In two closely related New Testament verses, fathers are given these instructions: 'And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord' (Ephesians 6:4); 'Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged' (Colossians 3:21). While much is said about parents properly training children (Ephesians 6:4b), much less is taught about the need for dads to refrain from provoking children to anger (Ephesians 6:4a). Without any claim to have all the answers, please consider the following practical observations.
Provoke not your children to wrath does NOT mean the following:
Never do anything that makes your child(ren) angry. From time to time, children will get angry at parents when they step in and 'put their foot down.' A three-year-old that picks up a sharp knife may pitch a fit when his mom takes it away, but children don't need to play with knives. If we never do anything to cause a child to be upset, then we will turn a spoiled (and dangerous) brat loose on the world.
Never correct your children. Jesus said, 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten' (Revelation 3:19). Properly administered discipline is not the 'provoking' of children that the Lord forbids.
Never tell children that something is off limits or wrong. The Lord says that those who take part in the 'works of the flesh' will not enter into the kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21). When we restrict our children from such things, they may become hot under the collar, but do not be deceived, such restriction of children's activities is not the 'provoking' that God forbids.
Never to force your children to do something that they do not want to do. Many children detest chores such as cleaning up their room and may get bent out of shape when ordered to do so, but forcing a child to clean up his room is not the 'provoking' spoken of in our texts.
Never tell your children 'No, you cannot do that,' even when the matter is not sinful. Children may throw a tantrum when a demand for a toy from Walmart or a pair of shoes from the mall is not met, but it is not because they have been unduly provoked. God has given someone the task of making decisions in the home. Children are to obey parents, not vice versa (Ephesians 6:1).
Parents DO provoke their children to wrath when they do the following:
Show partiality/favoritism. Favoring one child over another or giving special treatment to one over the other can cause anger toward both the parents and the pampered child. Remember what happened in Jacob's family when Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons (Genesis 37:1-36).
Ask children for their opinion, but then consistently disregard it. Parents need to be honest. If they have no intention of seriously considering what the child has to say, they should not ask for suggestions in the first place.
Compare their children with each other, or with children in other families. This often takes the form of a question: 'Why can't you be more like _______?' This is almost a guaranteed way to get children angry, and understandably so. Children want to be treated like individuals. We need to exhort them to do the right things and give their best effort in all activities based on Bible principles and reaching their own potential, not on comparison with others.
Belittle them in front of peers or adults. This is a very insensitive act, regardless of whether done to a five-year-old or an adult.
Using insulting names. We sometimes say hurtful things in anger that we don't really mean and later regret. Insulting our children, even in jest, is unwise.
Make all their decisions for them. When children are small, parents naturally make most of their decisions. A time comes, though, when parents have to back off and let children, with their own distinct personalities and interests, make some decisions. Some dads provoke teenage children by trying to dictate to them where they will go to college, what occupation to pursue, or what color clothes to wear.
Take no interest in their interests. Children feel hurt when parents don't get excited about their hobbies, sports, and school activities. They feel neglected when they don't make an effort to attend their activities.
There are likely a great number of other ways that parents unduly provoke children. Perhaps these practical illustrations will help more of us avoid unnecessary pitfalls in our efforts to be righteous parents who lead our children in the path to heaven.
-Roger Campbell, Cleveland, Tennessee