Conflicts in Children


Excessive anger in children can be a major source of tension and conflict in families and marriages. This section is meant to help parents come to a deeper understanding of how they can protect the emotional lives of their children and guide them.

A number of virtues will be presented which can help children and teenagers grow in their ability to deal with their anger and fears in an appropriate manner. Case studies from the child chapter of Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (American Psychological Association Books, 2000) will be presented.

Common Origins of Childhood Anger

  • Conflicts in Parents
  • Parental enabling of narcissism
  • Rejection by siblings
  • Rejection by peers
  • Modeling Parental Anger
  • Day Care
  • Marital Conflicts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness/Sadness
  • Difficulty in Trusting
  • Divorce/Separation
  • Poverty

Please rate your child's anger on the following anger checklists.

Active Anger in Children/Adolescents


Often loses temper
Regularly annoyed
Blurts out answers before questions have been asked
Impertinent; talks back
Verbally aggressive
Pouts and sulks
Uncooperative with teacher
Constant teasing
Difficulty waiting oneís turn
Frequently frustrated
Intrudes on others
Argues, quarrels
Acts "smart"
Chronic violation of rules at home or school
Overly aggressive
Initiates fights
Stays out at night
Excessive recklessness
Tries to dominate others
Excessive swearing
Hits others
Class clown - disruptive at school
Violent threats
Spiteful, vindictive
Has "bad" companions
Suspension from school
Violent acts against people, animals or property
Running away from home
Violent acts against oneself
Constant truancy
Expulsion from school
Substance abuse
Fire setting
Forced sexual activity
Carries a weapon
Active Total:

Passive-Aggressive Anger in Children/Adolescents


Always late/leaves early
Deliberately sloppy
Uncooperative attitude
Procrastination - deliberately put things off
Twist the truth
Refuse to do what is reasonably expected
Rehashing the past
Deliberate making of mistakes
Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
Door banging
Deliberately slow
Pretend not to hear or see
Walk out on people
Refuse to listen
Always controls the T.V.
Deliberate inattention
Refuse to clean the home or oneself
Act sick or helpless
Withhold love or support
School grades markedly below oneís ability
Impulsive - failure to plan ahead
Deliberately avoid or ignore someone
Refusal to function in a responsible manner
Always negative
Overly stubborn
Silent treatment
Absenteeism in school
Refuse to be responsible
Refuse to study regularly
Enjoy seeing people become upset
Refuse to eat
Deliberately fail in school
Failure to care about anything
Deliberately try to be sick
False accusations
Passive-Aggressive Total:

Uncovering Selfishness

Selfishness is one of the major causes of anger in children. Please rate your child on the selfishness checklist below.

Narcissism Checklist

Refuses to help in the home
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lacks of respect for parents
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lack of gratitude
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Bad temper
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Insensitive to loved ones
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessively angry when everything doesnít go as one wants
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Very sloppy
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Curses excessively
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Resents giving to others/lack of generosity
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Expects automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Uses others to obtain oneís ends
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lacks empathy
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unwilling to identify with the feelings and needs of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Acts like a spoiled child
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Always demands to have oneís own way
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Talks about oneself excessively
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Fails to attend to the needs of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Is often envious of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuses to do chores
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tries to control others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Fails to care about important matters
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Acts helpless to get oneís way
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Doesnít enjoy giving
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tries to turn all conversations upon oneself
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Avoids responsibility
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuses to clean up after oneself
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Portrays self as the victim
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Demonstrates explosive anger
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuses to study
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Wonít do chores in the home
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
When something goes wrong, itís always someone elseís fault
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Requires excessive admiration
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Exaggerates physical and emotional symptoms as a way to control
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lacks of genuine interest in others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Doesnít pay attention to the person he or she is talking to
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuses to clean up after oneself
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often

Narcissism Total:

Three Basic Mechanisms for Dealing with Anger in Children

In Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, I wrote, parents can provide valuable assistance to children by helping them develop an understanding of the three basic mechanisms used to cope.


During early childhood, the most common method for dealing with anger is denial. The dangers attached to denial include emotional harm to the child, increased feelings of sadness, guilt and shame, or the misdirection of the resentment toward others.


The next method commonly used for dealing with anger is either to express it openly and honestly or to release it in a passive-aggressive manner. It is of benefit to review with children the numerous ways in which anger can be vented passively. The therapist might consider having the young patient complete an anger checklist to identify these behaviors. Many parents can also participate in the evaluation of their childs anger by completing an anger checklist in relation to their son or daughter and thus provide the therapist with additional information on the degree of the childs anger.

