Find Tim Challies blog here.
Find Tim Challies blog here.
by Tim Challies
One of the significant difficulties many husbands and wives encounter is the place of sexual desire and pleasure in marriage. I want to speak to this today by answering a representative question, one of many I’ve received. “You speak of sex like it is a pure and holy thing. Yet when my husband wants to have sex with me, I feel like he is just responding to bodily urges and wants to use me as a way to relieve those urges. It’s all about the release. What is holy about this?”
I want to begin by assuring you that your concern is a common one and that at one time or another most couples struggle with the place of sexual desire and gratification within marriage. We all know that sex is meant to be an expression of mutual love, yet so often a wife finds herself responding to her husband’s physical needs or desires. She can feel like she is little more than an outlet for his urges. Sadly, there are many marriages in which this is exactly the case.
I believe that the heart of the issue here is that very few Christians have developed a Bible-based theology of sex. Fewer still live out that theology of sex. Instead, much of what we believe has been imported from outside the Bible and carries messages antithetical to God’s desire for the sexual relationship.
From an evolutionary perspective sex is little more than a means of spreading genes, of ensuring survival from one generation to the next. From a pornographic perspective, the meaning of sex is physical gratification so that a person’s worth extends no farther than her (or his) ability to satisfy another person’s cravings. From a romantic comedy perspective, sex is a component of an exploratory phase of a relationship and one that precedes expressions of love and loyalty. These are ubiquitous, powerful messages that compete with truth.
A Christian perspective on sex could hardly stand in sharper contrast. There we see that sex belongs to marriage and that marriage has been created by God for a very specific purpose. Before it is anything else, marriage is a picture, a metaphor, of the relationship of Christ and his church. Within that picture, that representation of Christ and his church, we have sex. Sex is a necessary component of marriage so that a couple desiring to live in obedience to the Bible will regularly have sex together (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). And here is where we come to your concern.
While it is always difficult to speak in generalities, it is probably fair to say that more often than not, it is the husband’s physical desire that motivates the sexual relationship. And I think the heart of what you are noting is an apparent contrast between a husband’s physical desires and this picture of Christ and the church. It is a contrast between what we believe sex is meant to be and what sex actually is. Aren’t these things at odds with one another?
Here is what I want you to consider: What if the physical, “the release,” as you call it, isn’t the thing? What if it’s not the point of sex? What if the deepest purpose and meaning of sex is not physical but emotional and spiritual? And what if the physical desire is a God-given gift to compel us to take advantage of all the other benefits that sex brings?
This is where a Christian understanding of sex is so much better and greater than the alternatives. It heightens the purpose and importance of sex by celebrating all that sex is and all that it is meant to be, for it is here that the physical, the emotional and the spiritual come together in the most powerful way. Literally: the most powerful way. There is nothing in the human experience that brings these three together in such dramatic fashion and this is exactly why sex is reserved for the marriage bed. God wants marriage to be a unique kind of relationship and nothing marks marriage’s uniqueness more than sex.
Yet so few people think of sex in such terms. Even sex that is holy before God–sex between a husband and wife–can be marked by sin and ignorance. Few husbands have the words to express to their wives that the physical pleasure and relief that may come through sex are bound up in the much better and greater unity they find in making love to their wives. And yet somewhere they know it, they know that the greatest joy in sex is not orgasmic but in the joy of being body-to-body, soul-to-soul, and completely exposed before another person. The intimacy comes by way of vulnerability. There is no other place where a person is so exposed, so bare, so vulnerable. Sex is a declaration: This is who I am. Sex is a question: Do you accept me as I am? Sex is an answer: I accept you as you are. There is no other place where a person can be so loved and accepted.
This is the point of sex! This is its purpose. And the physical desire is a trigger, a reminder, that motivates us to pursue this kind of intimacy that is so integral to marriage. Not only that, but the physical desire allows this all to be a source of great fun and pleasure. It truly is one of God’s gifts to us.
I believe there is a call here for husbands to think about sex from a biblical perspective and to learn to express this to their wives. A husband should be able to explain to himself first, and then his wife, that the joy of sex goes far beyond the physical. It is not less than physical, but it is certainly so much more. And the husband needs to live as if this is true. Satan’s greatest victory in the area of sex is making it all about chasing that physical relief while ignoring the much deeper unity. A man can make hate to his wife instead of making love. He can have sex with his wife in such a way that he pursues nothing more than relief for his urges and when he does this he cheapens sex rather than elevates it. Husband, learn to understand and express to your wife what it really means to make love to her.
