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Five Ways to Provoke Your Kids Without Really Trying

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While Emerson was writing Love & Respect in the Family, our son David told him that he felt his dad was always attempting to explain why he was telling him whatever it was he wanted him to understand. Now if you followed that…. you realize David knew Emerson wanted to understand him, but rarely felt he did.

Understanding our kids is one of the 6 major ways to show that we love them as Emerson explains in the family book. And in doing that, hopefully it will be one of those motivational things for them to show us respect.

A Spirit of Understanding

But just because we possess deep love for them in our hearts does not always mean we will show a spirit of understanding or a willingness to understand.

If there is too little understanding, our kids can feel misunderstood, unaccepted, and unloved.

That’s why Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 are warnings. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,” and “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will lose heart.”

Even though this is to fathers who can overdo correcting and appear too demanding at times, this warning is for all of us.

And even though mothers tend to be more understanding than fathers at times, we can all blow it! Which can lead to the Family Crazy Cycle.

As much as we want our kids to understand what we want and to respond respectfully, Emerson and I found out the hard way that it was really the opposite.

The real key to getting our children to be obedient and respectful was by loving and understanding them.

But we failed so many times.

So how do we know when we have crossed the line and frustrated our kids to the point that they feel unloved and provoked?

Emerson created a list of five main ways we as parents provoke our kids without really trying. I share them here with the hope that it will help you become more aware of what causes the craziness in your family.

1) Being too aggressive or physical is about losing our patience or our cool and being too strong with our kids verbally or physically.

It is easy to raise our voice to get them to listen, to grab them firmly and jerk them around while trying to get them to obey.

And as we know many children put up with much worse. Whatever the level, harsh language and rough treatment provoke or anger any child and eventually they close off to the parent.

To see this in action just visit any store.

So many times I want to put my hand on the parent’s shoulder and say, “If this is the way you were treated, I am so sorry. But for the sake of this little one’s heart, please stop!”

2) Breaking promises can cross the line even if we have a good excuse for not showing up or following through on what was promised.

This can be as drastic as our friend whose mother drove away at a very young age and said she would be back in two weeks. His little heart thought every blue car was her returning. Sadly, his mother never returned and he basically grew up an orphan. He said, “It would have been better to hear, ‘I am an alcoholic and won’t be coming back, but Grandma will care for you.’”

Or it can be as simple as the time an unexpected work issue came up so Emerson had to break a special “date” with Joy. He wrote her a note sharing why and what he planned in place of it. He gave her something to look forward to.

Any note or spoken word of apology lets your child know you are aware of what you did and that their feelings do matter.

But a word of warning! If we break any promises - big or little - too many times, our children will lose trust in our words. We must realize how huge it is to a child when we break our word over and over, even if we try to make it up to them. Eventually, they no longer trust us.

Proverbs 25:14 says it well. “Broken promises are worse than rain clouds that don’t bring rain” (CEV).

3) Name calling crosses the line, even when we say we’re kidding. It’s not “just for fun.” Words do hurt.

Emerson recalls his dad using the term “useless” over and over, and he realizes this was one of the reasons he shut off his spirit from him. He had to protect his heart.

After awhile children start believing what they hear and then replay those words over in their minds as adults. Thankfully Emerson did not. He eventually made a choice to believe what God said about him rather than repeat the cycle in his own parenting.

4) False or hasty accusations without fully checking and listening can be particularly harmful.

Oh Emerson and I blew this big time. More than we want to share!

He relates in the book about the time he did this with our daughter Joy and a guy she was dating. When Emerson asked Joy what she remembered about this area of hasty accusations, she brought up this story.

He had remembered it but was hoping she had forgotten. He then felt guilty all over again!

But Joy said, “Dad don’t fail to see all the things you did right. Besides if you are going to help parents accept God’s grace, you need to accept His grace and my forgiveness as well.

As far as listening goes, we both wish we had used the phrase, “Let me think about that for awhile.” Instead we tended to give quick answers which often missed the heart of the matter, and left our kids feeling judged or misunderstood.

Because I blew this so often, I wanted my younger friends to learn from my mistakes. Thankfully, many of them have taken this to heart and are using this phrase with their kids. That encourages me!

5) Unreasonable expectations, requests or demands are over-the-line mistakes parents can easily make because they aren’t aware their children are not capable of what they ask.

Maybe it is like the dad who coaches soccer and wants his daughter, who is the best player, to perform. But it’s really for his own significance.

He says it is for her good, but she eventually refuses to play. He erupts in anger for what he sees as her disrespect. She closes off in anger and feels unloved.

Or it’s like the grown man or woman who still wants their parent’s approval but it is never good enough. Usually they end up pretending it doesn’t matter, and isolation sets in.

There are so many ways to cross the line and exasperate your children. But we must not lose heart. There’s always a new day!

We could start by asking ourselves:

  • Will what I am about to say sound loving to my child?
  • Am I trying to see things through my child’s eyes?
  • Can I remember how it was when I was their age?

Maybe if we weighed our words or actions with these questions, we would find that what we think is provoking us, is really us provoking our children.

Let’s be the ones to stop the Family Crazy Cycle!

Without love a child reacts without respect, and without respect a parent reacts without love.

The responsibility falls on us to be the more mature.

And just maybe there will be a little more respect from them in return!

From my heart,


Sarah Eggerichs

Questions to Consider