“Do not provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4). That’s how the Word of God sums up what you don’t want to do as a parent.
You don’t want to make your children mad. You don’t want to make them hostile or bitter. You don’t want them to turn against you and all that you hold dear. Colossians adds, “that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21). You don’t want to destroy them.
The term “provoke” means to irritate. It’s an intense form of “to make angry.” Don’t do that which angers your children. Don’t do that which irritates, frustrates, exasperates or embitters them. And there is much of that done today. We have so many angry, sullen, bitter children.
Your child could be one of them. And it may not be because of what you do to them; it most likely will be because of what you don’t do to them and for them.
So, how can you provoke your child to anger? Here are 10 ways.
If you never trust your children and don’t give them the opportunity to develop independence, that deprivation will instill anger. Parents must give children room to express themselves, discover their world and try new things, gradually releasing them to live independently.
Overprotection frustrates a child. We live in a world where that’s a tendency among Christians, to keep children under your control all the time. You have to be very careful about that, or they become exasperated.
Isaac favored Esau over Jacob. Rebekah favored Jacob over Esau. The sad results are well known. Don’t compare children against each other; they’re each unique. Love them the same without special regard for one over another. If a child feels that you love another in the family more, that is a very frustrating experience for them.
Some parents crush their children with pressure — pressure to excel in school, in sports, in music, or in any activity they do. And it really has little to do with the child and everything to do with the reputation that the parent wants. This becomes very frustrating when the child has no sense of having reached a goal or fulfilled an expectation. It leads to being angry and bitter.
You can frustrate your child to anger by overindulgence — by giving them everything they want, always picking up after them and allowing them to throw all responsibility and accountability on others. You can exasperate them by letting them sin and get away with it.
Ultimately, when they face the world and people don’t serve them and don’t take all the responsibility for them, they will get angry and bitter and violent. That’s exactly the kind of generation we’re seeing raised today.
You can exasperate your child by discouragement. This can happen through a lack of understanding or a lack of reward, because both of those destroy motivation and incentive.
You must understand your children — understand what they’re thinking and what they’re trying to accomplish. Understand why a certain thing happened, why a certain behavior occurred, why a certain incident went a certain way. Grant them a listening ear and an understanding heart, and reward them graciously and generously with love. Give them approval and honor, and be patient with them, or they get very defeated and discouraged. And that turns to anger.
You can provoke your children to anger by making the child feel like he’s constantly an intrusion into your life — always a bother. You’re not about to change your lifestyle; you’re going to do what you want to do. You’re going to have your fun and the kids are just going to have to fend for themselves. If that is your attitude, they will resent you for being uncaring, unavailable and self-centered.
You can provoke your children to anger by failing to allow for some growing up. Let them goof up a little. Let them make mistakes. So they knock something over at the table; laugh it off. Give them a job, and if they do it in an unacceptable way but still show a little bit of progress, commend them. Let them share some of their ridiculous ideas. Let them plan some silly things to do and do them. And don’t condemn them. Expect progress, not perfection.
You can provoke your children to anger by neglect. If there’s any biblical illustration of this, it’s probably David and Absalom. David spent no time with him, no time shaping him. And Absalom ultimately hated his father with a passion. He tried to pull a coup to dethrone his father and take his place.
The worst kind of neglect is a lack of consistent discipline. You need to teach them, consistently using the rod in love.
You can provoke your children to anger by abusive words. Verbal abuse is a terrible thing. A barrage of well-chosen words from your adult vocabulary can cut that little heart to shreds. Words of anger, sarcasm and ridicule are devastating.
An angry child is often a beaten, abused, or over-zealously punished child. (These actions are never acceptable.) They often have an angry, vengeful parent who only cares that he has been inconvenienced or irritated, not that the child needs correction for his own good.
Those are some very simple, practical things not to do as a parent. Next time, we’ll look at what we should do instead.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “God’s Pattern for Parents, Part 2.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.