We aren’t left clueless as to how to train our children. It’s not left to guesswork or trying out several approaches until we latch on to something that works. The best manual on parenting is the Bible, written by the Author of the family.
God gives us principles and commandments for living all through the book of Proverbs, especially in parenting. One of the best things that helped me as a parent was to read a chapter of Proverbs every day and glean from God’s wisdom there. (There are thirty-one chapters in Proverbs so just take the date you are reading and read that chapter. For example, as I write this it is October 4. So I would read Proverbs chapter 4).
As you read this book of wisdom search for applicable principles that deal with family life or with an issue you are presently facing. You will be surprised at how practical the Bible is when you approach it with your needs.
I believe, the most concise, but complete direction for parenting is in Ephesians 6:4. Here’s what it says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
There are four responsibilities given to parents here, but the foundation to all of them is that parents are not to “provoke (their) children to wrath”. If we fail at this point the rest will never happen. Angry people do not have open hearts to those with whom they are angry.
An effective father is conscious and intentional about the type of atmosphere he establishes in the home. One of the quickest ways to create an angry spirit in your child is to have unreasonable expectations of them.
The Bible does teach that parents are to expect their children to obey them and to do what is right and honest. Our culture today is largely bereft of proper expectations and the disciplining of children. The average home could accurately be described as “the inmates running the asylum”! Rather than parents assuming their roles to be leaders of their children we allow our children to dictate the terms of the household.
So, God has clearly established the fact that we are to have expectations of our children and to train them to obey. But there is a balancing truth that we are not to have expectations that are unreasonable. When we cross that line and require of them what God has not it has a negative effect upon them – they become angry. (So do you when others do the same to you).
The word “unreasonable” means “that which is not rational, not in accordance with practical realities, to be excessive”. The line between reasonable and unreasonable is when you expect behavior from your child that they do not have the maturity or ability to fulfill.
I have some painful memories in treating my own children this way. Many years ago we were on vacation at Disney World at the Magic Kingdom and had just walked into the entrance and there were various characters – Goofy, Donald Duck, Pooh and others – standing there greeting people. Of course, a lot of people were gravitating toward them for autographs and pictures with their children.
Our family hurried to get some pictures with them and for our kids to greet them. We had only four children at the time and they were all excited to see the characters. We took some pictures of them posing with them and the crowd began to grow until it was uncomfortable. I asked Jonathan, our second-born, that we needed to move on and do some other things in the park.
Jon ignored me and was pushing forward toward one of the characters. I firmly spoke to him that it was time to go and he stopped and put his head down. When he looked up at me I saw the tears welled up in his eyes. He said, “But Dad, Tigger is my favorite and I haven’t gotten to see him yet”. (Jon was only five or six years old at the time).
In the rush and press of the crowd Jon hadn’t been able to get close to Tigger and we hadn’t made his picture with him. I felt like a jerk – because I was a jerk. In fact, there is still a tender place in my heart today for not being more sensitive to Jon. He deserved better from his father than the way I treated him.
My assumption was that all characters were equal in his eyes, but they weren’t and in that occasion I was wrong. My expectations of Jon were unrealistic concerning his age and the uniqueness of the moment. I wasn’t thinking from his paradigm or perspective.
Typically we see life through the eyes of an adult and have totally forgotten the way we used to be at the age of our kids. This can be a cause, especially as it accumulates over time, that provokes them to be angry. It takes work to understand the way our children see things and it is our responsibility to try to do so.
Some parents, in a sincere desire to help their child improve, continually raise the bar of achievement to get them to do better. However, if the finish line keeps being moved then the child never has a sense of success and will soon stop trying at all. Worse, they miss the joy of celebrating a victory with their parents that will leave an imprint on their heart which they will never forget. “My Dad was never fun, he was always pushing me to succeed and nothing I ever did satisfied him. He was never proud of me”.
No one for long will receive instruction from a person that is constantly moving the standard of success. We all yearn for approval and encouragement and when it is denied over a sustained period of time, we are tempted to become bitter and angry.
When a child cannot please a parent the result is both discouragement and anger. The Bible states, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged”. (Colossians 3:21) The word “discouraged” means “to be disheartened and without spirit”. Inwardly they are both angry and begin to lose hope. They are tired of trying to please someone that keeps changing the rules or lifting the bar higher.