And there is a call here for wives not to resent the physical component of sex, but to see it as a God-given gift that motivates a husband and wife to pursue sex’s greatest gifts. She needs to understand that a man who is following the leading of his body toward that physical and emotional and spiritual unity, is a man who is looking to his wife for that thing that she and she alone can provide–this one expression of their deepest unity.
The fact is that as Christians we are good at teaching what sex is not, but not nearly as skilled at teaching what sex actually is and what it is meant to be and to display. The reality is far better, far more satisfying, than so many of us believe.
Find the original article here.
Tim Challies has a wonderful blog, find it here.
The pornography plague is impacting even the youngest children. Here are three things I want parents to consider about children and pornography. by Tim Challies
I started my Management class today. Here’s something I thought was good.
Believe it or not, there’s not a huge difference between leading at work and leading at home.
In fact, if we asked some of our colleagues who actually liked their statistics courses about the predictive validity of certain leadership traits in creating healthy families, my guess is that the number would be pretty high. And the good thing is that these are actual skills and abilities that people have and do every day at work. Our task is to get them to take those skills home!
So, if we think about it that way, what do leaders do that can be applied to creating healthy families? Here are just a few thoughts:
1. Cast a vision. One of the best fathers I know also leads an organization of thousands of people, and he takes this skill home. He gets out the white board and asks, “Ok, team, so what do we want this year to look like? At the end of the year, what do we want to have done that would make it a great year?” Or, “What does everyone want it to feel like to live here? What do we want family dinners to feel like or be like?”
He says that to get everyone working toward a positive vision, like having dinners without squabbling, gives a standard for them all to work towards, instead of just a nagging parent saying, “Kids, stop arguing with each other!” To be a family that every year learns or gets better at new skills makes piano, sports or reading seen in a different light. To have a vision of being a family that helps others sets a direction for reaching out to neighbors, or schoolmates, or learning other service oriented behaviors. Or, a vision of making it a fun year: “If we want this year to be the year of fun, what regular activities, or what vacation would be the best to do that?”
Getting the whole family involved in creating what they want their family to be like gives some tracks that will guide them down the same path.
2. Build unity. At work, leaders focus a lot on team building, unity and breaking down silos. They know that disconnection and dissent will wreck whatever they are trying to do and make life miserable for everyone. But, often they do not apply this same intentionality at home.
When you get parents asking the same strategic questions of themselves at home that they do at work, they get more engaged at building family togetherness. They begin to think about issues like these:
What settings are best to get everyone to share what is going on with them? Dinners? Family meetings? Walks around the neighborhood? Retreats or camping?
What kinds of tones do we need to set that is going to build trust?
How can I model vulnerability and acceptance that will get people to open up more?
Am I seeing anyone in particular not being a part of the team? Is anyone disconnected? How can I bring that person back in?
What fun “team bonding” activities am I regularly making sure happen? Crazy lunches? Goofy games? Bowling night for a non-bowling family?
What are some opportunities to “celebrate” victories by the individual family members?
3. Have regular meetings. No team gets where they are going without regular meetings, and the family is no exception. Family meetings can be a great regular structure where everyone talks about where they are in their individual plans, where the family is in terms of its own vision and goals that have been set, and a review of the behavioral contracts that everyone had for the week. For example, the family meeting is a great place to take the chore chart accounting and pay allowances or fines based on agreements. Also, it is a great setting to establish those expectations and have everyone talk about what the consequences will be, positive or negative, for adherence. Leaders hold their people accountable to standards of performance.
The family meeting can be a good place also to ask, “What does anyone need help with? Is there somewhere that we can pray for anyone, or help you do something?” And it is a good setting for talking about a value, or some other small lesson and asking questions like, “How are we doing in living this one out?”
4. Set stretch goals. We know from research that the happiest and most fulfilled people are people who set regular goals. I like to ask my kids to come up with their regular “stretch goals,” and share them in a family meeting. It gets them thinking of what the next “push” can be for them to stretch themselves in a particular area, and it also gives a context to check in and see how it is going. Added benefit: I have to give mine too, and it has helped me be more regular at working out!
