God gives parents only a few direct commands in Scripture. In Ephesians 6:4, God forbids us to provoke our children to anger.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)
Some believe obeying this commandment is easy. However, we can aggravate our children in 12 subtle ways.
1. Neglect Time with Your Children
“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:7–8)
I give excuses why I don’t spend more time with my children.
- I work 50 to 55 hours a week as a physician.
- I need time with my wife.
- I need time to read God’s word and pray.
- My church delegates me important responsibilities.
- I need time to myself to rest.
- My children get enough time with me already.
God wants us to spend purposeful time with our children. We need to talk with our children and instruct our children. We need to model godly living for our children. Teaching our children diligently requires time to live out the ordinary moments. I do 11 things with my children regularly now:
- Eat breakfast and dinner together.
- Play games and sports together.
- Spend 1–on–1 time at the ice cream parlor on a hot summer day together.
- Take naps together.
- Wake up early in the morning to pick flowers for mom together.
- Read the Bible and talk about God together.
- Pray together.
- Sing together.
- Memorize Bible verses together.
- Serve the poor and needy together.
- Make special memories together.
Spending time with our children means more than taking them to Disneyland or throwing them an elaborate birthday party. Spending time with our children involves the ordinary moments.
When we ignore our children, we forfeit an important responsibility. They will look to other people to be their surrogate parents. They will begin to harbor frustration, bitterness and resentment. Don’t encourage your children to get angry with you. Don’t neglect them.
2. Model Sinful Anger
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22:24–25)
People are impressionable, especially children. My three children enjoy imitating my wife and me. They try to talk the way we do. They use the same words we use. They get scared at the things that scare us. And they model our behavior when we get sinfully angry.
Here are several things our children learn when they see us get angry.
- They learn incorrectly that God tolerates sinful anger. “If mom and dad get angry, it must be ok to God.”
- They learn incorrectly that sinful anger is justifiable in certain situations. “If mom and dad get angry, it must be appropriate in certain situation.”
- They learn incorrectly that sinful anger is inevitable. “If mom and dad get angry daily, it cannot be avoided.”
- They learn incorrectly that sinful anger is necessary to help them get what they want. “If mom and dad get angry to get what they want, I can get angry to get what I want.”
It is unrealistic to expect our children to “do as I say, not as I do.”
Our foremost motivation to bridle our anger is not to avoid provoking our children. We restrain our anger in obedience to God because we love him. Our motivation is Christ. We love God, and therefore we obey God and his commands.
But realize we provoke anger in our children when we get angry. Resolve to mortify your sinful anger today.
3. Scold Your Children Harshly
“O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!” (Psalms 38:1)
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
What is worse than getting sinfully angry? Scold your children in sinful anger.
My kids trigger my anger with great ease. When my children push my buttons, my natural response is to get angry and scold my children. So before I discipline my children, I ask myself three vital questions.
Question 1: Am I Disciplining My Child For a Specific Sinful Action?
Because my children are under 6 years old, their thinking is concrete. Therefore, I discipline my child only when his action was witnessed, describable, and tangible. It must be sinful, not just undesirable.
I should be able to name the rule that my child has broken. This may be a specific biblical command, or it may be a personal house rule.
- I cannot discipline my child when he spills milk on the new area rug, but I can discipline my child for breaking the rule of bringing milk to the formal living room.
- I cannot discipline my child when he makes too many mistakes in his piano recital, but I can discipline my child for refusing to practice piano for an agreed amount of time.
- I cannot discipline my child for being selfish, but I can discipline my child for refusing to share his cookie with his younger sister.
Ultimately I want to correct my child’s heart. But unless my child is able to articulate the sins of his heart, I cannot judge his thoughts and intentions. For when I judge incorrectly, my mistaken appraisal will frustrate my child.
Question 2: Am I Disciplining My Child Because He Offended God?
One of my biggest pet–peeves is seeing my child disrespect my wife. When my child defies my wife, it is clearly sin. I am responsible to correct my child, but I must correct him with the proper motivation.
We do not discipline our children because we have been offended. If that is our impetus, we will discipline with harsh vengeance. We discipline our children because they have offended God. We want our child to honor God.
Our creator God makes the rules. If we break God’s rules, there is a penalty. Discipline is to reinforce this reality.
Question 3: Am I Disciplining My Child with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Mind?
Even though I am a Christian, I still break God’s rules. If I discipline my children repetitively without explaining the gospel, my child will be exasperated.
