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This morning, as I walked Rachel into school, I heard one of the teachers yelling as she worked the carpool line. On and on she griped that several children neglected to wear a certain red shirt. Her harsh words traveled 10 car lengths to me and probably beyond.

Inside the building, a crying child passed me and said to her friend, “Ms. Teacher is mad at me because I forgot to wear my shirt.”

My heart went out to the child and all the others under the red-shirt siege. Is a shirt worth that kind of angry reaction, that kind of humiliation? Discipline doesn’t have to be—shouldn’t be—about anger. It is about leading a person in the right direction. Discipline is good. Anger, though, can be destructive.

With that in mind, I would like to offer some tools to reduce anger and stress:

  1. Remove the emotions. Rachel’s (my daughter with autism) therapist says when dealing with defiant behavior, the best method is to remain calm, dispassionate, and clear. For example: When Rachel throws a fit because she doesn’t want to wear shoes, Ms. Brenda remains calm, keeps her voice even, and gives specific instructions. “It’s time to put on your shoes.” As mom, I try to do the same. It is HARD, but effective.
  2. Model the behavior you desire. Kids learn best by example. Imagine if, instead of presenting detailed and precise evidence to acquit their innocent client, a courtroom lawyer threw a tantrum. At that point, he’s lost his case and probably his law practice. Adults have to control their tempers in order to be productive members of society. Model this for your kids.
  3. Remember that engaging with angry, out-of-control children can reinforce their behavior. Often the reaction of the parent (even negative reactions like yelling) reinforce the child’s behavior. This can be for a myriad of reasons—the child might think it funny to see their parent acting like a child, or they might like the emotional release they get from releasing their anger. Maybe they are just glad to be the center of attention. Whatever the reason, do not engage hostile forces.
  4. Remember the reason. Why do you discipline? In Lead Your Family Like Jesus, Tricia Goyer and the other authors state the goal of parenting and discipline is to inspire obedience not rebellion. The goal is to raise children who glorify God.
  5. Natural consequences are powerful. If a child forgets their jacket at home, they are cold. Result? They will likely remember to wear their jacket next time. There is little reason to nag, complain or demean in this situation. In fact, lectures can often make the situation worse, especially if a strong-willed child is involved. Fussing might make the child want to prove the person wrong, so he  might not wear a coat just to prove a point.
  6. Bear in mind the chemical consequences of releasing anger. Did you know endorphins are released when we get extremely worked up? Therefore, blowing our stacks, so to speak, can become an addictive behavior. Find other, positive ways to blow off steam.
  7. Admit your failures, don’t deny they happened. This is a tough one for some who struggle with explosive anger. I’ve known people who say they remember nothing after an anger outburst. A social worker friend said this is a coping mechanism of sorts, but it will not help the angry person move past their issues. You will serve your family well by admitting your failure and praying together (and on your own) for help, healing, and forgiveness.

Stay tuned for more in part two of this post …

For more on parenting with grace check out the books, Lead Your Family Like Jesus and Grace Based Parenting from the wonderful Dr. Tim Kimmel of Family Matters.