Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.”
What does it mean to exasperate your children? The dictionary says it means to “irritate intensely; infuriate (Google).” The NIV says don’t “embitter” your children. The ESV says don’t “provoke” your children. The NLT says don’t “aggravate” your children. The Amplified Bible says, “Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with lovingkindness]….” I like best how the New Century Version puts it. “Fathers, do not nag your children. If you are too hard to please, they may want to stop trying.” The behavior that Paul wants us to avoid is treating our children in a way that will discourage them so that they stop trying to please us. We must avoid treating them in a way that will aggravate them, exasperate them, embitter them, so that they won't care any more; so that their spirits are crushed and they will give up.
Commentator William Barclay wrote, “There is always a problem in the relationship of parent and child. If the parent is too easy-going, the child will grow up undisciplined and unfit to face life. But there is a contrary danger. The more conscientious a parent is, the more he is likely always to be correcting and rebuking the child. Simply because he wishes the child to do well, he is always on his top. The danger of all this is that the child may become discouraged. The duty of the parent is discipline, but it is also encouragement. The better a parent is the more he must avoid the danger of discouraging his child, for he must give discipline and encouragement in equal parts.”
Bible scholar F.F. Bruce wrote, “Fathers are enjoined not to irritate their children lest they lose heart and come to think that it is useless trying to please their parents. Let parents see to it that they deserve obedience: and more than this, that they make obedience easy.”
So how can we make sure that we don’t treat our kids in a way that causes them to give up trying to do what is right and wise? We can start by avoiding these nine pitfalls.
9 Parenting Pitfalls
First, avoid all insults. This includes abusive language, cutting remarks and name-calling that diminishes your child’s worth, belittles them, and hurts their feelings. Calling your child names like, “Stupid, idiot, dumby, worthless, loser, fatso, lazy, ugly, problem child, slut,” and the like can damage a child’s self-esteem for life. There’s no place for that in a godly home.
Second, avoid hypocrisy. There are two ways that hypocrisy discourages and aggravates our children. First, when we expect or demand that they do as we say and not as we do. And second, when we live an inconsistent lifestyle – acting holy and kind when we’re in front of our church friends but acting totally different when we’re at home.
Third, avoid over-correction. This takes the form of constant fault-finding, nit-picking, and nagging. You’re always on your child’s case about something. “Stop that. Don’t do that. Don’t touch. Get your elbows off the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t yell. Don’t run. Lower your voice. Stop complaining.” Correct, but don’t over-correct.
Fourth, avoid ineffective discipline. By ineffective discipline I mean continuing to use disciplinary methods that don’t work. Avoiding discipline altogether is not an option (Pr 13:24). But the purpose is correction. The key then is to only use disciplinary methods that actually do correct; discipline that actually modifies the child’s behavior. If your methods are not working, move on to something else.
Fifth, avoid favoritism. This is obviously for families with multiple children. Children are created with a sense of fairness and justice. They intuitively recognize it when you are being unfair or unjust, and they will come to resent you for it.
Sixth, avoid unreasonable expectations. By unreasonable expectations, I mean expecting your child to be and to do more than they are actually capable of. As a result, they will continue to fail, you will continue to show disappointment and discipline them, and eventually the child with get aggravated, frustrated, discouraged, and will stop trying altogether. Be sure that your expectations are possible and reasonable.
Seventh, avoid selfishness. By selfishness I mean pushing your child to perform, either academically, athletically, behaviorally, or in any other way for the purpose of making you look and feel good. In other words, you’re not pushing your child for their benefit, but for yours. You’re not doing what’s best for your child, you’re doing what’s best for you. You want your child to succeed because it will make you look good and feel good as a parent. Your children will eventually pick up on this and come to resent you for it.
Eighth, avoid unfaithfulness. By unfaithfulness I mean breaking your word; telling your child you will do something with or for them, and then not following through. Perhaps nothing is more discouraging and aggravating to a child than when a parent says they will play ball, or help with homework, or go to their game, or take them to the movies, and then fails to follow through.
Ninth, avoid severity. By severity I mean raising your voice and yelling at your kids or becoming physically violent with them. Severity is always the result of letting your anger get the best of you. This sends a message to your kids that they are worthless, and that you hate them, and this will cause them to become discouraged and give up. As well, you are teaching them to handle their problems in the same way. You are teaching them that if they ever have a problem with someone, whether at school, at work, or even in the family, the way to handle it is to yell and scream and get physical.