How to Not Exasperate Your Kids
Read time: 5 minutes | by Mark Carter with Laura Forman
Most parents love their kids. You are probably one of them, or you would not have even gotten this far.
God has delegated parents’ responsibility to be a positive spiritual influence, but this can feel unnatural or even hard for many of us.
In our earnestness to LOVE our kids, we sometimes don’t consider what we may be
- leaving undone or
- doing too much of
That has the potential to hurt our influence in their lives.
As kids transfer into the tween and teen years, here are
Four Ways To Hurt Your Relationship With Your Kids
Ephesians 6:4 says,
Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger.
In other words, don’t exasperate them. Exasperating is the OPPOSITE of nourishing, and it’s what happens when we:
1. Give more critique than encouragement.
When we encourage a lot more than complain, our critique stands a better chance of being trusted. Instead of making deposits of love and affection, we can easily discourage kids with nitpicking and criticism.
At first, this may even feel out-of-balance on the POSITIVE side. That probably means you’re doing it right.
It IS essential that parents give feedback, but this is received best when parents demonstrate enough self-awareness not to slip into ‘lecture mode.’ Short, gentle bursts of your perspective will tend to get you further than sermonizing.
Don’t underestimate the power of your words. Regularly say things like,
- “You’re special to me.”
- “I’d do anything for you.”
- “If I could have any kid in the world, I’d choose you.”
- “I believe in you.”
- “it’s okay to make mistakes.”
- “You had the character to try and not give up,” and
- “I’m proud of you,”
- “You’re a miracle.”
Encouragement is more than verbal, so go overboard with affirmation,
- Occasionally send them a note,
- Hug them or kiss them on the head
- High-five them when they’re killing it at anything.
2. Be ‘around’ but not emotionally present.
Dads busy fixing things or in the basement working on a hobby, moms on their phones, both are doing everything BUT engaging their kids emotionally, never getting eye-to-eye or heart-to-heart.
Often, parents want to engage, but they don’t know how to start. Try this:
As they get older, practice the “how do you feel about ___________” to invite them to tell you about themselves..’
“How do you feel about:”
- The book you’re reading?
See the progression by age-level? It’s in many ways the same question, just for different stages.
Then follow it up with
- “What do you like about that?”
- “What don’t you like?”
- “What moral tensions do you discover here?”
The answers will vary from kid to kid, but the point is that they feel like you care what they think (not just what you think they should think).
3. Be responsible but also “no fun.”
Kids need to know that while there are real dangers in life, because of Gods’ common grace, the world can still be a place of optimism and fun.
- Dads, have enough discernment to know what you do with a hose in the summer (you spray your kids with it).
- Get your suit wrinkly after work, run and tackle each other, whip a snowball.
- If we are ALWAYS solemn, serious, and a sourpuss, we will misrepresent God, and they’ll grow up not wanting to BE us (or be WITH us).
4. Correct them but never or rarely say, “I’m sorry.”
Our kids know we sin and make mistakes. Don’t underestimate the power of letting your kids see you repent. If they’re going to take this God thing seriously, they will need to know what that looks like. After all, repentance is the very doorway we come to Jesus through.
And they need to see you be convicted before the Lord, not just try to convict them.
Let them see that it’s okay to be a sinner, saved by grace. When was the last time you asked one of your kids,
- “Is there anything I’ve recently done that has hurt your feelings?”
- “Is there some way you feel like I’m misunderstanding you?”
Modeling this will teach them that normal humans make mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
Try reflecting on this:
- What difference would it have made if my parents had been more relationally intentional, encouraging, emotionally available, fun?
- How would it have felt if my mom or dad apologized for mistakes, ‘You know what? I’m sorry, that was not how God calls me to represent Him.’?
You are my Abba, my Daddy; thank You for loving me so well. Please heal any hurt within me leftover from my childhood with imperfect parents. I humbly ask You to give me the courage to take one small step toward influencing my children with Your love, for You have gifted me with Your Holy Spirit to love well. I claim this in Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen.
Want to go deeper? Pick up the Grace for Parents series at the store.