My most important lesson from teaching anger management

My rewards for almost ten years spent as an anger management instructor: I unlearned some destructive habits and learned new, healthier ways to express my own anger. All of this was taking place while I was teaching others about their anger! Funny how that works. The same thing is true as we teach and guide the children in our lives: sometimes we learn as much as they do.

An idea that changed my whole outlook

One particular insight, found in The Anger Workbook, catalyzed my paradigm shift:

My most important lesson — Anger is the emotion of self-preservation, given to us by God.

As a child I thought my parents were teaching me to get rid of anger, so I grew up suppressing it: “Who me? Angry?”  So it was hard to accept that anger might serve an important purpose. Much later in life, through the testimonials of my adult students, I saw that they got angry most often when they were ignored or mistreated. It was part of their defense system.

Doing some self-reflection, I owned the fact that I hated when my personal boundaries were violated. Slowly I admitted that anger could be a way to preserve my personal worth, basic needs and basic beliefs.

Anger is designed to protect me!

anger managementAs I began to own more and more of my angry feelings whenever I felt demeaned or disrespected, I was on my way to greater emotional health. Now I can honestly say:

  • When my personal worth is not validated, I feel angry.
  • If I make known my needs and they are ignored, I feel hurt.
  • At times when I take an unwavering stand for my convictions (sometimes publicly, sometimes just in my most cherished relationships) and I speak up about them and I am misunderstood, I feel resentful.

It’s all about what I do next after my anger flares up.

I’m still learning that it’s my choice how I will react to my anger. Will I do a passive-aggressive maneuver as I have in the past? Will I take the easy way and suppress it?

Or maybe I will talk about what’s bothering me, but do it considering the needs and feelings of the other person. I was shocked to find that this approach actually helps my relationships grow.

Tweetable: Anger is the emotion of self-preservation but it matters–a lot–what we do next after it flares up. Click to Tweet

My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is now available on Amazon!

Where did Grandma go when she died?

Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?

Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?

We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.

So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.

Purchase your copy in paperback here.

If you prefer the Kindle version, you can purchase it here.

Young children like to discover God’s secrets

God's secrets“Perhaps the most valuable explorations come when children learn that each person is created in the image of God, deserving respect and caring. When children know that they are created in God’s image, their own self-worth is bolstered, and it is safer, and easier, to ask questions about God and the rest of their world,” observed Maxine Handelman. This morning I was reading Handelman’s book, Jewish Every Day, where I found an idea to share.

Making it fun to discover God’s secrets

God's secretsHave children collect leaves that, at first glance, seem to be exactly alike. As children examine the leaves they will discover that, indeed, no two leaves are identical. Then show children a sheet of postage stamps or a stack of paper plates. The children will discover that these person-made things are all identical.

They have just discovered one of God’s secrets. When people make things using machines, the objects all come out the same. When God makes things in nature, no two things are the same. The question then becomes, “Why did God do that?”

Making it comfortable to talk about God

The easiest–and also the hardest–way to help children explore their questions about God is to make “God-talk” a regular, normal part of our conversation. When [family members] refer to God in a comfortable, regular manner, then children will know it is safe for them to talk about God and safe for them to explore their own understandings of God.

“God may come into the home whether or not a family consciously invites God in,” Marvel Ginsberg notes. “It’s often the children who bring God in through their discoveries and with their questions. If we do not support exploration and wonder with warmth and respect, then eventually God is likely to be conspicuously absent.”

How does your family make God-talk a regular part of daily life?

Tweetable: It’s often the children who bring God into the home through their questions. Make it normal to do so. Click to Tweet 


A child’s trust builds when we–and God–show up

“Eighty percent of success is just showing up,” according to Woody Allen. In building trust with kids, that is absolutely true.

Trusting relationships start with us.

One of my mentors, Linda Sibley, shares her perspective.

“Attention to little things over the long haul is key,” she says. That includes things like sharing meals together, creating a stable schedule for co-parenting or establishing and maintaining family traditions.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Yet when our own life journey hits emotionally and physically draining situations, these “little things” can feel overwhelming!

Fortunately, we don’t have to be perfect to establish a trusting home. Trust is built by our consistent efforts –especially when we are tired or stressed—over the long haul.

Trusting relationships start– but don’t end– with us.

Along with trusting safe people, a young child’s natural trust in God also needs to be nurtured and fed with great care. We must tread very gently so as not to damage this innate bond with God. We all began life with it. Many parents can relate with this quote, a blogged note in response to a London Times online article:

I am completely unreligious. It is so strange that my 4 year old believes in god and talks about it once in a while. I never taught that to him. Anyway, sounds interesting, it’s partly human nature.*

Some of us did not receive much childhood assistance to develop our trust in God.

But we can choose a different approach with the children in our lives. One note of caution: Avoid linking the basis of a child’s trust to answered prayers or obtaining favors from God.

Their trust in God can be damaged when we lead them to believe that their prayers to God always get answered in the affirmative (i.e. mom and dad get back together or a cousin escapes a car accident with no injuries).