Remind your child that we cannot meet God’s standard. We cannot obey God without his enablement. It is important to persevere in our sanctification process, but we need to understand that we also need God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
We must avoid scolding harshly but instead discipline properly. It requires the right occasion, manner and motivation. It is better to forsake discipline than to discipline in anger.
4. Find Fault with Your Children Constantly
“He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” (Job 32:3)
Do you get hurt when a friend finds fault with you? That is how your children feel when you find unnecessary fault in your children. I catch myself finding fault with my children routinely.
- “Why aren’t you potty trained yet? You’re already four.”
- “Who taught you how to sing off key like that?”
- “You practiced that song on piano 10 times, and you’re still making all these mistakes?”
- “You’re not pretty, sweetie pie. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
You may not use these exact words, but when you convey this type of message, you are scarring your children. They will get sad. They will get depressed. And then, they will get angry.
Don’t find unnecessary fault in your children. Love them for who they are, and love their faults and imperfections. Remember that the infinite God of the universe loves us despite our imperfections. We can love with Christ as our model and motivation.
5. Refuse to Listen to Your Children
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)
Often while I’m at home, one of my children will approach me and ask me a question. My frequent response is, “Not now.” After a while, my children get the message that their dad does not want to listen to them.
All of us want to be heard. We want someone to listen to us and understand us. We want to plead our case and argument. We desire an opportunity to persuade, even if we ultimately do not get what we want.
Our children want the same thing. They want people to listen to them, especially their moms and dads.
My daughter frequently wakes up crying in the middle of the night screaming for us. She knows that she is supposed to sleep in her room by herself, but she still wants mom or dad to sleep with her. One night at 2:00 AM, my daughter started yelling and wailing for mom and dad. I whispered in bed to my wife that we should just let her cry it out.
About 5 minutes later, she was still crying. I finally went to check on her. Her pillow was soaked with blood. She was having a nosebleed. After I stopped the bleeding, she stopped crying but glared at me angrily.
I am not saying we cannot triage our children’s requests and questions. What I am saying is that if we do not actively listen to our children, they will be disappointed; if we persist in ignoring our children, they will get angry and resentful.
6. Permit Your Children Too Much
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.” (Galatians 4:1–2)
Don’t be afraid to set proper rules and boundaries for your children. Children do not have the wisdom adults have. Children need protection. They need parameters.
Freedom and liberty are coveted in our society. We want choices. We want options. But giving your children too many choices too frequently can actually brew frustration and anger.
Our children should learn at an early age that they cannot get everything they want. They must learn how to submit to authority, and submission occurs when they comply to do something that is against their preference.
Parents who set rules and boundaries love their children. Children realize that parents who permit too much are parents who love too little. Do not permit your children too much.
7. Demand Too Much from Your Children
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Permitting too much can frustrate your children, but so can demanding too much. Each child is different. As parents, you need to exercise wisdom when you place demands on your children. Your expectations must be reasonable.
My middle son was born with an abnormally small stomach. He cannot eat too much food in one sitting; instead he grazes constantly and snacks every couple of hours. It would be foolish for me to expect my son not to moan and complain if we decide to skip breakfast because we were late for church.
Often my wife reminds me that the prayers that I lead my family are too long. Some three year olds might have the capacity to listen intently to a 10 minute prayer. My daughter is not one of them.
Keep the expectations of your children reasonable. Do not demand too much. When we demand too much from our children, we foster bitterness and resentment. They may suppress it and hide it for awhile, but they might explode one day. When they do, it won’t be pretty.
8. Set Double Standards or Changing Standards
“Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.” (2 Corinthians 1:17–18)
“He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)
We gain children’s trust when we are consistent. When we change the rules or apply our rules inconsistently, our children cannot predict us. We become less dependable to our children. This creates unease, and our children get frustrated.
When my wife and I do not communicate well, we will set both double standards and changing standards with our children.
- My wife reprimands my daughter when she throws a tantrum while I rescue to console my daughter when she cries uncontrollably.
- My wife refuses to give my children candy after 7:00 PM while I lavish my children with sugar treats late in the evening.
- My wife tries to accommodate my children when they make special food requests while I quickly punish my children when they grumble at the food on the dinner table.
When parents are unpredictable and inconsistent, children get frustrated. Partner with your spouse closely. Don’t change your standards, rules and expectations.
