11 Ways to Discourage Your Children

No one (in their right mind) actually wants to discourage their children or make them angry or provoke them–God doesn’t want us to either! The apostle Paul talked about this two different times with slight variation. Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 contain the most direct commands to fathers in the Bible. In the NKJV, both of these verses command fathers not to provoke their children. The word translated “provoke” is actually two different words in the Greek; combined they instruct us not to irritate, provoke, embitter, vex, or cause our children to be resentful. There is a reason we are commanded not to do this to our children—because God knows that we can unintentionally and without thinking stir up these feelings in our children. Let’s consider 11 ways of irritating, angering, and discouraging our children we should avoid. (These are in no particular order and are by no means exhaustive).

1. Physical Abuse

Few will disagree that physical abuse is wrong. It is in defining what constitutes physical abuse that the issue becomes contentious. Some behavior, however, is obviously abuse: striking out in anger, hitting, kicking, shoving, burning, cutting, etc. I suspect that most reading this don’t struggle with severe forms of physical abuse, but even minor physical abuse can damage children especially when they are subjected to it day after day. This is not saying don’t discipline, but rather don’t abuse. We need to make sure our discipling is fitting and restrained.

2. Verbal Abuse

While physical abuse is pretty much a gimme, there are still many that don’t see a problem with verbal abuse. In our frustration, it is easy for us to say hurtful things to others, even our children. No child needs to hear insults like: “You’re a mistake,” “You’re worthless,” “You’re stupid,” “How could you be so dumb?,” or “What were you thinking?” Instead of disciplining, such words beat our children down and make them feel exactly the way we just told them feel: unwanted, useless, and unintelligent. Yes, they make mistakes, but they don’t need to be shamed for them. Remember, we will give an account for every careless word (Matthew 12:35-37). This would include the words we carelessly and thoughtlessly speak to our children.

3. Neglecting Discipline

There is this idea floating around that you should “love” your child too much to discipline them. Wisdom tells us it is the other way around. A parent that does not discipline their child does not love them, because they are not seeking what is best for them (cf. Hebrews 12:7-10). It is easier in the short term, but heart wrenching in the long term.

You may have heard that “spare the rod, spoil the child” is not in the Bible, but Proverbs 13:24 comes pretty close. This verse definitely supports what is called corporeal punishment, but notice that it is an action that stems from love, not anger and is for the purpose of discipline, not revenge. A child should never be punished from anger or to get back at them, they should be lovingly disciplined and taught the right way.

4. Helicopter parenting

A father should be protective, but not too protective. Many hover over their children pulling them away from anything with even a chance of harming them. Their children never struggle with anything and never learn anything because Dad is always doing it for them. Children want to learn how to do things for themselves and preventing their natural inclinations frustrates them. They want to learn independence. It is okay if they struggle with something, it’s good for them. You don’t always have to bail them out.

5. Micromanaging

Another great way to frustrate your children is to be too restrictive of what they can to do and where they can go. You can over-discipline. As a child grows, they need to be trusted and given some slack. They will be more confident if they feel you have confidence in them.

6. Expecting too much

Not every child can or wants to get straight A’s, be the star quarterback, first chair trumpet player, and go to an ivy league school with a full scholarship to become a doctor. We need to be careful of the expectations we put upon our children. Consider this joke, with a kernel of truth in it:

“A young boy refused to do his homework, and his father was trying to convince him to do it. He said to his son, “When Abe Lincoln was your age, he was studying books by the light of the fireplace.” The son replied, “Well, when Lincoln was your age, he was President!”

Sometimes we are putting a standard on our children, we could never possible hope to meet ourselves. Maybe we need to expect less of our children and more of ourselves.

7. Expecting too little

While expecting too much can be bad, so can expecting too little. If you just let them lay around, watch TV, and play video games they will never learn responsibility and they will learn to be lazy. They probably wont be frustrated now, but they will be frustrated later in life when they don’t know how to get anything done. Children need to be given chores, they need to have responsibilities. They need to turn in some late homework and learn that they won’t always be reminded to do what they are supposed to do. They need to kill (and pay for) a goldfish or two until they learn the consequences of shirking their responsibilities.

8. Giving them everything they want

Can you say spoiled? Children who get everything they set their hearts are being set up for disappointment. Children need to be taught they don’t need everything they want. They need to be taught the world doesn’t revolve around them. It is okay for them to be bored from time to time. Not every actively a family does should be what the children want to do.

9. Never giving them what they want

Can you say spoiled? Sometimes it’s the parents who are spoiled not the children. Parents who never do anything their children want to do make them feel like they are an intrusion upon their parents. We need to show them we care about them by doing some of the things they like to do, watching movies they like to watch, and listening to music they like.

10. Legalism/Hypocrisy

Children are to be trained and admonished in the ways of the Lord, not have it crammed down their throats. Many are more focused on how their children behave than in teaching them why such behavior is wrong. This leads to resentment not only towards you but to God (especially if you aren’t practicing what you preach). This is perhaps one of the reasons many children leave their faith when they leave their parent’s household. We cannot make our children be faithful as adults, we must lovingly train them and guide them towards the right decisions.

11. A lack of affection

It is often said: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This is just as true for our children. Instruction and discipling must be balanced with affirmation and affection. They need hugs, they need to hear I love you, and they need to spend quality time with you.

Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 give us good reasons to avoid such behavior. First, so that our children will not become angry. Our world is filled with angry people and people with “father issues,” we must avoid setting our children on the path to join their numbers. Second, so our children will not become discouraged. There are few things sadder than a child whose soul has been crushed. They no longer smile or laugh. The cheerful willingness present in most children is absent. They have lost heart and given up.

by Jeremy Sprouse

Jeremy Sprouse has been married to Erynn since 1999. They have six children. Jeremy preaches for the Patrick St. Church of Christ in Dublin, TX and is the author of To Train Up a Knight.

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