Responding to a Child's Anger

Brian Clark

March 13, 2024

“The principle of internal goodness drives all of my work—I hold the belief that kids and parents are good inside, which allows me to be curious about the ‘why’ of their bad behaviors.” —Dr. Becky Kennedy

As I read these words in the opening paragraph of Dr. Becky Kennedy’s book, “Good Inside,” I couldn’t help but think of the beginning—or the Genesis—of a different book. In that book, we quickly learn that we were made in God’s good image. And then, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).  Although this message may seem a little oversimplified, it’s one that I often forget. As a Christian, as a parent, and as a person, it’s important to remember that we are good.

As a child psychologist, Kennedy’s book focuses on the parent-child relationship, but she also encourages us to see this good in others too, offering them the benefit of the doubt, or the “most generous interpretation,” of their actions.

Anger/lashing out

One of the hardest parts about being a parent is when you know you’re doing the right thing, but instead of a “thank you,” you receive anger in return from your child—or even the dreaded “I hate you.” In “Good Inside,” Dr. Kennedy advises us to see beyond the irrational thoughts and insults that are hurled your way. Instead, take a breath and ask yourself, “why?”

God models this kind of understanding love for us every day. He sees our moments of anger not just as us saying hurtful words to him, but as an opportunity for us to have someone safe to talk with to share our feelings. I see this in Psalm 13 when David asks God, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

God is okay with us being angry with him. After all, we don’t fully understand him or his plans. Kennedy encourages us to show that same understanding to our kids. After the initial wave of frustration, your child will thank you for staying with them and then you can start to ask questions to figure out what really upset them.

Quality Time

Not only does God accept our anger, but he welcomes it and yearns for more time with us. He longs for us to talk to him and be in his presence even though many of us (myself included) focus the majority of our time with God focused on what we think we need from him or complaining about the world that he made.

If any of this sounds familiar in your own relationship with your kids, you’re not alone. Dr. Kennedy suggests that, most often when your child is acting up, it’s because they’re looking for that connection too. She encourages "PNP Time" (play, no phone), also known as "special time," as a way to intentionally be present with our kids, and allow them to take the lead in an activity of their choice.

“Our devices are powerful magnets for our attention, and our kids feel that distraction,” Kennedy writes. “Spending time with your child when you are fully present is the most powerful way to build connection capital.”

Not just Excusing

From the examples above, you may think that Kennedy seems to excuse bad behavior. And while she does encourage parents to listen for the deeper meaning in their behavior, she always encourages you to return to the conversation when your child is feeling more rational.

But, more importantly, Kennedy’s methods are all about empowerment for the long term. She wants her child patients to feel equipped to self-regulate and learn to trust their instincts. After all, they are good inside.

“When we think about the adults we hope our kids will become, I’m pretty sure most of us want our kids to have a strong internal compass, a ‘gut feeling’ they can locate inside.”

As Christians, we believe that all aspects of God’s creation have been affected by sin. As John Calvin put it, sin “occupied the very citadel of Adam’s mind, and pride penetrated to the depths of his heart.” So even though our kids are “good inside,” they’re also affected by the sinfulness that came with the fall of creation. We see reminders of this every day, and our fears as parents are legitimate because of that sin.

Still, we also believe that our sins aren’t immediately punished. Instead, sin breaks down our relationships with those we love, and causes us to say things that we don’t mean. These are the consequences that God wants us to avoid, and he gives us the freedom to learn much of this on our own.

He wants us to follow his rules, not because we fear the consequences, but because it’s what’s best for us.

Despite our sin, God still sees us as good inside. We should too.

About the author — Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the communications manager for Family Fire's parent ministry, ReFrame Ministries.

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