G‑d gave us all sorts of feelings—happiness, sadness, confusion, fear, anger. All of these feelings are meant to be signals, calls to action. Sadness urges us to rest and/or replace a loss. Confusion pushes us to seek clarity. Fear prompts our vigilance, helping to keep us safe. And anger helps us establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

Our sages tell us that we should aim to avoid extremes in our personal expression and experiences of emotions. We shouldn’t be so happy that we are delirious, nor so sad that we are morose. We should not be so certain of anything that we leave no room for G‑d or for human error, nor should we be so uncertain that we can never make a decision or take action. We should be cautious in order to guard our bodies, but we should not become paralyzed with fear. We should find the golden middle road.

However, when it comes to anger, we are admonished to remove it entirely (except for very rare, Torah-sanctioned occasions in which we are allowed to use this emotion in the defense and protection of G‑d’s honor). For all intents and purposes, we should be aiming to eradicate anger from our emotional repertoire. But why?

Anger & Idol Worship

Anger is a destructive force, harming individuals, relationships and the world. One who gives in to anger is said to be an idol-worshipper, for he is denying G‑d’s omnipotence by believing that he knows how to run the world better than G‑d. He vehemently objects to the events unfolding in front of him and reacts in rebellious rage, terrorizing those around him and injuring his own heart. Indeed, when one gives in to anger, the sensitive soul departs, and the evil inclination takes over his heart.

Raising Un-Angry Children

Unfortunately, people don’t just outgrow their anger. In fact, a child who is allowed to express hostility simply becomes better and better at it. By the time he is a teenager, everyone in the household knows to stay clear when he is tired, hungry or irritable. As an adult, his spouse and children will become vigilant for his subtle signals of displeasure, tiptoeing around him so as to avoid his outbursts. How can we as parents ensure that our children do not grow up into rage-aholics whose lives will be soured by unhappy relationships and constant tension?

1. Model calm, healthy behavior. When parents shout at each other or at their children, the children often copy them. While you may have learned this style from your own parents, it’s not a gift to pass on to your children. Do everything possible to refrain from displaying outward anger.

2. Diagnose the cause of your child’s anger. This will help you know which interventions to choose from.

Here are some common causes of children’s anger problems:

  • Difficulties with emotional regulation (child doesn’t know how to deal calmly with disappointment or frustration, and/or has trouble calming himself down once he expresses upset feelings).
  • Agitated nervous system. For instance, lack of proper sleep, nutrition or stimulation can cause agitation. Illness and pain can increase irritability, as can allergies and sensitivities.
  • Genetic tendencies toward impulsivity and negativity. Certain mental-health conditions such as ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder and other issues increase rapid or intense negative emotional responses. Also, inborn temperamental characteristics can lead to more negativity and irritability.
  • Overwhelming emotions. Finding schoolwork too hard, feeling socially rejected, having trouble feeling accepted within the family and other stressful experiences can lead to an increase in angry and frustrated emotions.
  • Traumatic experiences. Witnessing or experiencing abuse, terror, violence or life-threatening circumstances, such as floods and hurricanes, can significantly unsettle the nervous system, leading to irritability, hostility and aggression. Traumatic experiences also include being bullied outside or inside the family (by parents or siblings).
  • Parenting style that (unintentionally) reinforces tantrums, anger and aggression. For instance, a parent may pay too much attention to problematic behaviors, refrain from teaching appropriate behaviors, or use ineffective techniques for teaching.

3. Address the child’s anger with the proper intervention.

When a child doesn’t know what to do instead of lash out, parents need to actively teach him. A child needs to know how to leave an upsetting scene in order to calm down. He needs to know what to do in order to calm down once he has found a quiet place. And he needs to know how to get his needs met appropriately, using his words, once he returns.

For children who act out because of their physical health conditions, it is necessary to address those conditions. Seeing a medical practitioner or naturopath might be in order. It also may be necessary to change your child’s diet or develop tighter bedtime routines. Explore the possibility of food and substance sensitivities.

Mental-health conditions need to be addressed by a professional, as do the consequences of traumatic and intensely negative experiences. Emotional overwhelm can sometimes be addressed by parents (for example, reducing schoolwork or getting a tutor), and sometimes require the help of outside professionals.

Parenting books and classes can help mothers and fathers develop more effective strategies to eradicate unacceptable expressions of anger, as well as to establish the kind of environment that reduces the tendency to stir up angry, negative feelings. Parents need to learn gentle but effective ways of discouraging inappropriate behavior and encouraging appropriate behavior.

Whatever it takes, do everything you can to help your child feel calmer and happier. A mad child is a sad child—tantrums, aggression and grumpiness are not signs of happy contentment. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up; enlist the assistance of professionals when necessary. You will be helping your child for the rest of his life when you help him reduce his anger today.