Why Does My Child Only Listen When Iā€™m Angry?

by sharon cannavo parenting tips

Allow me to share a little tale with you:  

Once upon a time, there were a couple of local giants who would fall asleep right in the middle of the village.  You would think the relatively little people of the village would be terrified to wake those giants, but because they fell asleep so often, they began to make it a game!  Who could wake the Giants?  So as the villagers would go about their day, and have to walk past what threatened them most, they began enjoying the element of risk, and would timidly poke the giants to see if they could rouse them. The giants would stir a bit and if you listened carefully, you could hear a low grumbly threat, “Don’t poke the giant, or else!” Yet, nothing would happened.  So the villagers became more bold in their approach to wake the sleeping giants, until after a length of time, and a number of repeated threats, there was the one last poke that produced a response.  Suddenly the giants eyes would spring open revealing fiery glares! Rising up, towering over the little people of the village, the giants would begin to roar in their anger! And the villagers would scatter as quickly as possible, disappearing into their cottages and stores, hiding in the darkest corners with the hopes of becoming invisible to their seekers.  But the little villagers had pushed the giants to their limit of repeated threats, and now they would pay!

Dad and mom… Does this little tale have a familiar ring? Is this a picture of what is happening in our homes on a daily basis?  Do you find yourself asking this common question?

“Why do my children only listen when I’m angry?” 

If we parents are acting like the sleeping giants, allowing daily sinful behaviors to go unnoticed, or untrained, only responding when we've finally had it… then we have literally trained our children to obey ONLY when they are in fear.  The core of the problem is, parents believing that responding when they have been pushed to their limit, is acceptable parenting, but in reality, this is the unbiblical tactic used in most homes, and does not reflect God’s own image of parenting.

Our kids become so accustomed to being able to freely push and poke and cross their boundaries with empty threats and no consequence for their actions, that it’s become their game to see how far they can push you. Of course under these circumstances, parents are finally roused and play right into the daily game. After all, due to the disrespectful behaviors, they deserve it, right?!  Motivated by anger and frustrations, you’re intent on setting your kids straight, and making them pay for what they just put you through.  But this is simply a game of the flesh. 

To see if we are getting caught in this unbiblical game… Let’s evaluate: 

1. Do you give instructions, and allow your child to guess when it’s ok to disobey without consequence?

As Christians God tells us to not swear falsely, but to perform to the Lord what you have sworn, and let your “yes” be your yes and your “no” be your no (Matt. 5.33, 37).  This means that when we give an instruction to our children, we need to be committed to our God-ordained job of parenting and say what we mean, and mean what we say.  If our children don’t follow through, we are to consistently train their heart through consequence. 

 2. Do you have acceptable levels of disobedience, before you determine it’s time to jump into action? 

God doesn’t.  He cannot look upon sin (Hab.1:13), and so in order to help our children understand how seriously God takes sin, we must not have “acceptable” levels of disobedience, dishonesty or violence.  We must respond to sin, not because we’re fed up, but because it is an offense to God. As our children learn the seriousness of sin and grow to overcome it, their lives will go well. (Eph 6:1-3)

3. Do you threaten and repeat your instruction multiple times, leading you to become frustrated and angry?

As we try to talk and threaten our children out of  misbehaving, we are only inviting them to push us multiple times before we get to our breaking point.  We become sinful and angry... and they become terrified.  It’s an adrenaline game, and leaves the child enjoying the thrill of disobedience, even as it leads to mistrust and fear of their parents.  

If you find yourself caught in any of these behaviors, you may be in deeper sin than the kids, because Christian parenting is not meant to play out as a power bigger and stronger than the children.  

Biblical parenting is about the future of your children, not about punishing them for their past actions.  We must remember, like us they are born sinners, and are under our care and authority for the purpose of discipling them in moral knowledge and responsibility, to produce future citizens who will be a benefit to their families and to others in this broken world.  When they sin, it gives the parents a little peek into the heart of the child, and an opportunity to help the child overcome that sin.  With moral maturity steadily trained, they may go on to live life on God’s terms, and if God wills, they may bow their knee to Christ, ultimately becoming citizens of Heaven who love God with all their heart, soul and mind and love their neighbor as themself (Matt. 22:37-40) 

But how then do we do this?  It begins with a heart of understanding that consequences for sinful actions are not a response to the final poke that pushed you to the limit…  Consequences, when consistently, reasonably, and thoughtfully applied are actually the God-ordained mechanism used for the biblical purpose of moving the heart from puffed-up pride to a humble learner; trading out sinfulness for a pattern of sinning less.

When we trust God with his ordained system of action equals consequence, we find our right motivation as God’s agents in our children’s lives.  We no longer act as the “waking giants” but become faithfully consistent in applying consequences for every act of rebellion, dishonesty, or violence.  We apply consequences based on the sin (not on our boiling point), and in faith towards God. This results in a child’s transition to godly character as they reflect respect, self-discipline, integrity and compassion.  Our children grow in wisdom and discernment… rather than fear.  They gain understanding in how God’s world works, and become equipped to properly conquer their life of trials and challenges ahead in a way that brings confident living and glory to God. They become successful in living, as they grow in the peace that is a result of trusting God’s ways.

If we desire this lifestyle for our children’s future, we must turn off the noise coming from parenting experts who are so influenced by worldly and psychologically driven “solutions” and excuses.  We can recognize they have a lot to say, but as they conflict with God, there are no lasting results, leading the next generation further away from the wisdom of God.  As Christians we must ask ourselves, why would we need anything more than God’s ways?  His love for us to the degree of death for our salvation should be sufficient in gaining our trust and recognition that He knows exactly how to get the best results for the lives of all His children. Do you trust Him? 

1 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Why then would we tolerate any advice outside of God’s Word?  Why would we expect anything less than chaos and confusion if we do?  Why would we reject His system of “action equals consequence”?  Parents, how soon will you make a full commitment to training up your child according to the wisdom and knowledge of His Word?  How soon will you faithfully move into action, not to make your child pay for their wrong behavior, and not because you’ve had it, but to engage in that incredible opportunity to train their hearts; putting off sin and putting on righteousness.  God has trusted you with these little hearts in your home.  It’s time for you to trust Him with the methods and solutions for training those hearts.  God is the only parenting expert!  For the believer, He will never be the waking giant. He is our consistent, loving, and just authority who is always faithful and available to train our hearts. Let’s do our best parenting job by reflecting Him. 

By Sharon Cannavo

If you would like more help, please consider joining us in a Training Hearts for Jesus biblical parenting class.

For more help in applying consequences, read this blog:  Discovering Related Consequences.