How to train a child's heart

Cherie Duffey

If "children are a blessing from the Lord" why is being a parent so hard? 

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?”  Parents understand how bad it is — that is what makes parenting so difficult! 

The Bible is clear that selfish, evil hearts lead to selfish, evil behavior (Mark 7:21). One of the primary goals of parenting should be to train our child’s heart, not just their behavior.

What does heart training look like?

It begins with understanding that the way we parent must reflect the way our Heavenly Father trains and disciplines us. Hebrews 12:6 says, "The Lord disciplines those he loves." Our love for our kids must be the single motivation we have to discipline and train the hearts of our children. 

As we discipline and train their hearts we are training them to have a relationship with their Heavenly Father who will bless them when they obey.

Three practical ways you can discipline and train your child’s heart

1. Have a plan.  

Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”  In order to train the heart, we have to do more than just hope our kids won’t disobey us or test us. We have to have a plan. The Bible suggests a “rod” that will help shape their heart and remove the “folly” that is bound up there. Using a rod simply means using a pliable object — not your hand — that can administer a small amount of pain that only lasts a few seconds. You should also have a plan for where you will discipline your child. No discipline of any kind should ever be given in the presence of other people, especially with the motive of bringing shame to the child. Send them or lovingly take them to a place of privacy. 

2. Be in control. 

You have to establish the boundaries for how you will discipline your child. These boundaries should keep you from ever spanking your child when you are angry. If you are not calm, then go to another room and pray to ensure that your emotions are not controlling your actions. Yelling at your children will only exasperate them. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Yelling will cause your child’s spirit to close, and they will not receive the heart training you are trying to give them.  If you have developed a bad habit of yelling, you can change this by lowering your tone.

3. Be consistent. 

As you develop a plan for discipline, you have to stick to it. Here’s a plan that worked for our family:

  • Expect first time obedience. You may tell your child to stop running. When you say “stop running” and the child continues to run, simply remind them by saying, “Obey!” When they disregard your words, you must always (even if you are tired or don’t feel like it) take action against the disobedience in your child’s heart. God expects this same kind of obedience from us! For a great example of this, read the book of Jonah.
  • Talk to your child about what they did wrong and what it shows about their heart. Using the example above, you could ask the question, “Did you obey me when I told you to stop running?”  Be sure they know what they did wrong and what God’s word says about their behavior and their heart.  For example, “You didn’t obey me when I told you to stop running. God’s word says that you must listen and obey, and when you do, you will be happy” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

  • Tell them what you are going to do in response to their sin and do it. Children need to know what to expect. Using the example above you could say to your 2-year-old, “Because you disobeyed me when God’s Word tells you to obey, I’m going to give you two spanks on your bottom.”
  • Forgive and forget once the spanking is over. This part of discipline is crucial to shaping a child’s heart. Following the spanking, hug your child and tell them how much you love them. Encourage them to ask for forgiveness, then freely give it, forgetting the offense—just like your Heavenly Father forgives and forgets your sin! This means avoiding phrases like, “You will never learn” or “How many times have I told you to obey?”

  • Pray with your child, and together thank Jesus for His love. This part of discipline is the sweetest. It’s the time to go to your Heavenly Father to thank Him for His love and His help in training our hearts. Using our example, you could pray, “Jesus thank you for loving us and forgiving us when we do not obey. Please give us a heart that wants to obey.”

Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  Disciplining your child and training the heart is not easy for you or your child. But with every time of training, you are setting your child up to obey their Heavenly Father later.

Interested in learning more about parenting? Find more parenting articles, devotionals, and sermons here

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