Parenting will test every ounce of a person’s self-control, some moments pushing us past our limits. Parents must develop a crucial self-awareness of their threshold of patience and realize when a child has pushed past that line. We all have a danger zone and your child will probably model your behavior whenever they reach their own threshold for anger.
An exhausted mother of three is in the toy store picking up a birthday gift so she can take her son to the party he mentioned only an hour ago. The children are begging for every toy they see and whining when they are told “not today.” The baby is screaming because naptime was too short and he is suffering from an ear infection that mom won’t discover until tomorrow. The store is crowded and other parents are glaring judgmentally. At the checkout line, one child shoves the other into a Lego display, crashing it to the ground. Mom has had enough. In that moment she has two responses—and responding rightly is going to teach her children an important lesson for their own lives.
Your first response: to protect your children from uncontrolled anger—yours and any potential outsiders. You can shield them from the upset store manager who may pounce on them. You must also prevent your own rage from spewing out at them. While children can legitimately experience anger, they should be protected from uncontrolled anger. Everyone has different thresholds of patience. You must recognize when you have crossed your line and refuse to allow your anger to become rage. Parents do not have the choice to rage against children—ever.
Your second response: wordlessly teach your children what to do with their anger and with the anger of others. Silently help your child up from the Lego mess. Don’t say a word. When you do speak, it will be so quiet they have to strain to hear your words. Tell them not to move and not to speak. When one of them disobeys and begins to blame the other, hold your hand up quickly and quietly tell them to stop or he will receive further discipline. Take your screaming baby from the cart, order the older children to stick close by your side, have them apologize to the store for the damage, and walk to your car. The ride home is silent (except for the baby who is still screaming in the car seat).
When you get home, line the older children up and isolate them from you and from each other. Tell them that there will be a discipline, but you don’t know yet what you should do. Until you have decided, they stay in isolation—missing the birthday party, their soccer game, television, and any other activity they would have attended. Nothing matters as much right now as teaching your children that misbehavior has consequence.
Now, find a chair, a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, and relax (assuming the baby has fallen into an exhausted sleep). Understand that this moment requires wisdom and according to the Bible, wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 2:6). The Bible also says if you lack wisdom, ask God for it (James 1:5). Your job is to allow God to teach you how to parent well. You want to change behavior, strengthen character, and help your children know God’s power in your life and theirs. When you are calm and your children have spent so much time alone they wonder if they will ever eat again, call them to come stand quietly in front of you, and deliver the discipline that will result because of the time you spent talking with God.
The Lord could direct you to any number of possible disciplines, but their greatest lesson of the day will probably be what you chose to do when they pushed you to that place of great anger. You chose not to act in anger because you love them. You chose to discipline them because you want them to live with higher character. Most importantly, they will know that you did not act until you sought God’s wisdom first.
The next time your children push you to the limit, remember your two responses. Protect them and discipline them because you love them with God’s great and powerful love.