Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.Ephesians 6:4
Interesting that after Paul has spoken to children and reminded them they too need to be included in this submit-to -one-another thing, he then has this specific advice to fathers, not mothers. There is much debate as to why that is. Is it that fathers are more prone to provoking their children to anger than are mothers. I think mothers can be just as guilty of provoking a child to anger. Think about why Paul would single out fathers. We will return to the matter below.
A child is provoked to anger when any punishment or discipline is unfair or extreme or filled with anger and emotion. When the punishment or “the process of being mad at the child” goes on and on. Or when the parent cuts the child off and stops talking to them for a period of time – days or even weeks. I have heard and seen this going on over the years. Don’t be childish with the discipline of your child; they need you to be an adult. Any reaction, punishment or discipline must be reasonable and appropriate to the “crime”. Also it must be for a specific, significant thing, rather than constant niggling over behaviour. Don’t seek to correct every single little behaviour of the child you don’t like. Allow some space and freedom for the child to develop their personality and uniqueness. Decide which “battles” you really need to win in order to win the whole war. Some things don’t matter as much as you think they might. If you correct everything you end up making the child resent you. Oh they may seemingly “obey” for the moment because you are the parent and you are stronger. But if you provoke a child to anger and it becomes anger that is not resolved or talked about, it can fester and come back to haunt you years later. Many parents wonder why their children want nothing more to do with them when they become teens or grow up and leave home. Unresolved anger provoked by parental inconsistencies may be the problem. It is always advisable to talk about why you disciplined the child after the event when emotions have subsided.
Inconsistency in discipline leaves a child not knowing where the boundaries are. If one day they are disciplined severely for something they have done and another day that same behaviour is permitted, it leaves the child wondering what the rule is therefore in the first place. Be consistent. Especially inconsistencies related to how you discipline one child as opposed to another. Any perceived differences in discipline between siblings can lead to feelings of being picked on or “you love him/her more than me”. At the least talk out why you have disciplined them in the first place. This is all part of helping the child to become independent.
I have talked with many teens or young adults over the years and one thing they really gets them riled are parents who give them “independence” in some issue or decision making power but then take it back straight away. Or because of their own insecurities don’t allow the child to action this “independence”. Instead they “go back on/reverse” the decision to give a little independence. You need to stand by the decision to give independence even if they make the wrong decision. Independence is not independence if you keep correcting the decision made and taking the independence back again. Let the child learn by their mistakes too and talk out the process with them. However it goes without saying, if the parent is currently not secure in their own independence, there will be trouble.
Some parents have a problem with telling a child off and don’t tell them “no” at all. They think they will discipline the child when the child reaches a certain age. Some cultures operate this way too. A child is expected to behave like an adult at a certain age, after a certain ritual or rite of passage. The Bible tells us train up a child in the way that (s)he should go and when (s)he is old they not depart from such training. Child psychologists tell us the attitude, values mindsets a child has formed in the first six years will be the subconscious basis on which they operate for life. Train and nurture your child while you can. If you abdicate your responsibility thinking you will deal with it later you will find you have lost the moment. The best training and discipline takes place “on the job” and when done with an obvious demonstration of the love you have for your child. But admonish them when they need admonishing. Don’t think you can be a buddy to your child or a big brother or sister. You are the parent. They actually need you to be the parent. They need to be reproved, corrected and disciplined. And believe it or not, despite their protests to the contrary a child likes having boundaries.
And now let’s return to the matter of why Paul addresses fathers and not mothers in saying “Don’t provoke your children to anger”. I think it is primarily because they are biblically the head of the house. The Lord will hold the head accountable for things that go wrong. Be the leader. It goes without saying though that mum and dad need to be together on the behaviour they will accept and what they won’t. Child will discern and manipulate any discerned difference between the standard mum uses and that of dad. Have the standards and enforce them. I could say a lot more about this but will assume you know all about this. This is not to turn this Gem into Ian’s Advice to Parents. There is another Ian that has done that already (Ian Grant [Parenting with Confidence] – for those of you who live in NZ, or world wide). I am not going to take over his domain.
I wonder whether another reason Paul addresses this comments to fathers is because they are more prone to tease or to “have their children on”. To play and joke around with them. That too can be perceived to be an inconsistency if the child can’t discern when you are “having them on” and when you are being serious. Above all be consistent, your kids will appreciate it.
Here ends Ian’s parenting advice.
TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR PARENTS
- My hands are small; please do not expect perfection whenever I make a bed, draw a picture, or throw a ball. My legs are short; slow down so that I can keep up with you.
- My eyes have not seen the world as yours have; let me explore it safely; do not restrict me unnecessarily.
- Housework will always be there; I am little only for a short time. Take time to explain things to me about this wonderful world, and do so willingly.
- My feelings are tender; do not nag me all day long (you would not want to be nagged for your inquisitiveness). Treat me as you would like to be treated.
- I am a special gift from God; treasure me as God intended you to do – holding me accountable for my actions, giving me guidelines to live by, and discipline me in a loving manner.
- I need your encouragement (but not your empty praise) to grow. Go easy on the criticism; remember you can criticize the things I do without criticizing me.
- Give me the freedom to make decisions concerning myself. Permit me to fail, so that I can learn from my mistakes. Then someday I will be prepared to make the decisions life will require of me.
- Do not do things for me; that makes me feel that my efforts did not measure up to your expectations. I know its hard, but don’t compare me with my brother or sister.
- Do not be afraid to leave for a weekend together. Kids need vacations from parents, and parents need vacations from kids. Besides, it’s a great way to show us kids that your marriage is something special.
- Take me to Sunday school and church regularly, setting a good example for me to follow. I enjoy learning more about God.