As children grow up they will use anger to express themselves. Because anger is such a useful tool for getting their way, children must be taught reasons for giving up such powerful behavior. Choosing to solve problems in non-aggressive ways requires that your children develop an internal commitment to principals and morals that are timely and cultural in nature. This foundation is “taught” by parents and other trusted adults and “caught” by the child. It is a difficult and slow process but the principals and ideas outlined in this article can help parents as they strive to assist their children determine the kind of individual they want to be. This is done by providing lessons and experiences that can be used by children to build the moral underpinning that is the foundation for civil behavior.
When a child reaches four years of age they are ready to start recognizing that others have feelings and that others have reasons for behaving as they do. The capacity to recognize this fact is called empathy. Because children cannot actually feel what others feel or truly know what others think, children must be prompted to consider this idea. Parents will be continuously asking questions such as, “How do you think you would feel if someone you loved said that to you?” By asking such questions parents open the door for the child to consider what is happening inside others.
Using anger and aggression is a selfish act. When you help children recognize that what they say or do can impact another human being in ways that are painful or unpleasant, you help children consider the moral principals taught through the centuries are important. Even though it is not modern it is still important to “Do unto others as we would have others do unto us.”
When you are young it is difficult to consider situations that are complex when you view them from inside your own skin. It is also difficult for a young child to consider alternatives to aggressive behavior and reasons for them when they are in the heat of the battle. An effective technique that some parents have used is to designate one night a week as a family evening. This can be a formal meeting held every Monday night or it can be an informal meeting held at the dinner table. The purpose of the meeting should be to teach a moral principal. Principals of Honesty, Justice, Understanding of Others, Virtue, Love, Industry, etc. can be taught. These principals are best taught by using stories or situational stories that challenge the children to think what they would do in similar situations. When your children can think through what they would do in similar situations they are actually practicing and putting into place moral principals that will eventually be the foundational underpinning for their decisions in the future. The Book of Virtues, The Children’s Book of Virtues, Chicken Soup Stories, Bible Stories, etc. can be utilized when you hold these meetings. Parents or children can present the lesson and discussions can follow. You cannot force your children to be kind or moral but you can challenge them to consider a higher level of behavior.
As children grow, watch them. Observe how they think morally. Do they think only of themselves? Do they look for rewards and/or punishment? Do they look to see what others are thinking about them? Do they choose to behave in ways they know are right for them and the world no matter what others think? The answer to these questions will help you determine what lessons to give them.
If they are self centered try to help them learn that rules are important. If rules are broken let the consequences, not your anger, do the teaching. When they are looking for rewards or avoiding consequences teach them that the rules are there for a reason. The rules make sure it is fair for everyone. When they are looking to see if others approve of their behavior or if they are seeking attention, teach them that no matter what other think that the what we become is more important then what others think and more important they anything we possess or accomplish.
Principles such as walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, and walking away from some situations are hard to teach but important for your children to internalize. The best way for them to understand these concepts is to see their parents demonstrating and then later explaining why such action was taken. This means that respect and love for the parents and individuals that are their mentors is critical. When they are growing up, children can never handle problems better than their parents handle them. If parents do not know how, have not learned, or do not set and example, children will have to wait until they observe others handling potentially explosive situation in non-aggressive ways. But even then, the children have to decide if this way of behaving and thinking is for them.
Anger is a choice. Believing and behaving morally is a choice. After all a parent has said or done it is still the children who must choose what path they will take. This means that, at the end of the day, when you are climbing into bed, just pause by your bedside and ask the Master Teacher in Heaven to help your child understand those principles that will bring them in closer harmony with themselves, you, and the world. Ask Him to help them learn the lessons that they were sent here to learn and to bless you with the capacity and insight to help them learn that aggressive behavior never brings happiness or peace.