It may be helpful to view actively expressed anger as encompassing three types: appropriate, excessive, and misdirected. Children benefit from learning the value of healthy assertiveness as well as the danger of responding consistently to situations in an excessively angry manner. It is important for them to realize that when they do not resolve their anger from a particular hurt, they may later misdirect the resentment toward others. Such anger can damage friendships, interfere with learning, harm family relationships, and limit participation in team sports. In clinical practice, we find that the most common recipients of misdirected anger are younger siblings, peers, mothers, and teachers.

Concepts of displacement and the consequences of displacing anger can be difficult for children to understand and accept so concrete examples need to be used. At times, it can be helpful if parents or a therapist relate stories of misdirected anger from their own youthful experience.

Some therapists believe they have been successful in treating anger in children and adolescents when their young patients express the anger they had previously denied. Actually, what has been accomplished is only one step toward actual resolution because, in itself, expression is incapable of freeing children from the burden of resentment which they carry. The experience of anger can lead to a desire for revenge which does not diminish until the existence of the resentful feelings are uncovered and subsequently resolved. Without this uncovering and resolution, anger can be displaced for many years onto others and erupt decades later in loving relationships. Anger may not be fully resolved until a conscious decision is made to work on forgiving the offender.


Not surprisingly, what forgiveness is not needs clarification. We find that children need to learn the following issues. Specifically, forgiveness is not tolerating and enabling angry, abusive people to express their anger. It is not being a doormat or acting in a weak manner and it does not limit healthy assertiveness. It does not mean trusting or reconciling with those who are abusive, insensitive, or show no motivation to change their unacceptable behavior. Finally, forgiveness is not necessarily going to others and informing them that one is forgiving them.

As already stated, clinicians often discover that the relationship in which children experience the greatest degree of disappointment, and subsequently the greatest degree of anger, is in the parental relationship, especially the one with the father. This is particularly true at the present time when almost forty percent of children and teenagers do not have their biological fathers at home. Numerous studies have documented difficulties with resentment and aggressive behavior in the children of divorce (Block, Block, & Gjerde, 1988; Guidubaldi, 1988; Hetherington, 1989; Johnston, Kline, & Tschann, 1989; Wallerstein 1983, 1985, 1991; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989). One study of parental love-deprivation and forgiveness revealed that most respondents implicated the father, not the mother, as being emotionally distant (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardis, 1995).

The major cause of anger in the father relationship is the result of growing up with a father who had difficulty in communicating his love and in affirming his children. Misdirected father anger may be a contributing conflict in our schools and homes today. Many children who have intense father-anger present with conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorders, and intermittent explosive disorders.

Difficulties in the mother relationship that lead to intense anger can be the result of not experiencing enough love and praise, feeling controlled or criticized, or being made to feel that one does not measure up to some standard. At times, too, the child may have felt overly responsible for the mother, or may have come to the conclusion that she was overly critical of the father.

Other sources of anger sometimes result from hurts and disappointments from siblings or rejection by peers. Often an older child misdirects anger at a younger sibling that is really meant for a parent or peers. Many children and adolescents crave peer acceptance to develop a positive sense of self and to protect themselves from loneliness. Those children who are scapegoated regularly in school rarely tell their parents how they are being treated because they are so ashamed or because they believe that their parents cannot protect them. Therefore, parents need to be aware of the various ways in which this conflict can manifest itself. These include: isolation, withdrawal, ventilation of hostility toward others, social anxiety, or depression.

Some children have difficulties with their anger as a result of modeling after a parent who could not control anger. This excessive expression of anger is then passed from one generation to the next. In our experience, this modeling occurs most often with the father.

Many in the mental health field believe that the excessive anger seen in ADHD and other disorders in children is biologically determined (see, for example, Hechtman 1991). However, at this time, no specific neurotransmitters have been identified which cause excessive anger. Also, the use of addictive substances can trigger excessive anger as well as personality conflicts, especially narcissism.

Parents can assist their children in their character development by teaching them to be understanding and forgiving when angry. We refer to this as an immediated forgiveness exercise. This does not preclude punishing a child for a display of excessive or midirected anger, nor asking an angry child to apologize to the recepient of their excessive anger. Appropriate punishment for angry behaviors often helps a child learn to control anger.