5. Create a learning team with “continuous improvement.” Companies that thrive work hard on making their teams a place where mistakes, risks and failures are not punished, but used as an opportunity for learning. This does not mean that there is a lack of accountability or standards. But it does mean that the tone and nature of the standards are not punitive and shaming in nature. They try hard to “normalize” not getting it right so that mistakes and struggles can be shared and learned from. To make the family a place of learning, not punishment, is to create a growth environment.
6. Create and speak energy. Leaders energize, motivate and keep everyone moving. They are fuel for an organization, the fire that keeps it moving forward. So, they monitor their own energy and motivation, keeping it up and then making sure that they share it with their people. As is often said, they “speak energy” into initiatives and projects. In families, parents need to do the same thing. They need to ask themselves, first of all, “Am I motivating and inspiring everyone to get where we need to get?” And secondly, “Am I doing that in a way that creates more positive energy instead of negative energy and a drain?” In short, am I a positive charge when I walk in, or am I a drain? Leaders keep things moving forward, but they do it in a way that feels good to people.
So, it might be helpful to your clients to think of “Family Inc.” What they might find is that they already possess and practice many of the skills that it takes to be a stellar parent, and with a little focus, they could be having as much fun at home as they do at work.
Find the original article here.
Our culture is obsessed with happiness, but what if there’s a more fulfilling path? Happiness comes and goes, says writer Emily Esfahani Smith, but having meaning in life — serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you — gives you something to hold onto. Learn more about the difference between being happy and having meaning as Smith offers four pillars of a meaningful life.
Jia Jiang adventures boldly into a territory so many of us fear: rejection. By seeking out rejection for 100 days — from asking a stranger to borrow $100 to requesting a “burger refill” at a restaurant — Jiang desensitized himself to the pain and shame that rejection often brings and, in the process, discovered that simply asking for what you want can open up possibilities where you expect to find dead ends.
When parents discipline their children with yelling or spanking, it’s often a result of emotional venting and is not particularly useful because of the negative side effects. Learn how to discipline children with guidance-based strategies with help from a licensed clinical psychologist in this free video on children and discipline.
Expert: Dr. Craig Childress
A child exhibiting constant anger should be approached with the intent to understand. Develop the understanding between you and your child with the assistance of a licensed psychologist in this free video.
Expert: Dr. Craig Childress
There are many affects of divorce on a family – emotional, economic and personal, and children are often the collateral damage. Parents are in so much pain and distress that they are unable to care for the emotional and physical needs of their children. As a result, children are caught in the crossfire, between two emotionally wounded people, who once said, “I do” and for whatever reason now, don’t.
Children, however, have had nothing to say about this decision, and the only place where they feel safe – their home with mother and father – has now been destroyed. All the structures, by which they identified and labeled themselves and their family, no longer exist and, regardless of their age, children can’t really get their minds around the idea that something they considered “forever”, no longer exists. Furthermore, we know today that the impact of divorce on children can be long lasting.
Longitudinal research on children from divorce informs us that trust, commitment and intimacy are more difficult to develop in relationships later in life when they are violated at an early age. Therefore, children of divorce, tend to marry later in life and often have problems choosing a life partner. Also, other delays are evident, as these children can be paralyzed or frozen in their emotions at the very stage of development that existed at the time of divorce – or they can be seen to regress to earlier developmental stages that existed before the divorce. However, this rather bleak scenario does not have to exist.
Out of 100% of the people in our country that have children, only 20% are traditionally married. There are all types of family structures in which children are raised. The important thing to remember is that children need to have their needs met; they need to be nurtured; and they need to be able to count on their parents to be reliable and be there for them. Consequently, parents must step into their adult mode; override their own feelings of incapacity and be there for their children – now. Though marriage fails to survive, the family can still prosper if divorce is a success.
What Parents Should Know About Divorce
Keep Children in the Loop – It is much easier to deal with things we know about. Parents must be open and honest and give age-appropriate information to their children. If you do this, then you can actually lower your children’s anxiety rather than have it be free-floating, looking for a place to reside. Tell your children together and try to promote a united front. This will signal to your children that though the marriage breaks – the family survives, and that parents from henceforth, will become co-parents – loving their children unconditionally no matter what. Keep it simple. Don’t exaggerate or over-react. Children take their cue from their parents. If you show them confidence, they will feel secure in a potentially out-of-control situation. The course is set – steer them through it, with competence.
