In my previous article, I laid some groundwork to show that one of the great dangers that the Bible warns Christian parents against is the temptation to provoke their children. I also tried to show that due to cultural factors from our traditions, this danger is particularly acute for African Parents. In this article, I want to draw some further practical conclusions, exploring how this revelation should impact our daily lives.
The Bible warns parents not to provoke their children.
You could say that the previous article was focused on the “why” of provocation. This article is focused on “how” to avoid provoking our children.
7 Ways Not To Provoke Your Children
In short, we can draw the following 7 practical conclusions by studying the biblical texts around parenting which help us not to provoke our children.
1. Communication Must Flow Both Ways
If our God who is all knowing, all wise and all loving, still allows us – his children – to communicate with him in prayer, then it is clear that we must afford our children the same respectful right to talk to us freely.
This is not saying that their opinion should always count. Indeed, how much emphasis we place on what they say will depend on their age, wisdom, and past performance. But we must understand that allowing them an open door at all times to state their minds should be non-negotiable (Psalm 103:13).
2. Set Clear Expectations Before You Discipline
Recently my 3 year old son used a crayon to write on the wall of our living room. When I saw the damage, I exploded in anger and punished him. My wife called me aside and quietly told me I had no right to be that angry with him. Why? Because I had never set the expectation that he cannot write with a crayon on the walls.
We can’t expect our children to read our minds or anticipate our desires.
I huffed and puffed. Then I reasoned: “Everyone knows it is wrong to write on the wall!” But eventually I had to repent of my anger because she was right.
Let us remember to spell out our expectations to our children, clearly and often. We cannot expect them, especially the younger ones, to be able to read our minds or be able to anticipate our desires.
3. Don’t Punish Your Children, Discipline Them
Andy Naselli makes an extremely helpful comment on the distinction between punishment and discipline. He writes, “Sometimes people use the term ‘punishment’ synonymously with ‘discipline’. What is important is to distinguish these two concepts since the words can overlap based on how people use them. Discipline is corrective; it seeks to accomplish a change in the one being disciplined (Hebrews 12:7-11). Punishment is meted out in the simple interests of justice. In bringing up children, parents should be disciplining them. In hanging a murderer, the civil magistrate is not disciplining—he is punishing.”
We must avoid taking out our anger and frustration on our children.
Practically, this means we must avoid taking out our anger and frustration on our children. If we are unsure whether we are able to control our temper at the moment of the offence, it may be wiser to postpone taking any action until we are sure our rebuke would be corrective rather than destructive.
4. Distinguish Between Your Desires & God’s Commands
All of us have desires and ambitions for our children. We may want them to become doctors and engineers: the favourite ambitions of middle-class African parents. And we should encourage them to be the best they can be in their education and professional careers. However, in Africa it is very common to hear parents say things like, “You must go to [best university available] to study [a course that will lead to a lucrative career].”
The only things parents should be adamant on are things that are clearly commanded by God.
However, the only things that we should be adamant on are things that are clearly commanded by God, in scripture. So share your personal aspirations and hopes for your children with them. You’re permitted to have personal expectations! But avoid forcing them down the throats of your children.
5. Make Their Faith Your Primary Concern
This is closely related to the previous point. Your children should know that you would like them to do well in school. But they should also know that for you the most important thing they can do is develop their relationship with God (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6). Often, the real problem is that this distinction is not very clear in our own minds. This means that it won’t be clear in our children’s minds either.
Spiritual growth has to be clearly more important than academic performance.
Spiritual growth has to be clearly more important than academic performance. We must drive away this fog from our thoughts and let our children know that following God is more important and rewarding than any trinkets they may win in this fallen world.
6. Recognise That You Are Accountable To God
God has given our children to us to act as stewards for him (Psalm 127:3). Ultimately, they are his creatures, and he is their heavenly Father. You will give account to God of your stewardship of your children. They are equal to you in dignity before God. Therefore you must not abuse your authority over them. Rather, you must love them as your own self. All your actions towards them must be motivated by their own good and God’s glory.
7. Lean On God
By now you may be wondering, to paraphrase Paul: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ The answer Paul gives is: we are not sufficient in ourselves; our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).
Parents, keep praying that God will give you the grace required to raise godly children.
One of God’s aims for parenting is to make you despair of trusting in your own sufficiency and to force you to put all your hope in him. Parents, trust in him alone for strength to make it through this journey without provoking your children. Keep praying that he will give you the grace required to raise godly children. Trust in God, pray to him and he will never leave you nor forsake you. Lean on him.