Children, like adults, may become angry, embittered and even discouraged depending on how they are treated. In some situations, this anger stems from the treatment they receive from their parents.
Two scriptures in the New Testament explain how children can be provoked to anger by their parents. Ephesians 6:4 says: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Notice also Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
The Scriptures clearly teach us that parents are responsible to train and correct their children (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:6). However, if your child seems angry or discouraged, make sure that you are not provoking him or her as you teach and correct.
Here are some common ways that children are provoked by their parents.
Being harsh in punishments or overly strict
The Bible is clear that children need correction. However, some discipline can be overly harsh, with the punishment far exceeding the infraction. For example, a harsh punishment might be a month of no television viewing for forgetting to take the garbage out.
Parents should be careful to carry out punishments only when they are in full control of their emotions. Punishing a child while your emotions are raging from a child’s actions could lead to excessive and harmful discipline.
When the punishment does not match the misbehavior in severity, children may come to feel that they are being punished because they have irritated a mean and vengeful parent, not that they are being corrected for their own good. Analyze the type of punishments you give and make sure that they convey the right message. Always discipline in love and never when you are angry.
Children can also be provoked if their parents are overly strict. While it is important to protect your child, parents should realize that older children and teens need gradually increasing freedom to explore on their own and develop independence in preparation for the day they will move out on their own. Overprotection may be viewed by your child as a lack of trust.
Teens will likely become frustrated that they cannot “test their wings.” Parents need to allow their teens more independence by gradually “letting the rope out.” Easing some of the restrictions on your teenage children or modifying the rules as they age will help them mature. It can be hard to do, especially with all of the possibilities of danger. However, if you are too overprotective, you run the risk of your child becoming angry, discouraged and even rebellious. The balance is in allowing more opportunities as your child successfully handles himself or herself.
Showing disrespect to your child
There are many ways that parents can be disrespectful toward their child. Obviously, name-calling and using abusive words, such as calling a child “stupid,” is not respectful or helpful. Scripture encourages us to always edify when we speak. Notice Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Unfortunately, if you were verbally abused as a child, you may tend to repeat the same mistake with your children. Focus on breaking this pattern of abusive behavior, so that your child will not have to suffer as perhaps you did. It may be helpful to think of how a coworker or a friend would react if you talked to him or her the way that you talk to your child. If you feel he or she would be hurt or angered, realize your child might feel the same. Then you can work on altering your tone and words.
Parents can also disrespect their children by humiliating them. This can be done by scolding them in front of others, making fun of them or discussing their weaknesses with others while they are present. Would you like your boss to reprimand you in front of other employees? What if he made fun of an idea or comment that you made, or talked negatively about you with other employees? You would probably feel hurt and angry. Similarly, your child will likely be hurt and angry if you humiliate him or her in these ways.
Comparing to others and practicing favoritism
It is very easy for a parent to compare one child to another or to have a favored child. Parents may mistakenly think that by evaluating the child against his or her siblings or other children, the misbehaving child will be encouraged to straighten up. However, this can actually cause lifelong feelings of inferiority in a child who is being negatively compared or not favored, and can ultimately cause him or her to become frustrated and embittered.
Discouragement and resentment can result if a child feels that his or her sibling is more loved or is favored by comparison. Each child is unique and should be loved equally. We should use God’s standards of conduct and character revealed in Scripture as a guide for assessing our children as individuals.
Constantly finding fault and having unrealistic expectations
Successful parents require high standards of conduct of their children. However, unrealistic expectations can cause a child to become frustrated, particularly if he or she only feels loved if certain standards are met. Some parents crush their children’s self-esteem, talents, dreams and confidence by pressuring them to achieve beyond their natural ability in academics, music or sports. Parents should encourage their children to do their best, but a child should never be punished or made to feel unloved because he or she is not strong enough, fast enough or smart enough.
Focus on learning what to expect from your child given his or her age level. Children should always feel that they have their parents’ unconditional love. If a parent brings up every fault a child has, it can be very discouraging. Focus on correcting the most harmful faults and behaviors at first, and later deal with the smaller ones. Be sure that you balance your correction with abundant praise for what your child is doing correctly. We all respond far more positively to encouragement than criticism.
Avoid a double standard
As children grow older they begin watching their parents’ actions closely. Your child may become confused and angry with you if you do the same things that you have corrected him or her for doing. For example, if you punished your child for stealing a piece of candy and then later mention that the fancy new pen that you are using came from your office, your child may begin to think of you as a hypocrite. Likewise some parents correct their child for using the same bad language that they themselves often use. Your son or daughter may view you as a hypocrite if you act a certain way in public and a different way in private. In every area of your life ask yourself, “Am I practicing what I am teaching?”
If you have been provoking your child to anger, humbly apologize to him or her. You may be surprised to find how much this can help the situation. Meditate on how to better discipline and instruct your child. You may even want to ask for advice from seasoned parents or your pastor. Develop a plan of action as to how you will deal with your children in a loving and respectful manner. Most importantly, pray for God to lead you to become a better parent, for with Christ living in us, nothing is impossible.