After an angry incident the child can be recommended to try to forgive if they have been truly hurt by another. Also, children can learn to stop denying their anger and to resolve it by thinking at bedtime of forgiving anyone who may have hurt them on that particular day or in the past. In Ephesians 4, St. Paul recommends that we not let the sun go down on our anger. Unfortunately, many children and adults do because they do not work on developing and using the virtue of forgiveness at the end of the day.

Children are usually pleased to learn how the virtue of forgiveness can help them control and resolve their angry feelings.

We will now examine some of the specific childhood and adolescent disorders with a focus on the treatment of the excessive anger. The resolution of this resentment facilitates the healing of childhood disorders. The childhood disorders with the greatest degree of anger are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, intermittent explosive disorder and character/personality weaknesses.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

One of the most common conflicts seen in children is oppostional defiant disorder (ODD). The symptoms of ODD are:

  • Often loses temper
  • Often argues with adults
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adultsí requests or rules
  • Often deliberately annoys people
  • Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Is often angry and resentful
  • Is often spiteful or vindictive

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) has been seen as a developmental precursor to conduct disorders and is more common in families where there is serious marital discord (DSM-IV). However, in one study of ODD associated with ADHD, two subtypes of ODD were identified: one that is prodromal to CD and another that is subsyndromal to CD but not likely to progress into CD in later years (Biederman, Faraone, Milberger, Jetton, Chen, Mick, Gree, & Russell, 1996) . When ODD co-occurred with CD in this study, it preceded the onset of CD by several years. Also, higher rates of positive family histories for CD or antisocial personality were found among the CD compared with the ODD and ADHD children.

The excessive anger seen in ODD is not as severe as that in conduct disorders in that most of these youngsters do not yet struggle with violent impulses and fantasies. The psychotherapeutic use of forgiveness can play an important role in decreasing or resolving the hostile feelings, thoughts and behaviors seen in ODD. If the strong anger in ODD is treated effectively, our experience indicates it may prevent the later development of conduct disorders.

Children with ODD also are helped by attempting to grow in the virtues of obedience, gratitude, generosity and respect. Parents can prevent the development of ODD in many children by working on growth in marital self-giving and by not abandoning their sacrament of marriage through separation and divorce.

Case Study

This case demonstrates the use of forgiveness in ODD.

Sean, a seven-year-old, became increasingly angry and rebellious with his mother after his father left the family. He regularly lost his temper, refused to listen to his mother, and provoked his sisters. He also became much more defiant and narcissistic and demanded that his mother buy him new toys several times weekly.

In the sessions with his mother and sisters, Sean admitted , I'm really mad at Dad. He doesn't care about us. All he ever did was watch TV anyway. Sean's mother told him that his anger was hurting her and his sisters and that it reminded her of his fathers selfish temper tantrums. Sean became tearful and remorseful during the session and stated that he did not want to hurt anyone. He agreed to try to let go of his anger with his father on a daily basis and thus attempt to avoid repeating his dads self-centered behaviors. This intervention seemed to motivate Sean and when he slipped back into oppositional defiant behavior, his mother would remind him to continue to forgive his father. Over the course of several months, the work of daily thinking that he wanted to understand and try to forgive his father helped Sean to gain more control over his angry feelings and behaviors. However, there were times when, after spending a weekend with his selfish father, it would take several days to gain control over his sad and angry feelings.

The treatment of the anger and anxiety in the following childhood disorders are
presented at the website of the Institute of Marital Healing see here:

  • Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety due to Bullying

  • Children of Divorce/Stepchildren

  • Adopted Children

Mistrust Checklist

Children who experience separation anxiety disorders, divorce and separation stress, bullying victimization or adoption have sustained damage to their basic ability to trust and feel safe in or outside the home. Their difficulty in trusting is often not identified adequately. The mistrust checklist below has helped many parents in understanding the nature of their childrensí conflicts.