Have a Plan – Structure and consistency offer stability. Children feel secure if they feel that you, their parents, will protect them and have a construct for their future. Restore a normal routine as quickly as possible, including a calendar for visitation and holidays. Practice and rehearse your children in their new living arrangements, including school. This will give your children the confirmation that their parents have put serious thought into what happens to them.
Reassure Your Children – Don’t burden your children with adult decisions and responsibilities. Let them have their childhood.
Do Not Split Your Children in Relation to Your Former Mate – Children bear the genetic inheritance of both parents and consciously or unconsciously, feel their identity wrapped up in mother and father. If you attack their parent, you are in essence attacking your child’s identity – who he or she is, as a person. Children are very loyal and empathetic to their parents. As a result, if you put them in the middle of your divorce, they will bear both, some of the responsibility and guilt for the outcome – successful or not. Don’t ask children to be responsible for things over which they have no control. It can damage them for life.
Be Authentic – Tell the truth to your children – but never speak against their other parent. Children have had their trust shattered, and it is the parent’s role to rebuild that trust for them through positive regard and experience – little by little, day by day. Reconstruct a secure familial model for your children, letting them feel that you can care for them and be counted on to tell the truth – no matter what. Answer questions honestly, keeping in mind age-appropriate information. Parents are required to parent and maintain a sense of self-control.
Put Your Children First – Don’t make them your ally or your agent. Don’t ask them questions about your ex-partner, their living arrangements or dating arrangements. This puts children in a double bind and makes them feel very uncomfortable, as they feel they may be betraying one parent or the other.
Create A Safe Family Environment – The family structure is now different and unfamiliar. Children see their parents fragile, for what may be the first time. Their safe haven – the family as they knew it – is gone. To protect their family – their parents, children often repress their own feelings. Grief is the natural response to loss as well as guilt, anger, and fear. Children blame themselves as they are very egocentric and have the feeling of omnipotence. It is the parent’s role to help their children deal with these feelings so that they don’t have either short-term or long-term injury. Unresolved grief, fear, guilt, and anger, when repressed, can lead to both childhood and adult depression and in the worst case scenario suicide. Children must be encouraged to express their feelings and parents must give them the space in which to do that.
The Empathic Process – The best way to reconnect to your children is to communicate with them often. The best way to communicate with them is to listen to them with empathy. Set a regular time as a family tradition, a ritual, to restore faith in the family’s ability to function securely and be protective. Find a neutral space – the kitchen table, which is the heart of the house and serves very well for family meetings. Make eye contact; listen attentively; touch hands; hold confidences; and never defend positions. This is a place for each child to tell their feelings freely. There are rules for the empathic process – each person gets equal time to talk without interruption; and each child is invested in ideas and solutions. As a result, problem solving can happen because everyone’s feelings are considered. Never discount feelings. Divorce is devastating to the emotional make-up of children and adults. Of course, there will be the expression of injury – including anger, hurt, and blame. The family can take it, because love in a family is unconditional. This is where the parent must rise to the occasion to stay in the adult mode and support by listening, not just hearing, the pain in their family. The consistent family meeting, gives children a chance to reveal their feelings and express them. It also gives parents a chance to check in with their children to see how they feel; see how they are doing.
Never Give False Hope To Children That The Marriage Will Reunite – This only encourages fantasy or magical thinking and delays healing. In a certain way, clear and straight talk with your children gives them an opportunity to transition from one family structure to another by reaching down into their own resource and finding out that they can survive.
Seek Professional Help – Parents must never use their children for friends or counselors. If parents can’t handle their suffering, they should go to either a meaningful person; a person in the clergy; or a counselor or therapist.
Children Who Can’t Move Successfully Through Divorce, Need Therapy – Group therapy; counseling and support groups of children in similar situation are very successful in helping children connect to their feelings. Sometimes dance therapy, art, journaling, help children communicate in ways that are often too difficult to verbalize. A good counselor can guide them through the process.
Create New Family Traditions – Sometimes families reorganize in a way that includes step-parents and step-siblings. Therefore, parents must take the lead and invite children into the process of creating new family rules and new holiday experiences. Remember once again – to parent – to shape the new model by giving freedom within limits. If you invest your children in these decisions, they will be more likely to adapt comfortably. These children may have inherited new parents and new siblings, and no one asked them their opinions – no one gave them a choice. The trauma of divorce is deconstructing and parents can lead the way toward healthy reconstruction.
