Every parent wants their child to choose good, right behaviour. Every family consists of real, mistake-prone people. No one is perfect. How do we teach our children to learn from their mistakes and help them grow up well? Discipline often consists of merely correcting wrong behaviour when it should also enable inward, heart transformation. In order to discipline wisely, we must make grace our central principle.
We begin by asking the question: How do we help our kids grow into the adults God is calling them to be?
Here are four powerful messages that parents can focus on as biblical goals when discipline challenges hit the fan. When kids grow to believe these messages are true, their hearts are much more open to their parents’ teaching and discipline.
1. You Are Safe With Me
The first message is: “You are Safe!” When parents operate in God’s grace, kids will come to feel safe in their parents’ care, even if there is misbehaviour to address and consequences to impose. By safe we mean that the kids have a sense, even in the struggle, that their parents are for them, not against them. They feel secure. Safe children know there is someone guarding their soul. Parents who are growing in God’s grace will bring that grace even to discipline challenges. This paves the way for kids to understand God’s grace. Ask yourself: Do your kids feel safe and secure with you — even when they misbehave?
2. You are Loved, No Matter What
The second message: “You are Loved!” God is love (1 John 4:7-8), and we are His closest representatives for our kids. So it’s critical that they feel loved by us — no matter what! If love is to be understood and received as unconditional, it MUST show up in the context of misbehaviour. In the same way that no human can earn the free gift of God’s love, no child should get the sense that they are loved most when they behave well. Do your kids know and experience your love, even when they’ve acted up? Ask them. And work overtime to be sure their heartfelt answer is yes.
3. You are Called and Capable
The third message: “You are God’s workmanship!” Our kids were created by God as unique masterpieces, to do great things. Sometimes their unique talents show up even when they misbehave. Yes, even the persistently whining child has skills that God put there so the child could do the “good works they were prepared to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Instead of just punishing the persistence of whining, the expressiveness, the strong will, you can acknowledge them and invite your child to use those strengths in honouring ways. What gifts show up when your child misbehaves? How could you help them use their strengths and talents to be a blessing to someone?
4. You are Responsible for Your Actions
The fourth message: “You are Responsible!” Of course all parents want their children to take responsibility for their lives. The efforts they put into this desire, however, often communicate the opposite message to kids. For example, when we want our kids to take responsibility for something and then keep nagging them to do it, the message is actually, “You are irresponsible. You need my constant reminders and consequences to guide you.” Learning to communicate true responsibility is an art developed far more by good questions, giving choices, and thoughtful consequences than by high-intensity demands and arbitrary punishment. You can help prepare your child to be accountable to God by teaching responsibility and wise decision-making now.