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Charles H. Betz, Family Life Consultant, Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Volume 6 Number 6
Teach Your Child Temper Control

Those who are at the mercy of impulse--who lack self- control--suffer a moral deficiency: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character." Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., Emotional Intelligence, p. xii. As a child I occasionally got angry and into fights. How thankful I am for a godly mother and Christian teachers who intervened.

Uncontrolled anger caused the first murder--Cain killed Abel in a fit of rage. Those who fail to learn to control feelings pay a big price-- shattered relationships, spouse abuse, child abuse, divorce, etc. The control of feelings should be taught very early--the first three years are crucial. We have all seen children in a fit of rage--kicking, and screaming. "The little ones, before they are a year old, hear and understand what is spoken in reference to themselves....Train your children to yield to your wishes... The first lesson to be taught them is self-control." Child Guidance, p. 91.

Of course, a baby cannot tell you that he/she needs changing or that he is hungry or overtired. So, first meet needs. Salley Shannon says, "Some children need to be held firmly and gently to help calm them, even if they resist at first. You can also help by talking in a soothing voice." Alicia Tisdale adds, "Most important is for a parent not to rage back." Reader's Digest, May 1999. "One of the most essential emotional lessons, first learned in infancy and refined throughout childhood, is how to soothe oneself when upset. For very young infants, soothing comes from caretakers: a mother hears her infant crying, picks him up, holds and rocks him until he calms down. This...helps the child begin to learn how to do the same for himself." Goleman, Ibid. p. 226.

Preschoolers: Two mothers are walking along the beach. Both with boys about four years of age. Tommy finds a stick. Joe says, "I want it!" "No, it's mine!" shouts Tommy. A tantrum follows. What to do? First, stop the hitting. Then get control of your own feelings. (To strike a child for having a tantrum only increases the problem.) "It is not necessary to resort to harsh measures; a firm, steady hand and a kindness which convinces the child of your love will accomplish the purpose." Child Guidance, p. 83.

Salley Shannon shares what may trigger angry outbursts: "hunger, exhaustion, fear, lacking motor skills, not having the right words to express feelings..." etc. Reader's Digest, May 1999.

Active listening helps: "I can see why you wanted the stick. It's OK to be angry, but it not OK to hit." Sometimes you might ignore the tantrum for two or three minutes. Then say, "It's time to get control of yourself now, Tommy. Please go into your room for 15 minutes and think about what makes you angry. Then come back and let's talk about it."

Grade Schoolers--6-12: Some of my anger as a grade school child stemmed from being chosen last to play on a ball team. I was not well coordinated and I did not play softball very well. I wanted to be perceived as good or at least an average player. Fortunately, my teacher recognized this and affirmed me in other things that I could do well. "Parents must make it clear that even if children are angry, they still have a choice of how to respond. Losing control, physical aggression, or hateful words are unacceptable. Acknowledge the anger but halt inappropriate behavior with timeouts, loss of privileges, or added chores." Reader's Digest, May 1999. Help children to direct their anger to positive actions--skateboarding, shooting baskets, volley ball--or going for a jog with Dad.

Angry Adolescents: "Sam, we know that you want to have your own television in your bedroom. We have thought and prayed about it. We have come to a decision: For your sake, we cannot allow you to have a television in your room. We can see you are angry and we are willing to listen, but we have made our decision."

Much teenage anger focuses on situations where parents need to protect their teens from danger. The teen drive for independence is natural. Try the following: 1. Wait for an appropriate time to talk-- when things seem to be going smoothly, maybe just before bedtime. 2. Sympathize with their feelings. 3. Express your feelings kindly. 4. Explain your rules. 5. Listen sympathetically. 6. If you can give a little without sacrificing principle, do so. 7. Express your love.

A sense of humor helps. Don't demand total control but establish consequences--like loss of allowance--for violation of rules. Courtesy and respect for one another are expected: no shouting, no violence, and no insults.

There are times when we cannot choose the emotions that sweep over us. But we do have a choice in the way our feelings are expressed: We have a rational mind and we have access to God through prayer. Tell your children that "temperament is not destiny." Teach them to take their impulses to the Lord in prayer.





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