During a family car ride once when I was little, I got really mad at my big brother.

I remember wanting to punch him!

I didn’t hit him, but when we were close to home, we pulled into the driveway.

I jumped out and, instead of taking my anger out on someone else, I slammed the front door of the house really hard!

My dad yelled at me.

At the time, I wanted to say, “Isn’t slamming the door a better choice than hitting my brother?”

The one feeling that parents probably struggle most with their kids is when their kids are angry.

Something that Jason and I didn’t understand until recently is the surprising purpose of anger.

Did you know that anger has a purpose? I didn’t! Until I sat down and talked to our friend, Dr. Joseph Lee.

In this 3-minute video, Dr. Joseph Lee explains the purpose of anger.

Now that you understand the purpose of anger. Let’s talk about how to respond to anger.

Typical Responses

Here are some ways that parents typically respond to angry kids:

  1. Invalidation “You don’t need to be upset about something so little.”
  2. Blame “She wouldn’t have treated you that way if you’d been nicer to her.”
  3. Justification “You can’t always get what you want. Life isn’t fair.”
  4. Frustration “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
  5. Parental Anger “Stop doing that right now!”
  6. Rejection “Go to your room until you’re done crying.”

It’s easy for these word to slip out in tough times. The issue with these typical responses above is that none of them address the purpose of anger or addresses it effectively. None of the responses above convey understanding or empathy.

Respond with Empathy

Here are what responses with empathy could sound like:

  1. Validation “You are upset. That makes sense to me.” (Note: You don’t have to agree with how she’s behaving, in order to understand her feelings.)
  2. Observation “You were trying to win the game, but she came in first.”
  3. Explanation “You were really looking forward to eating that cereal for breakfast and we didn’t have any left.”
  4. Understanding “This is tough.”
  5. Limit setting “It’s ok to be mad. I’m not willing for you slam the door.”
  6. Offering Support “What’s wrong? I’m here to help.”

Unless we respond with empathy our words might increase our child’s anger OR teach our kids to bottle up their feelings.

My mom used to say, “Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just ‘are’.” Anger isn’t “wrong”. It’s a cry for help. It’s how we respond to the “cry” that matters.

As parents our job is to help our kids express their feelings–a beautiful rainbow of emotions–in ways that work for them and other people around them.

Next time your child has an upset which one of these responses are you going to use? Tell us which of 1 through 6 that you will do, in the comments below. I’m going to do #6.