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Training our children is a challenging task, and sometimes our frustrations get the better of us. What can we do to prevent causing unnecessary stress on our children as we guide them toward becoming their best?
Let’s face it—many of us are stressed and frazzled. The pressures of our daily lives can leave us discouraged and frustrated. Unfortunately, we sometimes turn that frustration towards our loved ones—including our own children. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we all too often react angrily to our children not because they are doing something terribly wrong, but simply because of our own human nature.
Did you know that the Bible actually tells us not to provoke our children? After the Apostle Paul reminds children to obey their parents, notice what he says to those parents: “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Parents have a responsibility in how they come across to their children. Paul says it’s a father’s job to make sure he’s not always “pushing the buttons” of his sons or daughters—his interaction with them should not drive them to anger or resentment. That should make any father stop and think.
What about mothers? How are they to treat their children? Scripture describes the traits of a virtuous woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26). This is the counterpart to the Ephesians 6 father—the kind and patient Proverbs 31 mother. A godly mother will avoid stirring up anger and resentment in her child, as much as she possibly can. As an adult, she takes responsibility for the relationship and how she comes across.
We love our children and would do anything for them. So, how can we make sure we are doing everything possible to have positive and constructive relationships with them? Said another way, how can we be less frustrating to our kids?
There are times when we must give our children “tough love.” We must not give in to whining or temper tantrums. If we make a rule, we should enforce it. God holds us responsible for teaching and directing our children in His ways—bad attitudes and outright rebellion must be dealt with appropriately and quickly.
But do we sometimes overreact? Do we ever lash out in anger instead of correcting in love? We must honestly examine our own hearts and ask ourselves these tough questions—and if we find a flawed motive or intent, we must be willing to correct it. As Jesus said, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
We will make mistakes—all of us sometimes fail to exercise emotional control. But it’s our job to learn to govern our emotions as we seek to teach our children self-control. How can we expect them to learn to self-regulate if they don’t see us self-regulating?
All parents will occasionally provoke their children. That’s life. But if we must exasperate our children from time to time, let it be because we’re correcting their improper behavior—not because we’re lacking emotional control.
Training and preparing children for the future requires foresight and wisdom. This means considering the patterns we establish in our children’s lives. As Paul wrote, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). We need to keep the big picture in mind and react carefully to what’s happening around us.
Misbehavior sometimes happens when parents have not clearly laid out plain and reasonable expectations—and enforced them. Parents must think ahead about the daily patterns of their children, even though their children can’t fully appreciate why. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Solomon was explaining that patterns children learn can benefit them throughout their entire lives.
Maybe our children are driving us crazy because they leave their toys all over the living room floor—and the more we fuss and nag at them, the worse it gets. But maybe the real problem is that parents haven’t set a pathway of expected behavior, such as requiring their children to return all their toys to a specific place or container by a set time every day. “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:17). When parents create an expected pathway of behavior—and enforce it—we reduce frustration for everyone involved.
When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses reiterated exactly the pattern of life God expected them to embrace. Did God create this way of life on a whim? Or did He instruct ancient Israel in laws that would set them up for success? Scripture gives the answer: “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive” (Deuteronomy 6:24).
We don’t want to put obstacles in our children’s path or create unnecessary frustration in their lives. God expects us to teach our children the way He teaches His children: laying out a pathway of success and teaching them to follow it, for their own good.
We know the grocery-store-meltdown scenario: a child demands candy or a toy, then throws a temper tantrum when the parent doesn’t comply. The harried parent, growing more desperate, issues escalating threats—and finally explodes in anger. What went wrong?
It’s inevitable that children will occasionally misbehave in public and sometimes embarrass their parents. When this happens, it’s important to take a step back and consider the situation: Am I angry because they embarrassed me, or because their behavior was wrong? There’s definitely a parenting problem if we crack down on wrong behavior in public, only to tolerate the same behavior at home. It sends our children the wrong message.
When Jesus was on earth, He reserved His strongest criticism for the self-righteous Pharisees—because they were hypocritical. He warned, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). As parents, we must be brutally honest with ourselves. Hypocrisy is a sure way to frustrate our children, and double standards are not only confusing, but counterproductive.
So, where does good public behavior start? With expecting and enforcing good private behavior. And not because bad behavior is embarrassing to parents, but because good behavior is right.
Some parents feel it’s their right to demean children with insults or sarcasm. But we know such treatment upsets us when we receive it; why would we then use it with our children? Jokes made at their expense do not build feelings of goodwill and trust. This doesn’t mean parents and children can’t enjoy good-natured humor. It’s a matter of understanding where the line is—and not allowing the interaction to go from friendly teasing to hurtful put-downs.
My wife greatly appreciates the way her father treated her opinions with respect, especially as she grew into her teenage years. When she brought up an idea for discussion, he did not ridicule it or immediately shoot it down—even if the opinion was not exactly logical or well thought out. Does this mean he agreed with every opinion she expressed? Of course not. But he would discuss the topic with her as if her opinion was important—because it was. Parents have a great deal of influence in helping to form their children’s confidence and sense of self-worth. By not treating her ideas as stupid, he signaled that she was not stupid.
As adults, we can often see shortcomings in our children’s reasoning. While we should teach them and guide them toward making better decisions, sometimes it’s helpful to let them try out their ideas and learn for themselves. Maybe your son wants to build a go-kart out of spare parts in your garage. You can tell him all the reasons this won’t work—or you can let him try it himself. Even if his project runs up against the reality of physics and you know he will fail, the experience is invaluable! He will grow more by trying and failing than by hearing a parent tell him why his plan won’t work.
If we treat our children’s ideas with dignity and respect, they will have the confidence to seek out our opinions in the future, they will feel less frustrated, and they will grow in the ability to form sound opinions and make better decisions. Those are priceless gifts for any child.
As parents, we may be tempted to deny that we are ever in the wrong. We may feel that our children will respect us less if we admit our mistakes and shortcomings. But reality is just the opposite. When children are very small, they have almost absolute confidence that we know everything. As they age, however, there comes a day when they realize their parents don’t know everything. And we can’t fool them.
We only frustrate our children—and lose their respect—if we continue to insist that we’re right when the facts plainly say otherwise. If we want our children to value truth in their lives, we must be willing to face truth when we’re in conflict at home.
Does this mean parents should constantly apologize for any decision their children don’t like? No. Some decisions will upset children no matter how kindly they are handled, and that’s okay—they don’t yet see the big picture. As children grow and become more discerning, it’s only counterproductive if parents always hold the position that the children are wrong and the parents are right—which, frankly, is very frustrating.
There are times to make tough decisions that our children don’t like, and when it’s a matter of right or wrong, we must stand up for the right—even if it makes us unpopular. Yet there are also times when our human nature inhibits our parenting, so let’s make sure we’re doing all we can to work with our children in a positive and considerate way. Consider their needs and feelings, and even their frustrations. “What is desired in a man is kindness” (Proverbs 19:22), and that goes for working with children as well.
The Bible’s instructions to parents are just as valid today as when they were penned in ancient times. Nobody likes to be frustrated unnecessarily. It’s our job to train and teach our children in the way that they should go—along the way, let’s try to make it a pleasant experience for them.