed to direct our lives – our own or our kids’. We have power to adjust our feelings (and even a responsibility to do so, on many occasions), and our kids need to know this and eventually learn it. Many in today’s culture have lost sight of this. Truth in Camp Two: anger is a normal human emotion and isn’t inherently wrong. And appropriately managing anger is a skill learned over time, and it needs to be intentionally taught.
2. There’s a spectrum with “adjust your emotions and control your anger” at one end and “own, explore, and work through your anger” on the other end. It makes sense to work with your kids at both ends of the spectrum – and lots of places in the middle – depending on the kid, circumstance, maturity (etc).
3. Many Camp One advocates view the issue in a more black-and-white way than my #1 and #2 above allow. They generally feel the Camp Two viewpoint is ill-conceived. Krueger’s statements allude to this: “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.” Another reference: “Upon the arrival of psychologists to the field of parenting, common sense in this regard has gone out the window and we now have an entire generation of young parents who believe their children will be scarred for life if any attempt is made to require them to manage their spirits. The results, predictably, are millions of children well on their way to becoming emotional cripples, unable to handle the slightest disappointment, or the smallest offense made against them.” And this one: “In virtually no instance is (a child’s) anger against a sibling merited.” Krueger and others in Camp One generally disagree with the idea that accepting a child’s anger, and working with her to process it, is helpful.
Interestingly, Camp Two leaders seem to perceive that Camp One sees thing in black and white terms and disagrees with their take – or at least my Camp One representative, D. Ross Campbell, does. He is himself is a psychologist (thus, his advent on the parenting scene is distasteful to Krueger). He says: “The area most overemphasized today (by parents), to the exclusion of the other three, is discipline. I see many children of Christian parents who are well-disciplined but feel unloved.” In fact, Campbell’s whole book and parenting approach seem almost geared to reverse the ill effects that he encounters among Camp-One-style families.
4. I see negative ramifications for parents who embrace the Camp One philosophy and model, and who follow it all the way through. My kids and I experienced some of them when I sought to parent in this way, and our experience – and my seeking to sort through what was happening in our household – led me find many others who also felt the fallout of this approach.
If you’ve never researched, considered, or dabbled in a thoroughgoing Camp One approach to addressing your children’s emotions, #3 and #4 will be pretty irrelevant to you, and all this discussion will seem like overkill. But lots of Christian parents have encountered Camp One teachers and leaders, and the tendency among those implementing these philosophies to over-focus on correction and on replacing “negative” emotions on acceptable ones is very real. In fact, it’s what first prompted the question in my own mind.
I was an implementer of the Camp One model for about a year, and when my children displayed negative emotions I basically tried to have them – in Krueger’s words – ‘deny their feelings and alter their temper.’ And because Krueger also advocates a very high level of consistency, I did this very often. [She says: "If you correct a child ten times and then skip once, you will have undone everything you accomplished on the last ten occasions. Now, if you correct diligently one hundred times and then overlook some minor transgression, it won't take long to reestablish order, but remember, you must be consistent one hundred times in a row first. Are you doing this?"]. During this time I developed a knee-jerk, “make it stop” response to “wrong” emotions in my kids when they’d crop up. Krueger’s experience – and her advice to parents – is that these issues generally dry up as the parents stick to it, and as children absorb the truth that negative emotions can and must be adjusted for godly ones. So I kept on diligently, waiting for the breakthrough… and meanwhile feeling like I was failing my children – and failing as a parent – anytime my kids got angry. Time passed, things still weren’t going the way they were ‘supposed to,’ and I was stressed and discouraged. Eventually I realized that there were fundamental flaws in my expectations and efforts. I saw that I wasn’t failing at all – and neither, broadly speaking, were my kids. And frankly I was a little baffled that it had taken me so long to see that I was being unrealistic and unfair to them in my approach.
My goal here isn’t to bash or discredit Elizabeth Krueger (whom I respect, and whose book Raising Godly Tomatoes I still find to contain helpful elements and insights, even while I no longer subscribe to her overall view]. It’s to explore the facets of “kids and anger” as one component of what I now see as an over-controlling parenting model. My reflections and research on this topic have lead me to read scores of accounts of families who, with godly intentions, throughly implemented Camp One approaches – several directed by teachers far more intense than Krueger’s – and reaped all manner of negative results.
In the end I can’t state my conclusion any better than Jo Ella, who commented on my first anger post:
“The Scriptures seem to presume that we will have negative emotions as a normal part of life, and managing them does not mean smiling them away. Some anger is perfectly right, or mostly right. Some is self-absorbed and wrong. But the person of maturity has a sober and truthful awareness of their own emotions, and of how to wisely manage them.”
Originally published January, 2014