HOW ANGER ESCALATES
Q: My child seems so quick to anger. Is this just a stage that will go away with time and patience? His temper tantrums seem to be getting more intense and out of control. What is going on?
A: In the very beginning of God’s story of mankind, we read the terrible affects of anger when Adam and Eve’s firstborn son murdered his brother in a fit of jealous rage. From that point on, the Bible is filled with stories and warnings and wisdom about how to deal with anger in others and ourselves.
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Anger, according to the Bible, starts in the heart. It festers and grows there like the blackberry bush in my backyard, popping up in unexpected places, threatening to choke the life out of all who are pricked by its thorns. In fact, anger follows a clear progression that every parent must be aware of early on in a child’s life.
Anger often starts with with a wounded spirit.
Someone denies him something he earnestly desires and he feels a sense of hurt. Sometimes that sense of woundedness is simply willfulness. I want what I want and I want it now! At other times, this involves sin on someone’s part- an offense that genuinely causes pain. Both can lead to sinful anger.
Anger left unchecked then leads to bitterness.
If a child does not respond biblically to the offense, he will cultivate the seed of hurt by reviewing it over and over in his mind. This leads to a root of bitterness that has a defiling affect on those close to him.
- Anger that continues down this path of destruction leads to characterological anger. This is what the Bible terms “an angry man”, or one who is “easily angered” and “hot tempered”. (Proverbs 22:24) Notice that anger does not start here, but this is where most parents realize that they have a problem.
- Stubbornness is the next step along the escalation of anger in a child’s heart. I Samuel 15:23 uses this word that “paints a picture of a heifer pushing her front hooves into the ground to counteract her master who is trying to push or pull her forward.” This child is fighting hard to become the ruler of his own destiny, rather than submitting his will to his parents.
- Finally, the Scriptures speak of a rebellious child. This stage takes the child way beyond angry outbursts to a lifestyle of foolish behavior. (Eccl. 7:9) Rebellion rarely starts in high school. It begins with the first hint of hurt feelings and slowly escalates if left unanswered. A rebellious teenager is seething with angry feelings that have led to an angry way of thinking.
As you can see, your child’s anger is not going to go away all by itself. No child really out grows his anger, though his ways of expressing it may become less in-your-face than a two year old having a full blown temper tantrum. One wise woman gave me this advice many years ago:
Ask yourself how this behavior might play itself out in 10 years, and then decide whether you want to deal with it now-
A door slammed in anger now may turn into a teenager peeling out of the driveway in his car ten years from now.
A toy thrown across the room now may result in a fist in the face ten years from now.
Yelling in anger now may well lead to fierce intimidation and abusive speech ten years from now.
Frightening isn’t it?
That is why I believe that one of the most important things we parents can do is to teach AND train our children how to deal with the very real problem of anger in their lives.
This is not a quick fix. There is no magic pill to take or technique to master that will eliminate anger from their lives. But there are guidelines, which God gives us in His Word, that we can teach our children (and ourselves!) to follow.
I’ll write more next week about what the Bible teaches us about dealing with anger and how to train our children in those words of wisdom.
From My Heart,
 The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo, pg 22. This is a book well worth reading for every parent.
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