Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV
The first step to teaching our kids how to “be angry and do not sin” is to help them learn to name their anger. We do that by naming it for them until they connect the associated feeling and can name it for themselves. Then we hold them accountable to using the proper name to express it instead of using disrespectful forms of expression like growling, screaming, hitting, or name calling.
We can model this for our children as well. Modeling helps them learn faster and retain the concept better.
It will also help us keep from sinning against our children when we feel angry!
So when my toddler is laughing manically while trying to kick the snot out of me during a diaper change because this is his new favorite game (for toddler reasons), and I find myself battling the urge to scream and curse and even get physically rough with him to force him to comply…
(I know that sounds totally unhinged, but it’s because I almost came unhinged in that moment, and countless similar moments, to be honest. Anger can cause some pretty intense urges that carry a lot of shame for parents. The struggle is real! That’s why learning to be angry and NOT sin is so important.)
… I say, “I feel very angry because you are hurting me! Please obey right away and stop kicking Mommy.” I’m always a little surprised when this works. He stops long enough for me to complete the diaper change. I ask him to say he is sorry for hurting me and for not obeying right away.
“Tata (sorry), Mama.”
“Thank you for saying sorry, Buddy. I love you.”
“Wuv u too, Mama. Not be an-gee, Mama, be hap-ee!”
“Yes, I feel happy now because we are being kind and gentle with each other! Do you feel happy too?”
“Yes, Gaga (that’s how he says his name currently), hap-ee too!”
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.James 1:19-20 NIV
We can’t get angry enough with our kids to make them value righteousness. That’s not how it works. So to teach them to be angry and not sin, we have to show them how, and that robs the enemy of the opportunity to use both us and them to cause hurt and destruction.
Teaching our children to recognize and resolve their emotions without sin is necessary for raising young men and women who connect deeply with God and others. We want them to become sources of God’s love, truth, hope, healing, and happiness in the world. As a bonus, we get to become the same thing!