I’ve heard conflicting advice from people I respect about responding to anger with infants. Sometimes you’re supposed to ignore it: if he’s throwing a fit to get attention, then that advice makes sense. Other times, you’re supposed to stop it. Obviously if he’s hurting himself or others, that’s a good approach.
A good many times the correct response is not as obvious. I have an eighteen month old child who is learning about anger. I’ve noticed that sometimes I ignore her, and other times I respond. My response is usually consistent, but not always.
Is there any Scripture that will help me know how to respond? For sake of illustration, let’s consider the four-prong approach I described earlier.
First, let’s examine the possible underlying contributions and consider what could be contributing to or motivating fits of anger. These aren’t necessarily sin issues. Sometimes a particular personality is more prone to a particular challenge. In this case, you have the personality contributing to the problem as well as the sinful motivation at times. Sometimes there’s a need to be taught a particular concept. It doesn’t matter at this point what might be contributing to the challenge; it is more important that we’re considering as much as we can.
- Maybe she’s trying to get attention.
- Maybe she’s frustrated in trying to communicate.
- She might be hungry or sleepy.
- She might be imitating a peer, sibling, or parent.
- She might be exposed to anger on television.
- There’s a good chance someone has taken away her toy and she’s expressing her opinion of the theft.
- She also might be expressing her desire to go her own way instead of what mom told her to do. That would be rebellion. 🙂 She might be angry because she is powerless to have her own way. The specific situation is going to give me more information. When is she angry? Under what circumstances?
There are certainly a good deal more motivations that I haven’t covered, and a mother is going to need wisdom as she considers what might be motivating the behavior causing concern. The age of the child sometimes makes a considerable difference in motivation. I find it helpful to try to make the distinction between developmental and spiritual contributions to the behavior, but at this point I’m simply brainstorming. It’s also easy to stay too vague: sin causes anger; pride causes anger. I want a little more detail, so I’m going to consider what they want, and what they believe about the situation.
Now let’s consider possible parental contributions.
- Maybe I have neglected to teach (how to ask for help, for example).
- Maybe I surrender my authority in some way when she is angry. If it works once, she’ll do it again.
- Perhaps I’m focused on my to-do list that I’m ignoring legitimate needs and desires.
- I might be modeling anger myself (either at others or in how I interact with my children).
To be sure, it is possible that a parent has contributed in no way to the anger. Still, we are commanded to respond to the log in our own eyes before we respond to our children’s struggles. I don’t think this means we have to be perfect before we teach, but we should at least be seeking repentance for the sin issues in our lives.
Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5
Now I will intend to narrow down my list of possibilities into my best guess of the underlying contributions. Then I’ll work on understanding what to put off, renew, and put on. First I’ll address anything I need to put off and put on, then I’ll consider practical solutions to resolve contributions that are not sinful behaviors, and finally I’ll consider helping my child replace sinful behavior with righteous behavior. We’ll do that with the next post.
In the meantime, can you think of motivations and contributing factors that I have missed?