How to parent more effectively with less guilt: dealing with anger as a Christian parent

“That’s it, go to your room,” I said. “No!” said my four-year-old son.

I quickly responded, “Yes! Go to your room right now! One…two…”

“Nooooo! I hate you!” he shouted back.

As I quickly reached my boiling point, I threw him up onto my shoulder and carried him back the hallway to his room, kicking and screaming the whole time.

I put him down not so gently on his bed and told him he needed to stay in his room until he could calm down and improve his behavior. To this he responded with an ear-drum-blowing scream that I’m pretty sure broke some glass. I left the room quickly and slammed the door.

As I rejoined my wife in our living room, we talked over his screaming and crying saying things like, “I don’t know what else to do; I don’t know why he gets like this,” and “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that but he just makes me so mad.”

This scenario plays out often in my house. My son misbehaves then throws a tantrum when he is corrected, then me or my wife lose our temper and “talk” to him louder than we should, then we feel guilty for being “mean” to him. We try to be patient and reasonable; we try to give him second and third and fourth chances; we even try explaining consequences to him clearly and giving him choices. But often he chooses to continue misbehaving, being defiant, or just completely ignoring correction. He pushes our buttons so effectively that our anger can go from “0 to 60” almost immediately. Of course our anger blows up more quickly when we are exhausted, which is most of the time.

The Bible says, “in your anger, do not sin.” So experiencing the emotion of anger is not in itself wrong or sinful; however, it can easily lead to sin if we let it. As a Christian parent, where is this line? And how do we avoid crossing it in the heat of the moment?

When my son screams at me I get really irritated; when he ignores my correction I get mad; when he slaps my wife in the face I get livid. I don’t think its wrong for me to feel these various degrees of anger or even to act on them.

It is wrong for a child to rebel against his parents, to ignore correction, and certainly to slap his own mother at any age.

I should respond to my sons misbehavior with discipline and teach him to obey his parents.

I should punish him, as well as instruct and encourage him.

But when I respond to his screaming with louder screaming, or when I follow up his slap with another slap or make ridiculous threats and do things just to hurt him back, I cross that line into sin.

Whenever I react out of anger, I let my emotions in that moment determine my actions. Unfortunately, my emotions don’t often make good decisions that are consistent with what I believe and the kind of parent I want to be. If I respond to my son’s sin with more sin, how can I expect him to ever grow or change for the better?

If you’re like me and my wife, you need to learn to put some process into place to avoid this vicious cycle of misbehavior, angry blowups, and lingering guilt. Although we are still very much in the trenches, I believe there are at least 3 things we can do now to help us parent more effectively with less guilt.

  1. Plan Ahead

    I once heard the definition of stress is what happens when you experience the difference between your expectations and your outcomes. So to reduce stress, you need to modify one of these. If you expect your child to behave perfectly and follow all of your rules, I’m sure you will be disappointed every time. But expecting misbehavior and deciding in advance what your response will be can help you avoid an angry blowup. Setting clear rules and communicating expectations to our kids also needs to be a part of the plan.

  2. Act, don’t React

    My son told me that it makes him really mad when we use “mean words” or yell at him. This usually happens in response to his use of mean words and yelling. Its easy to react to another person in the same manner they have acted toward you. However, if we follow the rule that we should treat others how we want to be treated, we won’t simply spit back the same disrespect they throw at us. Especially with our kids, we need to focus on leading and teaching them what it looks like to live this way, showing them that its possible to respond in a loving way even when we’re angry.

  3. Debrief well after the fight

    Even when you make a plan, communicate expectations, and try your best to respond instead of just react in anger, there will still be times when you just lose it. You will say and do things you’re not proud of and you know are not helpful to your kids. But all is not lost, because you still have the chance to talk about the fight after its over. Once the dust settles and the smoke clears, make sure to have a follow-up conversation in which you apologize for losing your cool and give your child the opportunity to both apologize and be forgiven. As parents, we can’t have a big screaming fight with our kids, punish them, then just pretend it didn’t happen and assume everything will automatically be smoothed over.