Creating A New Family Model With New House Rules, Rewards And Consequences Is Very Important To The Success Of This Transformation – Children become very territorial once they have experienced the dissolution of their family and face the establishment of something new. In essence, they are fighting for a place for themselves. This takes love, patience and time. Remember – children need their needs met; they need to be nurtured; and they need to be able to count on their parents to be there for them now.
Recognizing Signs Of Distress – Divorce is a trauma for the emotional well-being of your child. It is important to know your child; to pay attention and see signs of change such as eating, sleeping, activity, school work, social behavior, anxiety, agitation, depression and in the extreme, giving away precious possessions. Children look to their families as a way to define themselves. It is a part of who they are – their identity. It is unthinkable that no matter how bad the family system is, it will actually dissolve. Divorce is so critical to the way that children feel about themselves, think and act, that if not handled well by the adults involved, can lead to a whole host of negative outcomes – not the least of which is childhood suicide. Parents can make all of the difference, but first, it is essential that they stay in their adult and parent. This means they should not burden their children with their problems; don’t take away their children’s childhood by making them responsible for themselves; and don’t make your children your friends and allies.
In the final analysis, children have two parents and their very identity is wrapped up in both. Seek professional help if you need support, but do not use your children as counselors; don’t make your children your agents; don’t ask them uncomfortable questions about their other parent; and don’t put them on the spot in a double bind. This kind of splitting can only lead to feelings of disloyalty and guilt.
Create a safe space for your children where you can communicate with empathy and listen. Check in with them on a regular basis; find out how they are doing; how they feel. It is important to know that your children want to be normal and the same as everyone else. Therefore, honor their feelings; confirm their feelings of hurt and pain and invest them in the discovery of options to help them find their own resource for survival. Return your children to a normal routine as quickly as possible, and remember to participate in the solution – don’t be the problem.
Find the original article here.
Do you find your child lashing out? Are you having trouble communicating with your child during moments of extreme frustration or aggression? While children are growing and still learning how to cope with anger, they tend to instinctively use anger as a defense against physical and emotional pain. As the parent, there are many ways you can help your child through these emotional moments.
Here are some helpful tips to teach your children how to cope with anger:
1. DO recognize and acknowledge your child’s feelings. If you validate your child’s feelings, then your child doesn’t need to defend those feelings and is less likely to respond in anger. Acknowledging feelings causes your child’s anger to soften and leaves a safe space in which he or she can learn empathy and coping skills. On the other hand, if you discount your children’s feelings and experience, their anger will intensify as they fight to establish and validate their own sense of self.
2. DO practice empathy. By listening to your child’s feelings without interruption or defense, you create space for your child’s anger to dissipate, as they no longer need to use up energy defending the fairness of their position. By empathizing with your child’s feelings, you are helping them regulate the cortisol — the fight-or-flight chemical — that emerges through emotional stress. The consistency of your open reception to your child’s anger teaches him or her to react less emotionally and more critically. Ultimately, this is how nature and nurture come into balance, as a child’s behavior affects body chemistry and therefore, their emotional control.
3. DO teach your children problem-solving skills. Neurological tracking occurs when children creatively problem-solve. The more children practice and rehearse problem-solving rather than emotional reacting, the more their neurological pathways assist them in controlling their impulses. Parents can teach their children how to recognize, acknowledge and appropriately cope with their feelings by asking questions that prompt children to think up their own solutions, such as “What do you think would happen if you did Choice A instead of Choice B?” or, “What sort of options do you think are available to you and what do you need to do to find a resolution?”
4. DO establish clear standards for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This means that though we want to validate all our child is feeling, allowing those emotions does not translate into the acceptance of bad behavior. There are common rules of engagement which include: no hitting, throwing, breaking objects or disrespect. By involving children in establishing the consequences for their behavior, you will find that your children are more likely to respect the rules. By limiting your children’s aggressive behavior, you are in a sense establishing a safety container for their feelings.
5. DO teach your child relaxation methods. By teaching children progressive relaxation, breathing techniques and other self-managing tools for stress, they can calm themselves down when confronted with anger. These techniques not only change the neural pathways, but also affect impulse control. Like every habit, the more your do it, the better you become at it. For example, if a child learns to breath in before giving in to the impulsive act of hitting, it gives that child a sense of control and lessens the need to establish control by acting out.
