That children are in need of discipline and correction is obvious because they came into the world as sinners (see Ps. 51:5), and it did not take them long to give clear demonstration of that fact. This needful discipline is a demonstration of parental love (Heb. 12:5–11). In Ephesians 6:4, a safeguard is given to those who are meting out the discipline: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” The parallel passage in Colossians 3:21 adds, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Perhaps fathers are mentioned not only because they are heads of the home but also because they would be more prone to excess in these matters.
There are several ways that a father (or parent) may provoke a child to anger. The first is by showing partiality or favoritism. It seems that Jacob showed that toward Joseph, which contributed to the hatred of the older brothers toward Joseph. James bluntly says that “if you show partiality, you are committing sin” (2:9). The second is by being inconsistent. Beware of dealing with a heavy hand one day and a wink of the eye on another day—both for the same infraction. The third is by being unwarrantedly harsh. There are times when the rod must not be spared, but there are other times when wise, corrective words are sufficient. Be careful when you are tired or irritated with other matters, lest you take out your frustrations on your children when you discipline them. The fourth is by unrealistic expectations. A failure to recognize that the child may not be wired exactly like his dad or may not be inclined toward the same sport or pursuit has caused many parents (especially fathers) to place unwarranted pressures on their children, resulting in frustration and anger in them. The fifth is by neglect. The fractured relationship of David and his son Absalom was not entirely on Absalom’s side. David’s neglect, no doubt, played a big part (see 2 Sam. 14:13, 28).
Pray, and think, before you exercise discipline. And remember Paul’s words. Be careful not to provoke the children to anger or discourage them.