I'll never forget the fateful day my own anger stared me in the face. Growing up, I never struggled with anger. I naively thought it had something to do with my studied respect for character. But I was about to have that overturned!
You see, even though I thought of myself as an easygoing person, I had never stood up to the rigors of parenting. I never considered that I might become so frustrated with my children that I would yell at them or be at my wit's end regarding how to deal with them.
Heading Down the Path of Anger
These days, parents are fed so many confusing and contradictory beliefs from all sides about child-rearing that it is no wonder we don't know what to do. Far too many of our generation grew up without seeing good parenting practices lived out in close proximity. With seemingly few reliable parenting tools available, yelling seems to be the only option. So many are doing it that we can even feel "okay" about ourselves for being yellers.
However, the atmosphere yelling creates can break a child's spirit. It wears on a body to be spoken to harshly and in an unduly loud voice. As soon as Mom or Dad's voice goes up, a child's defenses go up as well. Yelling does the exact opposite of what a Christian parent wants to see happen in her child. Instead of drawing that child closer to seeing the issue at hand, they are pushed away from receiving your word.
If you're a yeller, please know that my heart goes out to you. My intention is to help us all look at this situation of anger and yelling and assess what it's really doing in us and our child. We've got to clearly see the damage an ongoing lifestyle of anger is causing. Only then will we see the desperate need we have for God to do a work in us.
I know this can be a distressing topic. I've known so many moms and dads who despair of the anger that seems to control them. They hate that anger overtakes them, like a cage closing in, never letting them go from its grips. Anger is suffocating for all involved.
Look at these words:
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:7–11).
This is the wonderful news, that the life of Jesus can be manifested in us—weak mortals that we are. And anger shows us our weakness in vivid colors. It paints a picture that encages us, keeping us as slave to our own tempers. But that's not where Jesus wants to keep us.
His call is always to come, poor and needy sinners as we are (for yes, habitual anger expressed to our loved ones is sin), and repent. His cleansing power, made possible through the cross, is what makes it possible for us to overcome the angry attitudes that well up inside (2 Peter 1:3–4). His redemption isn't a mask that hides the sin of anger with a front, but His grace gets inside and transforms us from the inside out.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor. 12:9).
Where do we get that grace?
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
Breaking free from the grips of anger starts with softening our hearts. Humbling ourselves. Recognizing we truly are in need of the Savior.
How to Break the Habit
Here are some significant steps to take to break the habit of yelling. They include several practical tips—but tips can only go so far. Anyone can learn strategies to bite your tongue or lower your voice. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work inside of us must be our starting point, our ending point, and everything in-between.
- Acknowledge your need to the God who loves you, even while you were lost in your sin (Rom. 5:6, 8). Intentionally ask Him to do this transforming work in you. Repent of any and all unrighteous anger that has taken root in your life.
- Memorize the powerful truth found in James 1:19–20:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (emphasis added).
Many times the reason we yell at our children is because we think it will help them learn to behave. God has used this verse to help me realize that my anger will never bring about the results I long to see.
- Make a plan ahead of time for what you want to do differently next time you feel like raising your voice. Do the opposite of your instinct and talk very quietly. You are retraining yourself to control your volume.
- Be near your child. It's really hard to holler at someone you're a foot away from!
- Save yelling for times of immediate danger. ("Stop running into the street!")
- Stop yourself if you find yourself yelling. If you need to take five minutes in a separate room, do it.
- If your child is disobedient, address it right away. Consistency and follow-through are key in communicating your expectations. If you find yourself constantly repeating your instructions, pray for patience in your tone, wisdom to know how to best communicate—and for an obedient spirit in your child.
- If your children are old enough to read, write down your instructions. You'll probably be more concise, and this can be useful as you reset old patterns. Children need to know what's required, and having their responsibilities in writing often removes the "forgetting" factor or the "I didn't know that" excuse.
- Confess to your children when you blow it. They know losing your cool isn't very mature, but it can do them a world of good to hear you acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness.
- Make sure you take time each day (preferably before your children wake up) to be alone with Jesus. Read His Word, and spend time in prayer. Ask God to help you walk according to His Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
- Be willing to seek accountability through a godly mentor (preferably an older woman in your local church).
Habitual anger and yelling can be overcome by the power of God's Spirit and as you learn to walk in repentance and humility.
What are some of your anger triggers? Can you identify recurring situations or predictable scenarios that make you more inclined to respond in anger?
Who can you ask to pray for you and help keep you accountable in your struggle to overcome anger?