9. Compare Your Children to Others
“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)
“Why can’t you be more like…?” That is probably one of the most hurtful things we can say to another person. Our children receive that message when we compare them with other.
We are all unique. God has created each of us with unique strengths and weaknesses. We try to maximize our strengths while limit the significance of our weaknesses.
When we compare our children to others, we are telling our children that we are not content with how God has created them. Slowly they become discouraged with who they are. This leads to a downward spiral as our children grow in animosity and anger.
Even so, we do want good role models for ourselves and our children. Looking for godly examples to imitate is wise. Paul exhorted Christians to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
Children want their parents to be proud of them. They want to hear the words, “Good job.” If you commend another child more than your own, you will cultivate ill–feeling in your children.
Focus on your children’s strengths and virtues. Compliment your children. Encourage them to excel more. Remind them that they are special, and they are loved.
10. Fail to Keep Promises
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37)
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9)
My oldest son has a good memory. His memory is exceptional when it comes to remembering the promises I make to him. Every time I fail to keep one of my promises, he get extremely sad. And sometimes he gets extremely angry.
One afternoon, I promised my son that I would go to the grocery store to get him his favorite cereal. I went to the grocery store, and of course, his favorite cereal was out of stock. I thought about going to another grocery store. But I was tired, and it was getting late.
I knew my son would likely get upset if I came back empty-handed without his cereal, so during my drive home, I rehearsed my explanation meticulously. When I entered the house, my son saw I was not carrying any groceries. He exploded, “You forgot to get me my cereal, didn’t you Dad?” Then he stomped away without even giving me a chance to explain.
My heart sank. His response was not just because I had failed to keep my promise that day. His anger erupted because he believed his father has made a habit of breaking his promises.
Today, my wife and I take great care in keeping all our promises. As our children get older, they will gain a greater capacity of understanding. But until then, we do not want to unnecessarily provoke our children to anger by breaking our promises.
11. Chasten Your Children in Public
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
When my children were very young, it was difficult to wait until we got home to discipline our children. When even thirty minutes elapses, our children forget the reason why discipline is warranted.
My wife and I fear creating a scene, so we rarely chasten our children in public. Occasionally, however, I still correct my children in public. I may rebuke my children in our home while their friends are over visiting. I may correct one child in the presence of another.
It dishonors God and our children when we correct them in front of others. God wants us to reprimand in private. Correction in private shows kindness, consideration, and respect. When we announce our children’s wrongdoing to everyone, we shame our children. They feel ridiculed and scorned. And they get angry.
My new routine is to correct my child behind closed doors. It gives me a chance to listen and talk to my child without distraction. My child receives my undivided attention. I reprove my child without shaming him. We pray together, and we become reconciled. My child may still get angry with me, but at least he understands that I am showing him my utmost respect by keeping our exchange private.
12. Show Favoritism
“But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” (Luke 15:29)
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1)
Of the twelve ways that I provoke my children, my children feel that showing favoritism is the worst. What infuriates my children the most is when I show partiality.
All three of my children want equal treatment — whether it’s the number of pieces of candy or the amount of allowance. If they perceive that I am not equitable, they get angry. My youngest daughter’s favorite line is, “What about me?” Anytime my wife or I engage in any activity with her brothers, she will solicit equal attention.
Each of my children are different, so I do treat my children differently. One of my children needs more help with learning arithmetic, so I will spend more time tutoring him math. I am more physically affectionate with my daughter compared to my two sons. My relationship with my daughter is inherently different than my relationship with my sons.
I cannot permit my children to grumble when I treat one child differently. However, I am sinning against God and my children when I show preference for one over another.
My children are very quick to point out if they feel unfairly treated. Each time my child accuses me of showing partiality, I evaluate the charge with thoughtful consideration. Often my children are correct, and I ask them for forgiveness.
Jacob provoked his sons to anger when he gave special treatment to Joseph. It did not justify the actions of Joseph’s brothers. Don’t follow Jacob’s example of favoritism. Love each of your children equally.
Final Thoughts on Provoking Our Children to Anger
Don’t be too quick to think you are blameless with God’s command in Ephesians 6:4. We provoke our children to anger in many subtle ways.
Remember also that God will forgive us. He will gives us daily grace to raise our children in godly discipline and instruction.
Be quick to ask your children for forgiveness. Be gracious with your children. Be vigilant to look for ways that you are provoking your children to anger and resentment. You might be surprised what you find.