Please answer by identifying the appropriate choice for each item on the following mistrust checklist which applies to your child:


Numerous controlling behaviors
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Restlessness and hyperactivity (an absence of feeling safe)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Inability to show affection (fearful of being vulnerable)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Scapegoat mother or siblings with anger
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Difficulty praising others (fearful of allowing anyone to be close)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessive social isolation
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Poor eye contact
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Few close friends
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Compulsive eating
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessive drinking or drug usage
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Addiction to pornography (escape to fantasy world)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tendency to isolate oneself
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Difficulty in receiving help or advice from others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
A need to have things his/her own way
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Not open to date
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Withdrawal from others in front of TV, books, computer, etc.
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Overly strong dealing with others (caused by fear of being hurt)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Poor team player
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Compulsive masturbation
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Poor personal hygiene
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Aggressive behaviors
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Passive-aggressive behaviors
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often


Regularly irritable or hostile (anger keeps others at distance)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Overly anxious
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Over-reaction emotionally to minor life events
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Rarely relaxed or peaceful
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Bad temper
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Overly upset if things donít go as planned
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Very lonely (fearful of being vulnerable and of receiving love)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Fearful of the future
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Emotional rigidity
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lack of gentleness
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Panic attacks
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often


Catastrophic thinking (something bad is going to happen)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Rigid thinking - a lack of openness
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessive criticism of others (as a unconscious way to distance people)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Negative thinking
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Hypochondriacal thinking (fear of serious illness)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessive fantasy life
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Obsessional fearful thoughts
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Paranoid thinking
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Obsessional thoughts of controlling others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often

Physical Health

Irritable bowel syndrome
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Muscle spasms in different parts of the body
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Severe headaches
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often

Spiritual Life

Limited ability to receive love
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Anger with God
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuse to go to Church
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Limited ability to pray
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Withdrawal into religion (excess religiosity)
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often

Mistrust Total:

Origins of Mistrust


Loss of a parent, brother, sister, or close friend(s)
Emotionally unavailable parent(s)
Serious illness in a parent, sibling, or oneself
Excessive time in day care
Alcoholic parent
A fearful, mistrustful or overly controlling parent
Legacy of mistrust and fear in the family
Betrayal by loved ones
Parental separation or divorce
Rejection by peers
Victimization by the excessive anger of others


Same causes as in childhood
Poor body image
Rejection by peers
Difficulty in playing sports
Used as a sexual object
Parental separation or divorce
Post abortion trauma

Origins of Mistrust Total:

Day Care

The major $80 million dollar research study of day care for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Developmnet (NICHD) included 25 researchers at 10 universities and was led by Dr. Jay Belsky.

The analysis of research produced the conclusion that early and extensive nonmaternal care carried risks in terms of increasing the probability of insecure infant-parent attachment relationships and of promoting aggression and noncompliance during the toddler, preschool, and early primary school years.

Dr. Belsky stated, "There is a constant dose-response relationship between time in care and problem behaviors, especially those involving aggressive behavior."

This research demonstrates that the infant and child need close bonding with the mother in order to develop a basic foundation for trust and a safe feeling with others. The absence of such bonding is resulting in sadness, anger and mistrust in the children.

This research should be considered when decisions are being made about the care of babies and infants, in addition to Brian Robertsonís Day Care Deception. Also, Mary Eberstadtís book, Home Alone America, is an important new work on the emotional conflicts in children today resulting from day care and other stresses.

Anger in the Schools

The 2004 article, "Learning to Forgive", which I coauthored with my colleagues, Bob Enright and Tom OíBrien, may be of benefit to parents of children who are victims of excessive anger from their peers in school or who overreact in anger in school.

Obstacles to Forgiveness in Children and Parents

The major obstacles encountered in trying to help children grow in the use of forgiveness include: unwillingness to work on the character weakness of selfishness, modeling after an angry parent, the sense of control their anger gives them over others, and a sense of strength and self-esteem derived from the expression of anger. It is not uncommon, either, for the process of forgiveness to be blocked by parents who excuse all angry behaviors in their children with ADHD, claiming that their behavior is solely the result of biological factors over which their children have no control. Such parents may have serious problems with excessive resentment themselves and therefore they are limited in their abilit to teach their children to be responsible for their anger and to resolve their hostile feelings. Subsequently, such parents can help their children by identifying their own anger and working on forgiving those who have hurt them. Unfortunately, some parents have no desire to control their excessive anger. By modeling forgiveness, the majority of parents can bring about a marked improvement in the level of resentment and acting-out behaviors in their children.

Other virtues which can diminish anger in children:
  • obedience
  • generosity
  • gratitude
  • orderliness


Selfishness is one of the major causes of anger in children and in teenagers. You can evaluate your child in this area on the selfishness checklist found at the beginning of this chapter.

Excessive anger develops when people with this character weakness do not have their needs or expectations meet quickly or in a specific manner. In many regards they respond in a emotionally immature and childlike way.