Over time a lot of little events compound to something that is quite large. I believe most children strive to please their parents, especially when they are little. However, some parents practice the “carrot and stick” approach to motivation and if there is more stick than carrot, it is disheartening to a child. Soon, that discouragement turns to bitterness and anger.
Most of the time parents don’t do this intentionally though. We are just so busy with our present circumstances and lives that we forget what it was like to be young with all of the limitations, insecurities and vulnerabilities that brings.
Here’s another way I was ignorant in this area and caused unnecessary stress in the life of my child. Jordan and I went to the mall one day and I had my list of things to accomplish. I made sure that we did some things that were fun for him – but I still had my list and it was laying heavy on my mind.
As we walked from place to place I was focused on the task at hand and had a brisk walk. I was holding Jordan’s hand and finally he spoke up, “Daddy, you’re walking too fast for me”. His little legs were working overtime to stay up with my longer legs and strides. I stopped and looked down at him and apologized to him. The sad thing about this is, it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Some of my other precious children had said the same thing to me in similar situations.
I would like to say I am a slow learner, but I am a selfish father. My impatience to get things done and failure to consider my son’s limitations at that age caused him a hardship. He tried for a while to keep up, but it reached a point where he could do no more.
I wonder how many times we parents do this to our kids in other areas of life. It gets to the place where they simply can’t keep up and we discourage them and provoke them to anger because of our insensitivity. Most of us don’t even know we have caused them to respond to us this way because our focus is not on them, but other things.
Our expectations must not only be reasonable, but they must make sense. Rules are important and necessary, but they must be rooted in a specific purpose. I heard it put this way years ago and I agree with the truism: rules minus reasons equals rebellion. This is a sure equation for rebellion in the heart of your child, especially teenagers.
Again, I am not saying you jettison all expectations and rules, that is part of being a parent. I am saying you need to value the relationship over the rule and make sure they know you are more concerned with them personally than your reputation as a parent.
This is a special problem with those that have grown up in church. Sometimes an unhealthy emphasis is placed upon how we are perceived by people and so we train our children to behave properly and neglect their heart. When the focus is only on behavior and not the heart we are training hypocrites and Pharisees. They learn to play the game – spiritual success is measured by the externals rather than the condition of the heart.
Jesus warned against the tendency to focus on our behavior and ignore the heart (Matthew 23:24-28). God focuses on your heart, not just conforming to rules without any love for Him. David prayed to God and said, “…thou desirest truth in the inward parts…” (Psalm 51:6). He was referring to the heart, the part of you no one sees, your motives and affections.
All behavior ultimately flows from the heart. It is possible to behave properly and not have a right heart before the Lord, but it is not possible to have a heart right with the Lord and not be concerned with one’s behavior.
That is why God compares our heart (the word “heart” most of the time in Scripture refers to your mind) to the fountainhead of a stream. When the waters upstream are polluted everything that flows downward are also polluted. He exhorts us to guard and protect our heart.
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”. (Proverbs 4:23) This is one of the most important truths in the Bible. I would encourage you to memorize this verse and keep it before you in a visible place.
Our words are simply reflections of what is going on in our heart – “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”. (Matthew 12:34) The words, positive or negative, you speak to your child reflect what you have been thinking about them.
Remember when you had your first child and they began to crawl and then to stand and finally to toddle? They would stumble around for a step or two and then fall to the floor. One of the big days in our lives as parents is when they took their first steps.
Suppose, Dad, you come home from work and your wife excitedly greets you at the door and says, “Guess what, honey? Johnny took four steps today!” You would both celebrate and you would run to see if he would replicate it for you.
Let me tell you what no Mom has ever said as her husband walked in the door from work, “Hey, Honey. Guess what? Little Johnny fell seventy-three times today”. No, we brag on their successes and do not count their failures.
Aren’t you glad that God counts your steps and not your falls? Perhaps your child has pulled away from you because you constantly rehearse his falls and never rejoice in his steps. Change your focus and as Ken Blanchard in “The One Minute Manager” advises, “catch them doing write”. Honor them and make sure your expectations are realistic.
Maybe you are reading this as an adult and your parents (fathers are especially bad about this) focused on your falls. Rather than being angry and bitter about your past, forgive them and remember the good things they taught you. If you continue to focus on your pain, you will end up becoming the very type of person you despise. It’s true, you become what you focus on.
May today as parents and grandparents we “count their steps and not their falls”. It is part of “not provoking them to wrath”.