6. DO try a “time in” instead of a “time out.” As the parent, you are your child’s main guide in life, and as their guide, they rely on you to be there with them through their emotional experience, whatever that may be. Therefore, no time out, no isolation. Instead, try a “time in” — sit with your child and incorporate other methods mentioned in this post: work on breathing with them, ask them questions about their feelings. The important thing is to be fully present with them to help them through their emotions. Remember, you are teaching your child social cues and skills to be in relationships with others, rather than acting out alone. When children are isolated, they often ruminate and feel guilty for their behavior. This only serves to create concrete reasons for low self-esteem, which often cycles back to creating bad behavior.
7. DON’T attempt to orchestrate your child’s feelings. It is important to value what your child is experiencing. For example, if your child is hurt or crying, never say to them: “Stop crying.” But rather, validate your child’s experience, saying, “I know that hurts; that would make me cry also.” This makes an ally out of you, rather than a target for free floating anxiety and anger.
As an ally, your child learns to trust you, realizing you are there for them — no matter what, right or wrong, and that they can count on that. If your child can trust you, they can learn to trust themselves and the outer world. If, for example, your child tells you they hate you, or wants you to leave them alone, it is important to assure them that you will be nearby and that you will always be there for them — no matter what.
8. DON’T go down to your child’s level of behavior. Consciously and deliberately step into your role as the adult and remain there for the entire stressful episode. Little children can really work themselves up emotionally, especially while defending their position. Your job as a parent is to stay composed. Your state of calm allows your child to feel safe in the midst of chaos. A parent is always a child’s touchstone, the one they look toward, for security and safety. Children become afraid when their parents display anger. By staying in your adult role, you are teaching your child that it is okay to feel angry, and that when the feeling passes, you are still there, holding a secure space for them.
9. DO teach your children to recognize anger cues. If children can self-monitor, they can self-manage. By recognizing the feelings that accompany anger, children can recognize the onset of those emotions. This gives them time in which to self-manage before they are caught in the chaos of emotion. If you see that your child is over-tired or cranky, you have the opportunity as a parent to teach them to recognize their oncoming emotions by resting with your child, reading to your child, or spending some cozy time together.
10. DO teach your children how to bring their feelings to consciousness. By recognizing the emotions that drive their behavior, children can learn to skillfully manage that behavior. Writing, drawing and painting are wonderful ways to express the issues that are bothering children, especially if they have trouble verbalizing their emotions. When my children were little and reached the point of no return in their emotional intensity, I bought a Shmoo, which is balloon that can be punched and pops back up. I gave permission for my children to use the pillows on their bed or the Shmoo to release some of the pent-up feelings of emotions. Once those feelings are out in the open, you can collaborate with your child to find ways of coping with these feelings empathically.
11. Invest your child in the process of managing their anger. Ask your children to give you some tips on how they could positively manage their emotions. Make a list of five actions they can take — such as breathing deeply for one minute or drawing a picture — and leave the list somewhere your child can see it, such as his or her bedroom door or on your refrigerator door.
12. DO bond with your child. A well-bonded child can learn to cope and manage his or her emotions, to problem-solve, to process and to stick with a problem until it is resolved. They are also more adventuresome and will creatively explore different options as solutions to problems. The well-bonded child feels like he or she can depend on parents.
In the end, remember that you, as the parent, make all the difference. By following these tips, you can help strengthen your relationship with your child and give them the tools they need to cope with their anger. If you notice that your child has relationship problems, is a bully, or tries to hurt themselves, others or animals, do consider seeking professional help for both you and your child.
If you would like to learn more about how children process anger, please visit my website www.DrGailGross.com
Find the original article here.
Anger can be a difficult emotion to understand, especially for children. This story walks through the process of moving from outbursts and repression to conscious, healthy methods of expressing anger. This is a condensed version of the book, “The Mad Family Gets Their Mads Out” by Lynne Namka, Ed. D., psychologist and president of “Talk, Trust and Feel Therapeutics.”
by Signe Whitson L.S.W.
As a school counselor, one of the most frequently asked category of questions I receive centers around ‘how do I handle my child’s anger?’ The question is almost always spoken by parents in a voice burdened with shame and embarrassment—as if anger in childhoodwas a bad thing or that any ‘good’ parent would know how to keep their kids perpetually happy. Neither could be further from the reality of human nature and no adult need berate themselves for the fact that their children act like human beings.
