“Fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
—Ephesians 6:4 (NRSV).
I recently heard again the ages-old story of kids visiting Santa at the shopping centre pre-Christmas. This happens every year. We’ve all seen and know this picture. The kid sees Santa and approaches, yet at the last moment the kid screams, chin-quivering, and they run away from the weirdo in the red suit. ‘Not so quick,’ is the sentiment of the quietly insistent parent who, unaware or not caring, has queued or paid their money and is now set on getting a return.
The terrified young child is subjected to the whim of a selfish parent who just must have their photos of a screaming, kicking kid with Santa. No wonder some kids end up with phobias, not to mention the shrinking embarrassment they feel in being the centre of attention in the middle of a crowded shopping centre!
These moments of sheer terror and shrinking embarrassment are criminal. Why would a parent in their right mind push their kids like this, for something that’s altogether not important? Again, I suspect it’s more about the parent’s need than the child’s.
Negative Action – Do Not Anger (or Exasperate)
In other translations of Ephesians 6:4 it talks about not exasperating our children. This is not pushing them past their reasonable limits. This has two dimensions at least.
The first dimension is not creating a deep-seated negative emotion (e.g. anger) in our children if that can be avoided—and most of the time it can be avoided. Deep seated anger has the potential to grow in unpredictable, even tragic, ways. Some circumstances in life, however, it is plainly unavoidable to protect them from; for example, enduring the death of a family member or a pet and the grief that necessarily comes.
The second dimension is to not propagate this sort of negative experience into habituation. We wouldn’t want a shaking, trembling fear at certain stimuli to become a learned response—it would hamper them for life, otherwise, until it was addressed. And quite frankly, how many of us truly address our demons? Too few. It’s better entirely to avoid the demon in the first place.
Positive Action – Provide Discipline and Instruction
We can, however—in the tradition of Proverbs—train and educate, instruct and discipline our children. We should. We must. Sprinkled all through the Bible are exhortations to this. This is the parent’s role; not to inflict fear, but to chide with instruction and discipline and to encourage with praise.
Getting back to the pre-Christmas shopping centre example we, as parents, must allow our little people to be as they are—not cajoling them to acts beyond what’s reasonable. If they don’t want a bar of Santa, why inflict him upon their vivacious, easily-scared imaginations?
Some people hardly ever realise how important the mission of child-rearing is. It is the making or breaking of that growing person in finding their way in a fractious world.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.