The most common origins of this character weakness in children are due to modeling after a selfish parent(s) or to parents enabling it, while denying the serious negative consequences of selfishness. Other major factors which contribute to this conflict are identification with selfish peers or relatives, an attraction to the selfish lifestyle and the rejection of a moral code or religious faith. This conflict can be present at any life stage, but often manifests itself strongly at the beginning of adolescence.

Growth in generosity is essential if children are to overcome selfishness.

The virtues which can be taught to children to help them address this character weakness are:

  • generosity
  • obedience
  • orderliness
  • self-denial
  • humility
  • faith
  • obedience
  • almsgiving
  • solidarity
  • modesty
  • chastity

Parents can address selfishness in their children by:

  • modeling healthy self-giving
  • communicating that happiness is found in self-giving and not in using others
  • presenting the damage caused by selfishness to oneself and to others, especially the lack of success in loving relationships
  • encouraging children to treat others with respect
  • criticizing the utilitarian philosophy which supports selfishness
  • correcting children when they are selfish or use others
  • encouraging growth in the virtues above
  • presenting models of courageous self-giving, including Pope John Paul II and saints
  • giving chores and service projects
  • insisting on sharing with others
  • recommending Catholic children take this conflict to the sacrament of reconciliation
  • suggesting prayer to overcome this weakness
  • protecting children from selfish peers
  • correcting in the home childrensí friends who act selfishly

A discussion with a child of the long term negative consequences of selfishness in adult life can be beneficial in motivating a child to work on this personality conflict. These serious difficulties include:

  • inability to give to maintain a successful loving relationship
  • divorce
  • unwillingness to commit or be loyal to spouse or to children
  • excessive anger which ruins relationships
  • lack of openness to children
  • manipulative behaviors
  • treatment of spouse as sexual object
  • insensitive to a childís desire for a brother or a sister
  • infidelity
  • failure to care for children or spouse
  • financially unsupportive
  • substance abuse
  • failure to work on marital friendship/relationship
  • unwillingness to care for the home
  • controlling behaviors
  • financially irresponsible
  • unwillingness to vacation with family
  • refusal to give emotionally to in-laws
  • unhappy at holidays, birthdays or special family events
  • unwillingness to working on resolving marital difficulties with premature decision to divorce
  • lack of faith

The process of addressing selfishness in children can be challenging. The major reasons parents are unable to correct selfishness in their children are:

  • they are self-indulgent themselves and are unwilling to address this weakness in their own personalities
  • they want their children to be their friend
  • lack of a role model for correction
  • lack of confidence
  • fear of arguments as a result of childhood stresses caused by an angry parent
  • parental obsession with sports
  • a lack of courage
  • fear of a childís anger
  • difficulties with trusting
  • pride
  • a weak interior life

Couples need to be united and strong in order to address this conflict in their children. Correction of this conflict should not be done in anger. This can be accomplished by the use of an immediate forgiveness exercise in which the parent inwardly thinks of understanding and forgiving the child. Then, the correction should be given only when the anger subsides.

The initial response to parental correction of selfishness is often one of intense anger. This narcissistic (selfish) anger is often vented in an explosive manner in an attempt to try to intimidate and control others.

The growth in the following virtues in parents can help them in being strong in order to protect their children from caving into selfishness and excessive anger:

  • courage
  • temperance
  • gentleness
  • generosity
  • patience
  • faith
  • humility
  • forgiveness of those who led them to fear conflict or who spoiled/failed to correct them

When an adolescent or young adult is unwilling to change the selfish behaviors which harm the family or himself, parents may be forced to take some of the following actions:

  • family therapy with a mental health professional who can identify and develop a treatment program for selfishness rather than enable this character weakness
  • warn that all clothes left on the floor any where in the home will be thrown away and that the child will have to pay for replacement
  • refuse use of a car
  • withdrawn financial support of nonessential activities
  • ground the child
  • limit contact with narcissistic friends
  • require a change in schools
  • as a last resort remove the child from the home

If one parent refuses to stop enabling harmful selfish behaviors, the other spouse may need to take the following actions in order to protect the child, marriage and family:

  • point out that the enabling spouse probably has this character weakness
  • seek therapy with a mental health professional who has the confidence to address this selfishness in the marriage
  • threaten marital separation unless significantly hostile selfishness is addressed
  • pursue marital separation

Fortunately, in our clinical experience, these steps usually result in marital and family healing and not to separation.

