Ephesians warns fathers not to exasperate their children. To be sure, there are a number of ways to exasperate children. But, I believe one of the most subtle and discouraging ways of doing this is the wrong use of explanations in disciplining children. Explanations can become damaging when they are based on attempts at persuasive argumentation or even manipulation.
One way to know if explanations are being wrongly used is if you hear yourself constantly saying, “how many times I have told you not to do that!” This is an example of seeing instruction as an exercise in information transfer. When information transfer is the main focus of child rearing explanations will become a problem instead of being useful. You will tend to become exasperated with your children and they with you. Your goal in parenting is not primarily information transfer, but to see transformed hearts.
It is true that parenting is about instruction. However, biblical instruction has to do with communicating your relationship with God to your children. This is the point of Deuteronomy 6:5-7. Your children know what is important to you by what has captured your heart rather than by your proclamations. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, experts at information transfer, this way:
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Explanations often have to do with promoting your own agenda, your traditions, rather than love for God and his word. Focusing on your love for God as you talk with your children will keep you from exasperating them. So, instead of saying, “How many times have I told you not to be angry with your brother, can’t you see how frustrating this is” you can encourage your children to trust God in their daily struggles. You can say something like this:
“I know it is hard to trust God when your brother is being demanding. God wants us to be patient and kind even though others are not. Jesus is good to us even when we are not being good. You don’t have to be angry, you can be kind instead. I’ll talk with your brother also, but right now let’s ask God to help you return kindness for unkindness. Let’s pray for your brother and for you to honor him as you play together.”
This is instruction that is firm and to the point. It is also pleasant and loving. This makes God the center of your words. You are communicating more than information, you are communicating your relationship with God. This is a good thing.