In two closely related New Testament verses, fathers are given these instructions: "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4); "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Colossians 3:21). While much is said and written about the need for fathers (parents) to properly train their kids in the spiritual realm, as per Ephesians 6:4b, it seems that much less is taught about the need for dads to refrain from provoking their children to extreme anger. Without any claim to have all the answers or all the wisdom that parents need in rearing their kids, we set forth the following practical observations.
Provoke not your kids to wrath – what it does not mean:
1. It does not mean never do anything that makes your child(ren) mad. From time to time kids are going to get angry at their parents when they step in and "put their foot down" on some matter. A three-year old that picks up a knife may pitch a fit when his mom takes it away, but mom still needs to take it away, right? If you want to turn a spoiled brat loose on the world, then just make sure you never do anything to cause him/her to be upset.
2. It does not mean never correct your children. Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19-21). Properly administered discipline is not the "provoking" of kids that the Lord forbids.
3. It does not mean never tell kids that something is off limits or wrong. The Lord says that those who take part in the "works of the flesh" will not enter into the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). When we restrict our kids from participating in such, they may become hot under the collar and threaten to never speak to us again, but do not be deceived, such restriction of children’s activities is not the "provoking" of Colossians 3:21 that God forbids.
4. It does not mean never to force your kids to do something that they do not want to do. Many kids detest the task of cleaning up their room and may even get all bent out of shape when they are ordered to do so by their parents, but forcing a child to clean up his/her room or do some other needed task is not the "provoking" spoken of in our texts.
5. It does not mean never tell your kids "No, you cannot do such and such," even though the matter is not sinful in and of itself (such as buying a new dress or pair of shoes). Kids may throw a tantrum when their request or demand is not met, but it is not because they have been unduly provoked by dad or mom. God has given someone the task of making decisions in the home. And, just who is that? The parents. Children are to obey parents, not vice versa (Ephesians 6:1).
On the other hand, dads and moms do sometimes unduly provoke their kids to intense anger. Parents can do this when they:
1. Show partiality/favoritism in the way that they treat their children. Favoring one child over another, or giving special treatment to one over the other, can cause anger toward both the parents and the pampered child. Remember what happened in Jacob’s family when Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons (Genesis 37).
2. Ask kids for their opinion or suggestions about something, but never really pay any attention to what the children say and in essence just disregard it. Parents that ask for their kids’ input into certain matters need to be honest about the whole thing. If they have no intention of seriously considering what the kids have to say, they should not ask them for suggestions in the first place.
3. Compare their kids one with another. This is almost a guaranteed way to get children angry, and understandably so.
4. Compare their kids with children in other families by saying, "Why can’t you be more like _______?" Kids want to be treated like individuals. We need to exhort them to do the right things and give their best effort in all their activities, but our exhortation needs to be based on Bible principles, not on comparison with other people.
5. Purposely belittle or ridicule them in front of their peers or adults. This is a very insensitive act, regardless of whether the one we belittle is a five-year old or an adult.
6. Call them insulting names. We sometimes say hurtful things that we don’t even really mean and later regret. Insulting our kids by calling them insulting or degrading names may cause them to detest us.
7. Try to make all their decisions for them. When our children are only a few weeks old, or even a couple of years old, parents will naturally be making decisions about what the kids are going to do in most areas of life. There comes a time, though, when dad and mom have to back off and let their kids, with their own distinct personalities and interests, make some decisions that are important to them. Some dads have provoked teenage kids by trying to dictate to them where they would go to college, what occupation to pursue, or even what color of clothes to wear.
8. Do not take interest in the things in which the kids are interested, such as their hobbies, sports, or school activities. Children feel hurt when their parents don’t get excited about what excites them. They feel neglected when their dad and mom don’t make an effort to attend as many of their activities as possible.
No doubt there are a great number of other ways that fathers/parents sometimes unduly provoke their kids. Perhaps these practical illustrations will help more of us to avoid some unnecessary pitfalls in our efforts to be righteous parents that help guide our kids in the path that leads to heaven.
-- Roger D. Campbell
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