Boys who donít play sports

Boys who do not play sports, have few male friends or are effeminate and angry because they are rejected or picked on by their peers benefit from special attention from their parents, particularly their fathers. See the "Gender Identity Disorder" article which I have written on

Fathers tend to feel confident bonding with their sons primarily through athletic activities. These men often have difficulty knowing how to be close to their sons who do not show an interest in sports. A common error in such relationships is to attempt to force them to play sports. When a child lacks eye-hand coordination which interferes with the ability to throw a baseball, kick a soccer ball or pass a football, he usually cannot learn those skills.

Fathers can bond with sons who lack eye-hand coordination in a number of ways including hiking, fishing, hunting, sailing, playing chess, and walking. They can identify and discuss topics of interest to their sons. These boys also benefit from their fathers helping them to grow in an awareness of their God-given gifts which is essential in building male confidence.


Catholic parents need to be cautious about diversity and tolerance programs offered to their children in grade schools, high schools and colleges which do not teach the Churchís truth in regard to the beauty of Godís plan for human sexuality reserved exclusively for the sacrament of marriage. In addition, such programs often support alternative lifestyles, while failing to provide students with informed consent about the serious medical, psychiatric (see Homosexuality and Hope of the Catholic Medical Association,,, "The Health Risks of Gay Sex", "Gay Marriage and Homosexuality: Some Medical Comments", family and social problems associated with these life choices. These programs are attempting to attack Catholic morality in regard to human sexuality, marriage, family life, etc.

The Role of Faith and Sexuality

Excellent family resources which can help parents form their children in the truth about human sexuality are The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality from the Vaticanís Congregation for the Family, Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul IIís Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Bishop Galeoneís pastoral letter on marriage and the Vaticanís statement on same sex unions. Finally, parents should monitor the educational materials from school or CCD classes in order to protect their children from premature or erroneous sexual information which can damage them psychologically and rob them of their innocence.

In 2004 Pope John Paul II stated, "Every educational program, whether Christian or secular, must emphasize that true love is chaste love, and that chastity provides us with a founded hope for overcoming the forces threatening the institution of the marriage and the family and at the same time for freeing humanity from the devastation wrought by scourges such as HIV/AIDS and promiscuity; that is, using people as sexual objects."

Parental anger toward children

When a parent feels angry toward a child, the immediate expression of this anger can be harmful, especially if it is excessive. Instead of giving in quickly to the expression of anger, we recommend that a parent when angry with a child try to inwardly reflect a number of times, "I want to understand and forgive" or "I want to forgive and love" until the anger dimishes. After the angry feelings diminish, the parent should communicate with the child.

If a parent works on this immediate forgivenesss exercise, correction can be given to a child in an appropriate manner without excessive anger. Then a child is often be more receptive and less defensive because a discussion can occur without intense anger.

The parentís faith can be helpful also in gaining rapid control of angry feelings with a child. Individuals report that giving their anger immediately to the Lord is helpful, as well as their impatience, controlling tendencies or conflict over accepting crosses in family life.




Richard P. Fitzgibbons. "Conflicts in Children." Institute for Marital Healing.

This article reprinted with permission from the author, Richard P. Fitzgibbons and the Institute for Marital Healing.

The mission of the Institute for Marital Healing is to strengthen Catholic marriages and families by educating spouses and marital therapists about common causes of conflicts in marital self-giving and effective approaches to alleviating such conflicts. Through a combination of online resources, educational programs, publications, and counseling services, the Institute employs a time-tested approach to marital therapy that recognizes the importance of both science and faith in the process of marital healing.


Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons received his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in 1969 and completed his training in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center in 1976. Currently, he is the director of a private practice outside Philadelphia.

Since 1976 he has used forgiveness in psychotherapy, and in 1986 he wrote a seminal paper on the use of forgiveness and is the coauthor of Helping Clients Forgive (with Robert D. Enright; 2000), published by the American Psychological Association.

He has given many marital conferences on strengthening marital self-giving. Rick has also given many conferences to priests in dioceses and religious communities and to spiritual formation teams of seminaries. In 2004 he coauthored Learning to Forgive in the Classroom for the American School Board Journal and recorded a DVD on forgiveness for mental health professionals with Dr. Bob Enright for American Psychological Associations Books. He is board member of the International Institute for Forgiveness,

Copyright © 2005 Richard P. Fitzgibbons

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