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How to Help Your Child Better Understand Their Anger

My son has been experiencing the dreaded P word. Hair is growing in new places, there is a stench that can’t be washed away with a thousand showers, and worst of all, there are hormonal mood swings that will have him going from 5 to 100 in a few seconds flat. This has been a challenging season for sure. But once I did what I always try to do in parenting, which is…bring myself back to when I went through something similar as a child, I could help him better understand himself and his anger.

Here’s an example of what parents can do when faced with a hormonal tween or teen.

angry teen boy

First, it’s important to remember that our children have negative feelings, outbursts, anger, etc., just like us. And just like us, they don’t always get it right. As we adults learn to reparent ourselves and better process our negative emotions, perhaps in areas where our parents fell short, we can teach our children a better way but also have grace for when they fall short.

Rewiring your child’s brain

Let’s talk a little bit about neuroplasticity and how our brains work.

Neuroplasticity helps you rewire your brain because, believe it or not, our brains are moldable. And when something unfortunate is wired into our brain, like habitual anger outbursts, it can be wired out.

So, when your child shows negative side effects of a hormonal reaction, we can approach it from a brain-rewiring perspective.

Example. Your child begins to deal with the dreaded negative self-talk. “Ugh, I’m so stupid. I can’t do anything; I always mess it up.” You can gently remind them how negative thoughts impact our brains.

I share this verse with my kids a lot.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

God knew that we would struggle to stay positive and walk in the Spirit. Everywhere in the Bible, it redirects us to think about what is good, not to be afraid or worried, to be patient and kind, etc. This is the way we were made to function. And when we don’t operate this way, bad things happen.

When rewiring your brain, you must stop yourself when bad thoughts arise and replace them with true thoughts.

“Son, the truth is, you’re not stupid. You’re incredibly smart and capable. It’s your choice to believe the truth or believe the lie that you’re not who God says you are. I understand you’re frustrated in the moment. It’s okay to be frustrated. But what you choose to do with that emotion and thought is up to you. Your thoughts are powerful and can make your day good or bad. What kind of day would you like to have?”

This helps my son identify his negative thoughts and possibly redirect them. Obviously, one can’t force one’s child to think one way, but you can guide them to what is true.

Tell them the science behind their thoughts. If they continue to think negatively, their brains will be wired to react that way next time. But if they learn to redirect their thoughts, they will more likely respond in peace and joy the next time. Tell them it takes practice and patience.

Two words that can help your child understand their anger

Along with the brain-rewiring aspect of their anger, it is also important for them to identify WHY they are acting out. Here’s another scenario from a child’s perspective.

“I got home from school, tired from the day, and I went to the fridge to get some milk. There was none.

Ugh! Why doesn’t anyone care about me?

Then, I went to sit down and work on my project, and my little brother kept coming in and distracting me.

He’s so annoying! I got angry with him, shoved him out of my room, and slammed the door.

He cried to my mom, and OF COURSE, I got in trouble.

The next thing I know, I get grounded, and I’m stuck in my room for the weekend with nothing to do. Great.”

sad girl in hallway

It’s important to get to the heart of the matter instead of grounding your child. Your child is obviously on edge, but why? That’s where you come in.

“Son, I see that you didn’t get any milk, and you were trying to work on your project. I know you love your brother, and you didn’t want to react in anger. I understand you’re under a lot of pressure, but treating your sibling that way is never okay. What’s up? I’m here for you. You don’t seem like yourself. Are you okay?”

The child then opens up because they feel heard and accepted, even with their big emotions. A simple “What’s up?” can work wonders.

The child responds…

“My friend at school ignored me today. He said he didn’t want to be my friend anymore, but I don’t know what I did wrong.”

If you had simply sent him to his room for the rest of the weekend because he did something wrong, you wouldn’t have gotten to the heart of the matter. Behind every reaction is usually a deeper cause. Sometimes, it’s not. But most often, it is, even if it’s as simple as them being tired or hungry.

You have to do the hard work parenting requires to better understand your children and help them work through their emotions. It’s easy to send our kids to their rooms. It’s hard to work through the muck and bring out the ugly. But once you do this, they will feel safe to open up, and you will benefit from this kind of communication.

You can then help them figure out a better response, reassure them you care about them, guide your kids to make peace, and help them work through the issue at school with their friend. All because you asked and cared.

Doing this sets the stage for an incredible relationship with your child for years to come. It’s not easy, but if you do the work upfront, and your child will benefit from their new understanding of how to process their anger.