Continuing from Part 2……(Click here to start at Part 1)

Secondly, we must not embitter or provoke our children.

Some parental actions and behaviors serve absolutely no purpose, and result only in an upset child. I was  a horse trainer for years, and in the horse-world, we have a saying. “A horse is always learning—whether you intend to be teaching or not!” I think the same principle applies to children. Younger children in particular are like little sponges, soaking in everything we do as parents. They watch, imitate, try to understand, and generally want to please and be like us.

Whether in jest, or unintentionally, it is all too easy to set our children up for failure and frustration. I have seen mothers threaten discipline several times in a row, just to throw up their hands and surrender a battle (which never should have been a battle to begin with). I have witnessed playful fathers tease their children to the point of tears, because the child could not understand the game being played. I have seen parents belittle their children in public, rather than lovingly instruct them. I have personally, though unintentionally, expected my children to do things without properly instructing them first, setting them up for discouragement. Not only does this not teach my children responsibility, but it quickly discourages them from even trying.

Children gain absolutely nothing from these situations. Yet, because they are always watching, trying to understand, and trying to learn, they are very likely to become upset by the resulting negative and confusing feelings. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should not joke around and play with our children. I am trying to emphasize going overboard, or acting above the child’s level of understanding. While whole-hearted fun play can result in positive memories and even life lessons when done appropriately, inappropriate actions on a parent’s part can result in long-lasting negative memories. I believe that is why the Bible cautions us against it.

Colossians 3:21 says “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Ephesians 6:4 commands, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” By combining Christian love with an attentiveness to the lessons we are teaching our children, we are developing a solid and wholesome environment for our children to help our children learn the lessons we want them to retain.