Calming Angry Kids

Day 1 of 4 • This day’s reading


The Truth Behind Mad

Can you imagine being a tiny, frail five-year-old shuffled from home to home and expected to trust adults you don’t know? Our adopted daughter Sissy had no place to call her own. She had no control. She had no voice...except one she used to scream and shout really, really loudly. Anger provided her a way to communicate that things were not right in her world and in her heart. 

The truth behind mad is that no one likes it, especially the angry kid. 

It’s not as if Sissy was happy with or thrived on being angry. She seemed to hate it as much as we did. She just didn’t know how to handle things differently. She didn’t know how to communicate her pain or other emotions. She didn’t know how to protect her heart from being hurt again—from being abandoned again—except to act out. 

Angry kids do not “just get over” the anger that often accompanies childhood hurts. It will pop up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places, which is why it’s vital for us to help our kids now, while they are still young. Anger comes out in small ways when they are little, and it comes out in bigger ways as they grow. 

Trauma-triggered anger usually manifests itself in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. But this doesn’t apply just to kids who’ve faced trauma. All children exhibit the same type of responses; actually, we are all wired to protect ourselves. When we sense danger, we will instinctively react with a fight, flight, or freeze response. Not a lot of thought goes into this response. The body just naturally does its thing. 

Children respond with fight, flight, or freeze when they feel threatened (even if the danger is only perceived and not an actual danger). Often, we parents don’t understand what is happening. But what we view as a small problem or unexpected disruption our kids may see as a huge threat. That’s because their reaction is not always a response to something happening in that moment. A child’s response—including extreme anger—is often tied to something that occurred in her past. Something happening in the present triggered the memory (often unconscious) of what occurred previously. 

If I had to choose just one thing for you to do while going through these devotions, it is to commit. To realize that with God’s guidance you can be the help—or find the help—that your child needs. Whether you’ve had your child since birth—or your child is new to your home—you are the expert with your kid. No one is as invested as you are. No one else will deal with the long-range ramifications of your children’s emotional health in the same way.