To reassure caregivers that their questions about how to handle anger in children are valid and that they are not alone (by a long shot) in feeling weighed down by the challenge, here are my responses to a few of the most frequently asked questions about helping kids handle anger:
IS ANGER BAD OR HARMFUL TO A CHILD?
Anger is a basic, primal, spontaneous, but temporary neurophysiological feeling. It is usually triggered by some sort of frustration and often perceived as an unpleasant state. Anger is real and it is powerful—but it needn’t be feared, denied, or considered bad in and of itself. Bearing in mind that all living creatures experience frustration, it follows that the feeling of anger is completely normal and natural. It’s what we do with our anger that counts. When anger is dealt with in healthy, constructive ways, there’s nothing bad or harmful about it. However, too often we find that young people express anger in destructive ways that are harmful to friendships, parent-child interactions, student-teacher relationships, and even to long-term health.
DO ADULT ANGER PROBLEMS ALWAYS START FROM CHILDHOOD?
Problems expressing anger in healthy ways often trace their roots to childhood. Some young people learn from the adults in their lives that aggression—whether it be yelling, name-calling, shaming, or actual violence—is the go-to strategy for expressing anger. They may be taught that their momentary feelings are more important than the rights of others and that they are free to act out their feelings on others, no matter what the impact.
Then, there are other very different childhood experiences that are marked by impossible standards of perfection. In these homes, kids often get the message that “anger is bad” and that “good kids don’t let anyone know that they are angry.” Young people growing up in this kind of emotionally-restricted environment learn from an early age to hide or deny their natural feelings. Even though suppressing anger may appear far more civil than outright name-calling or aggression, kids who are forced to mask their anger can suffer a great deal as adults, as they turn their anger inward and experience depression, or engage in passive aggressive behaviors to hurt others in hidden ways.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HEALTHY SPELL OF ANGER AND SOMETHING THAT’S A PROBLEM?
Healthy anger is marked by assertive communication. In a healthy spell of anger, a young person can (and will!) honestly, directly and clearly tell someone else what happened that bothered them and make a specific request for that behavior to change or for amends to be made. In some situations, this kind of communication is not an option and so a young person may make a conscious decision to distance themselves from the anger source or to “let go” of their angry feelings. For example, in a school setting, students often don’t have the social power to be able to be 100% honest and assertive with a teacher they believe has treated them unfairly. Making a choice to pick their battles and let a minor injustice go is a mature, emotionally-measured, and solution-focused way to make a bad situation bearable.
Problematic anger happens when an angry young person violates the rights of others through some sort of physical aggression, verbal outburst, or backhanded means of revenge. Problematic anger is all about getting back at someone else and hurting them, while constructive anger is about solving a problem.
HOW CAN I HELP A CHILD WHO HAS ANGER ISSUES?
Any person at any age can learn that they have choices when it comes to how to express anger. The good news is that just as aggression is a learned behavioral choice for expressing anger, so is assertiveness. This knowledge is power. When young people realize that their choices are bringing them results that they don’t want—scoldings, time outs, loss of privileges, restrictions on free time—they are often eager to learn better choices and strategies for expressing their angry feelings.
Physical strategies such as engaging in sports, exercise, mindfulness, and yoga are proven effective in helping young people learn to calm their brains and gain greater control over their choices in healthy behaviors.
As a mental health professional and school counselor, I encourage all schools to incorporate emotion management skills as part of the regular curriculum. Since we know that emotional well-being is a pre-requisite for academic success, it only makes sense that schools make so-called “soft” skills such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, and assertive communication a part of their regular skills curriculum. Prevention is our very best bet for helping young people solve their anger issues before they become lifelong patterns.
And finally, timing is everything when it comes to helping a young person who expresses their anger in destructive ways. Telling a person that they have “anger issues” during a fit of rage is pretty much guaranteed to worsen the problem. The child’s emotional brain is dominating their actions and they are not able to effectively access the logical, thinking part of their brain that allows them to make good choices. For a young person to truly understand that their way of expressing anger is a problem for them (and for those around them!), they have to be calm enough to be able to clearly comprehend the costs of their destructive anger expression. Helping a child learn how to thoroughly calm down from a bout of anger is one of the most valuable skills an adult can teach. Listening (read: not talking) while a young person puts their feelings into words after (and only after) they have calmed down is a lasting way to help kids learn to understand and manage their angry feelings.
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