QUESTION: What other ways have you found to parent more effectively with less guilt? I would love to hear your response in the Comments, on Facebook, or you can send me an email

Other articles you might like:

 Why is parenting so hard?

For the Weary…and the Busy

The Truth About Marriage (series)


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Truth #5: Sometimes the truth hurts, but its necessary

Have you ever had someone tell you the truth? Of course you have, most of the time people tell you the truth, right? But do they always tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I’m sure you can remember a time when someone told you something about yourself you didn’t like and you probably responded with disbelief and defensiveness.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” you said. “She thinks I’m bad, but she needs to take a look in the mirror,” you responded.

Or maybe you admitted to some of your wrongdoing, but minimized it by comparing yourself to someone worse.

You may have justified yourself saying something like, “I might gossip now and then, but at least I know when to keep my mouth shut.”

Developing accurate self-awareness and being able to hear criticism constructively is difficult and a skill that takes time and humility to develop. However, this one skill is perhaps the most important in determining the quality and depth of our relationships. This is especially true within marriage.

Criticism is often one of the most damaging behaviors in a marriage. One or both spouses can develop a critical spirit toward the other, constantly finding something wrong and vocalizing their disapproval or irritation. When left unchecked and unchanged, this negative attitude will drive a wedge between two people who otherwise love each other.

If you’re like me, being unfairly critical is your default mode. And getting defensive when someone criticizes you comes naturally.

Something about me you should probably know is that I’m a natural talker—I’ve been endowed with the gift of gab and I am what psychologists would call highly verbal. I am one of those men who actually talks more than his wife. But she loves it—at least most of the time.

Early on in our marriage, we experienced a lot of change—job changes, having a baby, and moving several times—and I would usually over-analyze every decision I made or even thought about making. I was full of ideas and hope, but also overwhelmed by fear of the unknown. As a result, I would often talk to my wife about everything that was on my mind and try to process my thoughts out loud. Although she appreciated my willingness to share my heart and include her in my thought-process, she would eventually get worn out by my incessant and often unfocused talking.

On more than one occasion she tried to tell me in a loving way that I talked too much and got off track too easily. This made it difficult for her to follow and she felt like I would make my point, then go down another trail and circle back to the same point once again. This is also called “beating a dead horse.”

Initially, when I heard my beautiful bride criticizing my communication style I was devastated and offended. So naturally I had to verbalize my disgust, explaining in detail how I got that way, why I talked so much, and how it bothered me that she didn’t care enough to listen to everything I had to say.

A simple observation and a little constructive criticism from the person I love most in the world easily turned into a fight when I tried to defend myself first before really considering the truth of her words.

By the grace of God I was eventually able to develop the skill of editing my words (at least a little bit) to boil down my thoughts into smaller, more focused discussion. My wife feels more appreciated when I temper my monologues to allow more room for her voice to be heard. Asking questions and really making an effort to listen to her responses has made a huge difference in our communication and our marriage. This would not have happened if my wife didn’t take the time to tell me the truth, even when she knew it would initially hurt my feelings.

Has your spouse ever told you a difficult truth you didn’t want to hear? Is there something your spouse is telling you now that has an element of truth you need to listen to?

Have any other TRUTHS ABOUT MARRIAGE you’ve learned?

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments, on Facebook, or via Email.

This article is an installment in a series The Truth About Marriage. Be sure to check out the rest of it by clicking below.

Series: The truth about Marriage (intro)

Truth #1: The Wedding is NOT the most important day of your marriage, its just the beginning

Truth #2: Laughter is Key to a Healthy Marriage

Truth #3: You SHOULD argue + 3 ways to argue well

Truth #4: Having kids will NOT make you a happy couple

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Lessons in online etiquette: 5 ways to avoid being a cyber-jerk

Placeholder ImageThe rise of the Internet and social media channels have forever changed our culture. The world has become so much smaller and more accessible that people can connect and share ideas and knowledge easier than ever before in history. But along with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Most people I know interact online on a daily basis to some extent, reading and responding to Facebook posts, news articles, blogs, photo memes, etc. Wherever you may spend your time online, if you want to avoid being perceived as a jerk (or something worse) I believe it’s important for you to know and practice a few rules.

