Preachers devote a lot of time and preparation to “wives submit to your husband,” “children obey and honor your parents,” and so forth. However, very little is said about two remarkable verses:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” -Ephesians 6:4

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
-Colossians 3:21

(As a side note, even though Paul uses the term “fathers,” most commentators would agree that the term would apply to both parents.)

Sadly, as a pastor, I’ve heard the following discouraging words from parents to their children.

“Can’t you do anything right?”
“You’re always doing _______ (fill in the blank).”
“You never do ________ (fill in the blank).”
“Why can’t you ________? (fill in the blank).”
“Sorry, my kids are useless.” (This said in the presence of their children).
“I wish you were never born.”

I think these are terrible things to say to your children.

Another way parents discourage their children is by making jokes about them. I find many pastors sharing anecdotes or “being real” by retelling something that their children find embarrassing—particularly when their peers are present. I’ve watched children get angry or get hurt and walk way after something a parent has said in their presence. I can’t help but wonder what the rest of their life, let alone their day, is going to be like for them.

One of the chief and most common ways of discouraging children is by heaping more criticism than compliments. Sarah Chana Radcliffe is a member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario and a family therapist and author of numerous books, including Teen Esteem; she writes, “If the parent consistently makes predominantly positive actions, the child will perceive the parent as loving. On the other hand, if the parent makes predominantly negative actions, the child will usually perceive the parent as unloving, even hurtful—despite the fact that the parent might be filled with love for the child! The ideal positive-to-negative ratio is 80 to 20. That is, for every four positive actions a parent makes towards his child, he can afford to make one negative one.”

Lest you think that your child gets too much positive attention, she further states, “Research studies have ascertained that the average parent is giving his child approximately 96 percent negative attention and 4 percent positive!” (http://www.aish.com/f/p/48918197.html)

So how do we encourage and discipline at the same time? Because our children do need boundaries and need to be held accountable for bad behavior. The best way I know is to develop a loving and respectful relationship with them. Interact with them during the happy times, not just when they need to be reprimanded or corrected. Discover what they like, and even if it’s not your first choice, and try to see their choices from their perspective. If you feel they are leaning towards things that will be harmful to them, try and gently steer them in a different direction. Find out what they love and never be afraid of complimenting them.

Sometimes, stubborn children need a no, but behind that no, they need to see an honest, godly reason. No, I don’t want you to do that, because I love you and want you to live.

Right after showering them with love, the best thing you can do is admit when you are wrong or overbearing. Our children aren’t stupid; they know when we’re wrong and asking their forgiveness also earns their respect and love. “I am sorry” goes a long way in building a strong relationship with your child.

Above all, if we want to raise Christian children, they need to see the effect Christ has in our lives every single day—what we say to others, how much we pray or go to church, or focus on building our spiritual life. If they see a different personality at home and another in church, they have every right to say, “Christ? Church? No thanks. It’s not going to make a difference in my life.” If it’s not important to you, it’s not going to be important to them—and, in most cases, if Christ is not first in your life, it won’t be in theirs.

Tim Challies, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and a co-founder of Cruciform Press, sums up these two verses from Paul succinctly:

“God exhorts parents in this way: Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged. On the heels of that exhortation he offers a solution: ‘But bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ Do not beat down, but raise up. Do not provoke with impatience and injustice, but instead shepherd with nurture and tenderness, and do this through discipline and instruction.

“These two words are key: discipline and instruction. Between them they offer words of training and correction, words of admonition and rebuke, words that express both the positive and the negative sides of leadership. You need to correct your children, sometimes with a look, sometimes with a word, sometimes with a timeout, and sometimes with a spank. That is the negative side of parenting. But positively, you also need to teach them, explaining to them what is right, demonstrating how they are to live.”

Parents, God has given you the wonderful gift of children. Love them, and love them more than ever.