Written by Jessie Mejias, FHI Founder and Director
Even parents who wouldn’t dream of disciplining their children through physical abuse can be apt to using another of equally dangerous abuse: verbal abuse.
In our society, it is so common for us to correct our children by yelling at them, and by using harsh words and negative labels. This type of abuse is just as damaging to a child’s tender personality as physical abuse is to his frail body.
Harsh, angry words give a child a spirit of rejection, and deep wounds to the spirit that can only be healed when his or her parent asks for and receives forgiveness, and follows up by making a real commitment to show love through both word and deed. Otherwise, negative labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies that children receive as facts and set out to prove as true. Only reinforcing the truth from God’s point of view can counteract this destructive pattern.
Another consequence of parents’ angry words is the way they teach children to speak in anger to one another. As a mother of two, I often found that harshness and anger were the order of the day when it came to my children. I rarely spoke to them in a soft voice; I thought that if I didn’t yell, they wouldn’t hear me. And I became even angrier when I started noticing how my oldest son would lash out at his younger brother.
When I brought my son’s problem to the Lord in prayer, His response was, “He will stop being angry when you stop being angry.”
Me, angry? I was stunned, caught unaware of the effect I’d had.
I asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten me as to the source of my anger, and began to put down my thoughts about it on paper. In writing, I realized that my anger had nothing to do with my children. My anger was a result of the hurts and frustrations of my life as a divorced, single, working parent. I had neither fully dealt with the pain I felt nor accepted my lot in life. Instead, I let all of it turn into anger, which I took out on the people closest to me—my children.
There was another, more subtle source of anger I found as well, one I was less willing to admit: pride and impatience. I couldn’t allow my children to misbehave. They always had to be at their best; otherwise, how could I go out in public with them? If someone ever pointed out to me an area in which my children could improve, it hurt me immensely—both in my pride, and in the secret core of guilt that I nursed at feeling that I was not the best mother these boys could have. I also had to acknowledge that my own mother had disciplined me out of anger, and I had unconsciously passed the same along to my children.
I am so thankful that, as a follower of Christ, I have a heavenly Father to whom I can look for an example of a perfect parent, and from whom I can draw the strength to be the best parent I can be. His Word is our guide to raising our children. He demonstrates infinite patience and understanding toward us as He gently and consistently guides us in our growth.
God wants all parents to have this same attitude toward their children. Fathers are especially singled out in the Bible in being told to guard against anger, since their children’s view of their heavenly Father often mirrors their relationship with their earthly father. Though it is a challenge, it’s one we can meet with through the power of the Holy Spirit. God uses these parenting challenges to teach us so much.
If you have taken out your anger on your children, the following steps will help you find your way back to a more peaceful path.
1. CONFESS your attitude to the Lord and claim the promise of 1 John 1:9. Ask your children to forgive you for your harsh tone of voice, because odds are good that it was not what you said that was the problem, but how you said it. Enlist your children’s aid in helping you recognize when you are speaking harshly. Not only is this surprisingly effective, but it also helps them practice Ephesians 4:25 (“speak every man truth with his neighbor”) in order to solve problems rather than hold onto hurt feelings.
2. CONCENTRATE on the solution—not the problem. Claim Romans 8:1, that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Stop accepting the accusations of the enemy, and forgive yourself for past mistakes!
3. CONFRONT the real source of your anger with a mind to resolve it and forsake it. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus equated anger with the sin of murder. Determine in your heart to not act or speak out of anger. Write out your thoughts and feelings, both as a harmless release and as a means of being objective. If necessary, seek counsel.
4. COMMIT yourself to helping your children see right from wrong while letting them know they are valued. Help them to separate what they do from who they are. Purpose in your heart to take problem areas not as personal slights, but as opportunities to help your children learn and grow socially.
5. COMMUNICATE with your children. Learn from experts what is appropriate for their age in order to have realistic expectations concerning their behavior. Let your children know what you expect from them. Be prepared to repeat over and over again what you want them to do—not what you don’t want them to do. A child’s subconscious only registers the verb when he receives positive instruction. For example, if you tell him, “Don’t forget,” it’s likely he will only remember the “forget” piece of the instruction! Instead, a more positive version would be asking him, “Please remember to…”
Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If your tone is matter-of-fact, children will respond with confidence. It may be necessary at times to speak firmly to make sure you’re taken seriously. But if your tone is harsh and angry, children feel unloved and rejected—and anger, rebellion, and stubbornness result. If you notice these problems in your child, start listening to the way you talk to him or her. If your harsh speaking pattern is a learned behavior, realize that you can change now that you recognize the problem.
6. CONSIDER your children’s feelings. Remind yourself that, as much as you love your children, the Lord loves them more. Ask Him to melt your heart for your young ones. Remember: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
7. COMFORT yourself in the Lord. Realize that none of us are born parents; we all have to learn parenting, just like we have to train for our jobs and professions. Give yourself time to learn and room to make mistakes. As you seek to please the Lord by being a good steward of the ones He has entrusted to you, your children will respond, and the Lord will bless your efforts!
Connect with God’s peace and purposes for your family, and find freedom from anger. You can learn how by making a prayer counseling appointment with Finding Home Institute. To schedule an appointment, email us at email@example.com (preferred) or call (571) 393-1278. You will receive a response in no later than 1 business day.