The best question to ask before disciplining your kids

Sara Alexander

As parents, the challenge we face when it comes to disciplining our children isn’t a lack of information. No generation of parents has ever experienced the bombardment of expert opinions and discussion groups as our generation has. The problem is finding what works for your family and consistently living it out.

So how do we figure out what works? This simple question has made a huge difference in the way my husband and I view discipline in our home: “Is my child acting sinful or is she simply acting like a child?”

What Sinfulness Looks Like

You have to run into the grocery store even though it's already nap time. You are zipping up and down the aisles doing your best to keep your tired toddler entertained, but things take a turn for the worse and your child starts swinging his fists and kicking his legs in an effort to hurt you.

The childish behavior (fussing and whining due to needing a nap) has turned into sinful behavior (hitting and kicking out of anger). You might be tempted to ignore the bad behavior, but you can’t excuse their anger simply because it's past nap time.

Our children’s sin needs to be disciplined so they can learn to control themselves in the future. Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

We are all born sinful, even our kids. No one had to teach them how to rebel or act selfishly. But if we want our kids to be able to walk in wisdom as adults, we have to train their hearts and minds by addressing their sin as children.

What Childishness Looks Like

Shortly after we moved into our current home, I found numerous screwdriver holes in the wall by our front door, and immediately my temper flared. The crafty culprit was our youngest child who was just 3 at the time. I knew it was important to address the issue right away, but I was mad and I didn’t want to say anything I would regret later.

As I cooled down, I had to ask: “Did Wyatt know it was wrong to put holes in the wall or was he simply imitating what he’d seen that week as we had moved into our home?”

After a few deep breaths and silent prayers, I realized that he was not acting out of disobedience. His action was based on wanting to be like his daddy who is great at fixing things around the house. Wyatt was quite proud of what he had done to “help Mommy.”

My anger deflated once I took the time to evaluate if my child was acting childish or sinful. By establishing the heart or motive behind his behavior, I was able to firmly and lovingly tell my young contractor that daddy's tools are off limits. This childish mistake provided me with a powerful moment to set a boundary for my child’s own safety and for the safety of our home.  

By asking if our child’s negative behavior is sinful or childish, we can know the best way to reach our child’s heart and shape his behavior.

The Bible teaches us as followers of Jesus to discipline our child just as our Heavenly Father disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-11). By asking if our child’s negative behavior is sinful or childish, we can know the best way to reach our child’s heart and shape his behavior.

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