Instead, watch for expressions of love in daily life and you will find God at work there.

*Quoted in Born Believers by Justin Barrett, page 176.

Tweetable: Watch for expressions of love in daily life and you will find God at work there. Click to Tweet

“What happens in this family is nobody’s business but ours”

“Children carry family secrets. Their powers of observation add to the problem when they see, for example, one parent covering up for another or acting as if everything is okay when it obviously is not,” says author Linda Sibley. She continues…

Guideline #1:  Tell children the truth.

In an effort to protect children from the painful side of life, family members often make the mistake of not talking to them about difficult family issues. Unfortunately, not talking to children about what is real does not protect them.

“Children always know…. They just don’t always know what they know.” –John Bradshaw

And when children know something is wrong and no one will talk to them about it at an age-appropriate level, they fill in the blanks for themselves. Their version will include distorted details.”

Truth sets free

In one of Jesus’ best known statements made to the people who believed in him, he declares: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31-32)

In reality, it is much easier for children to deal with the real truth about family issues than with their made-up version of it. For adults, the toughest part of these conversations is separating the information that children need from our own emotional baggage.

Trust that Jesus was right and give kids the truth they need.

Keep it age-appropriate. Gain your own composure so that you aren’t mixing in your embarrassment, anger or fear.

Guide them toward one or two safe people to tell.

For years, I’ve been leading support groups where children share their concerns with kids their own age under the supervision of a trained facilitator. Parents report that the children feel less anxious and burdened down. Kids realize, often for the first time, that no family is perfect and that other kids have similar feelings and concerns.

Tweetable: Is it better to protect kids from difficult family situations by keeping everything positive? Read more. Click to Tweet







Parents, prepare yourself to break some rules!

Linda Sibley wrote: “One hard and fast rule of parenting is that you can’t take your kids any further than you have come yourself.” And no parent knows every healthy way of living emotionally, physically and spiritually. She continues,

“So we’re not only figuring out how to overcome our past experiences to make ourselves healthy, we also want to figure out how to make our homes healthier for our children. However, with no models to draw from in certain life skills, we wonder where to start.  All we have to go on is what our family was like.

Here’s one way to start.

Set aside your natural instinct to put your children’s needs first and concentrate on yourself. Get prepared by asking yourself questions like these:

  • What did I need from my parents that I did not get?
  • What unhealthy skills did I learn as a child that I must unlearn now? (For example, poor communication, inability to feel and express your feelings, continually making poor choices for yourself.)
  • What words did I hear in my home that I wish had never been said?
  • What words did I need to hear that no one ever said to me?

Have trouble remembering?

Maybe it would help to….

  • Set aside time to be alone.
  • Write it down.
  • Share the questions with a trusted family member(s) for their observations and impressions.

As you answer these questions for yourself, you will gain valuable insight about what your children need from you. Then keep reading next week…..

Break the “Don’t” Rules in upcoming posts.

  1. Don’t Talk
  2. Don’t Trust
  3. Don’t Feel

Linda Sibley gave me permission to share all of these ideas of hers. For more from Linda, search Child-Centered Spirituality for Choices

Tweetable: Answer these 4 questions and you might gain valuable insight about what your children need from you. Click to Tweet

Resilient kids are made outside their comfort zone

Are we doing children a favor by letting them have the easiest and best of everything? “What distinguishes healthy families is not the absence of problems or suffering but rather their coping and problem solving abilities.”  (Froma Walsh)

A good definition of “resilient” is found in Ms. Walsh’s book, Strengthening Family Resilience: “the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”

Ways to let children practice resilience

  • Praise a child’s patience with a younger sibling’s interference with their toys, rather than jumping to stop the conflict.
  • Encouragement: “You’re a star when it comes to trying new things.”
  • Even if you think it’s “too hard” for a child, give him or her independence to try new things they initiate, such as climbing at the playground or opening a container. Let them try things for themselves, even if it means they may fail. Nothing builds resilience like failure– and the realization that you can move on from it.
  • Teach children phrases such as “this too shall pass” or “every challenge makes you stronger.” These phrases frame struggles as challenges to overcome, not tests to avoid.*

Resiliency’s spiritual component

Adversity invites all of us, including kids, into the spiritual domain. Strong faith, beliefs, and practices can foster a resilient spirit that lasts a lifetime.

See how these different spiritual beliefs influence a child’s resilience:

  • They tried to bury me, but they didn’t know I am a seed. (Mexican proverb)
  • Not everything is good, but God causes everything to work together for the good.
  • “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me….” (Psalm 23)
  • “Get up rejoicing. It’s a new day… with a will, there’s a way.” (M. Izunwa)

What spiritual beliefs in your family’s heritage influence resilience?

Note: Credit goes to Chelsea Smith for the Ideas to practice resilience.


  • Strong faith beliefs and practices can foster a resilient spirit in kids that lasts a lifetime. Click to Tweet
  • Do we really do kids a favor by giving them the easiest and best of everything? Some thoughts on resilience. Click to Tweet