The Home School Court Report
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November / December 2004

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The angry child


Part 1, which appeared in the September/October Court Report, discussed how parents' anger can contribute to anger in our children.

Anger is a powerful force. Uncontrolled and unrestrained, it will ultimately control a child's life and lead to rebellion. According to Christian counselor Lou Priolo in The Heart of Anger, there are five distinct steps along the path to rebellion.*

  1. Child's spirit is wounded or feelings hurt.
  2. Bitterness takes root when a child is unable to respond with forgiveness or forgetfulness.
  3. Anger is the fruit of bitterness.
  4. Stubbornness and insubordination then result from unresolved anger.
  5. Rebellion is the final step.

Rebellion is a serious matter—I Samuel 15:3 compares rebellion to the sin of witchcraft. Fathers (and mothers) are cautioned in Ephesians 6:4 not to provoke or frustrate our children to wrath and commanded to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As parents we must help our children learn to handle hurt feelings in the right way. If we are the cause, we must humble ourselves, ask their forgiveness, and truly repent. We need to model true forgiveness toward them when they sin and, through gentle instruction, help them to begin to understand Christ's great forgiveness toward us. And don't neglect memorizing verses dealing with forgiveness, bitterness, and rebellion as a family.

Over many years of counseling parents with rebellious children, Priolo has observed that marital disharmony is the leading cause of rebellion in children. Our most important relationship (next to our relationship with the Lord) is with our spouse. The biblical goal for our marriage is complete harmony. "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association
What causes marital disharmony? The chief cause is intimacy with other people or things outside of our marriage. Misplaced intimacy manifests itself in disagreements, arguments, and bitterness between husband and wife. Hebrews 12:15 tells us, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled."

Bitterness between a husband and wife spills over to "defile" and hurt their children. The children's wounded feelings may then lead them down the road to rebellion. Consider the following suggestions for dealing with marital disharmony.

>> Commit to the goal of a "one flesh" relationship. Such a goal requires mutual submission. However, the Bible places the primary responsibility for a "one flesh" relationship on husbands when it instructs us to love our wives as Christ loved the church.

This type of love implies several things. It means that loving our wives is not an option, but rather a command to be obeyed through a conscious decision. It also means that the husband's love is to be unconditional, not dependent upon our wife's love or submission. Finally, it requires dying to our selfish desires in order to serve our spouse with love.

>> Reassure our children that we will never, ever divorce. Our children will at some point hear us arguing and fighting, but do they know we ever make up? Often, when we bury the hatchet, it is done in a much calmer fashion and when the children are not present. Because today's children are keenly aware of the grim reality of divorce, they need us to restore their confidence in our marriage and dispel the feelings of insecurity raised by occasional disharmony.

>> Don't let the sun go down on our wrath. Reconcile as quickly as possible and strive for a harmonious marriage. Living in harmony requires plenty of communication and the willingness to forgive and forget.

>> Recognize that all marriage partners are incompatible. Marriage, like homeschooling, is a tool God uses to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. This can only be accomplished as we are dependent on God's grace.

>> Pray together as husband and wife before going to sleep each night. This is a daily opportunity to clear the air and to enlist God's help for our children and our relationship.

Finally, remember that there is no formula guaranteed to prevent every child from rebelling. Children have their own wills. However, parents can recognize and reduce factors that tempt children to be angry and rebellious. By conquering anger in our own lives, not provoking our children to wrath, and striving for a harmonious marriage, we will show our children how freeing it is to choose the path of forgiveness.

* Lou Priolo, The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 1997). Available from