1. If you don’t have the time to read a post or article in its entirety, you shouldn’t take the time to leave a comment 
It never ceases to amaze me at how many people will only read the headlines or the first couple of paragraphs of an article before posting a critical comment. I read a comment last week on an article where the commenter actually said he didn’t read past the point with which he disagreed, but HAD to stop and comment. What he disagreed with was only a minor point that really had no bearing on the entire theme of the article…but he doesn’t know because he didn’t bother reading past the two sentences he didn’t like. I’ve had comments on my blog posts from people who clearly didn’t read beyond the first paragraph, yet felt compelled to share how wrong and misguided I was in my thinking. I love constructive criticism and civil arguments, but don’t be a jerk by reading only the first paragraph before picking a fight or making a definitive statement about my entire identity.

2. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t write it online 

I don’t know why this one seems to be so hard for people to understand. It’s like people don’t realize they are talking to and influencing other ACTUAL human beings when they converse online. If you were at a coffee shop talking to me face to face, would you still be so harsh and critical in your comments about my viewpoint? Remember that even when you disagree with a person’s ideas or actions, they are still a person who deserves to be treated with at least a minimal amount of respect. Online disrespect = disrespect in real life

3. Don’t be afraid to do some research before sharing an article about a controversial topic 

If you can’t believe everything you see on TV then you certainly can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. A lot of the time information is shared for the sake of being sensational and getting attention, whether or not it’s true or accurate. When you read a headline or a meme and immediately share it, you may be passing along bad information. It only takes a minute to do a little research and find some other reputable sources that back up a particular claim. If it’s hard to find a good source that accomplishes this, that’s a good indication that the story or “facts” might be bogus. We have a tremendous wealth of information at our fingertips–we just need to learn how to use it effectively.

4. Be sensitive to the fact that most people online don’t actually care about your opinion 

Do you know how many people have Facebook accounts, Email, or Internet access? I don’t know those numbers, but I know it’s astronomical. We’re talking multiple millions of people, logging on to thousands upon thousands of sites, reading billions of words around the clock. The Internet may have made our world feel smaller, but it’s still huge! Even someone with an online following of 100,000 has still only captured the attention of a very small percentage of the population.  My point is that it’s important to remember that while a few people may value and want to hear your opinion on certain matters, most won’t. And that’s OK. That’s why we collect Facebook friends and a following because those are the people saying they are more likely to be interested or care about what you’ve got going on. So when you comment on a stranger’s post and they respond with an insult or just ignore you, don’t be surprised. It’s probably not personal anyway. And try not to be the person who posts a rant or controversial statement with the disclaimer that you don’t want to start an argument and you ‘just HAVE to say…” something you know people will disagree with.   The truth is, you don’t actually have to say anything. I know it feels good to make your voice heard, but it’s not good when you do it in such a way to steamroll others and dismiss the opportunity to have a conversation.

5. Keep everything in the right perspective 

The bottom line when it comes to the Internet and social media is that it’s awesome only when it’s used well. All too often people and relationships are damaged because of the misuse of these powerful tools. At the end of the day, try to step back and look at the big picture of life, both on- and offline. The Internet is only one way to interact with the world and shouldn’t be your ONLY way. Don’t forget to have some personal conversations from time to time that are actually in-person. Don’t hurt a friend or lose a job or even a spouse because of something you did online. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone in your life, please talk to them in person or on the phone. Your Facebook feed is not the place to argue with family members or tell someone what you really think of them. I know it happens all the time, but it shouldn’t. Keep it all in perspective and do what’s right.

Have other rules or tips for how we should communicate online? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or by email.

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