You may remember this review I wrote about When Sophie gets Angry, Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. At the time I was quite critical of the message of the book. I still agree with everything I said but I am now much more sympathetic with the purpose of the book and appreciate the magnitude of the task; how to help young children deal appropriately with their anger.
What has changed?
What has changed is that we have had a tricky month or so dealing with our Sophie’s anger. When she gets angry she has been expressing this in ways that we think are unacceptable and we have been trying to work out how to teach her to cope with her anger differently. It has not been easy. This is what we have worked out.
1. Recognising the situations that make her angry. At the moment these occur when she is tired and either
• I insist that she does something she doesn’t want to do, or
• she believes she has been (or is about to be) punished unfairly.
2. Planning the school day so that we avoid those situations if possible. I try to give her enough breaks in the day so she doesn't get fed up with working. I try to let her know what is coming up so she isn’t surprised by something she doesn’t want to do and give her time to pack up after play; not expecting her to be ready instantly for intense mathematical thinking when she was just reading a favourite book.
3. Giving her a specific phrase to say when she feels that she is getting upset. When she feels herself getting upset, she says, “Can I go and sit on the ladder, please?” The ladder is a small wooden ladder resting against the tree outside. She is allowed to go and sit on this ladder until she has calmed down and is ready to come inside and talk.
4. Dealing with the situation that caused her anger when she has calmed down. Going out to the ladder gives her time to calm down, but it doesn’t mean she has escaped from the situation. If she was getting angry because she didn’t want to do what I asked; she still has to do what I asked. If she getting angry because she didn’t think that the coming punishment was fair; she will still receive it (if it was fair). It allows us to deal with the situation without ‘sinning in anger’. And then we talk about forgiveness and reconciliation (in vocabulary she understands).
In all this we recognise that at the heart of the problem is sin; she wants to do what she wants and gets angry when we won’t let her. We can plan all we like to avoid expression of the sin, but it will still be there. We can develop all the strategies in the world to cope with this sin, but there will be times when it gets out of hand. In the end it is the Holy Spirit that will change her. And so we have been praying that he will, as has she.
I also recognise that sometimes it is my sin that brings out her anger. Sometimes it was unfair punishment. Sometimes I have expected too much of her. And these will be for my own selfish reasons. For instance, wanting to hurry her through her work so that I can do something else. I also pray that the Holy Spirit will change me, to teach patiently; to discipline justly; and to mother lovingly.
And in all these we rejoice in the forgiveness that has come through Jesus Christ, praising God that his acceptance of us is not based on our sinlessness. And we rejoice in the work of the Spirit in our lives, depending on his power for change. And we look forward to the day when we will be like our Lord Jesus, pure and blameless in every way.