Disciplining with Grace
Your 4-year-old breaks your favorite Christmas ornament after you’ve repeatedly told her to leave the tree alone. You’re sad about the ornament, mad at your precious child, and dreading the tough conversation that inevitably has to follow.
Proverbs 23:13 tells us not to withhold discipline from our children, but throughout the Bible, we’re also instructed to show everyone the same grace God showed us. For so many parents, this is the dilemma: How do we discipline the children while also teaching them what it means to receive undeserved favor, or grace?
How To Discipline With Grace
Before trying any of the tips below, both parents have to agree on how to discipline. This is especially important when both parents aren’t living in the same home. Children instinctively know how to divide and conquer.
- Explain why you discipline. Talk about why you follow the Bible’s instructions and why if they do not obey, you are obligated to discipline them. (Ephesians 6:1-3 is a good place to start this conversation.) If your kids are younger, consider using a children’s Bible so they can understand.
- Set clear, written rules your children can understand, and stick by them. Kids are going to do goofy things like cut each other's hair and ruin furniture. Unless you've communicated that act as an offense, it doesn't warrant discipline. As parents, our role is quell rebellion, not childishness (Proverbs 22:15).
- Pray before you speak. Disciplining our kids is hard, and we need God’s strength to do it with His heart. Confess your anger to God so you don’t take it out on your kids. Only after we’ve dealt with our own anger can we see discipline as an act of love.
- Follow through with consequences for disobedience. When kids break the rules, our first responsibility is talk to about what they did and help them acknowledge their poor choice. This helps to instill a habit of confession and repentance they can take into an adult relationship with The Lord. Then, follow through quickly with whatever the established consequence is.
- Address the behavior. Do not attack the person. When correction is needed, address the behavior that needs to change while reminding your kids how valuable, smart and loved they are.
- Listen, listen, then listen some more. Listen to your kids’ explanation for the events that led to the need for correction. Listen to the Holy Spirit as well. Sometimes God will prompt us to withhold consequences, as a way to demonstrate mercy. Teach through these moments by explaining why you’re withholding punishment.
- Always let them see the love. Just like we need to know God still loves us after a mistake, our children need to know their parents love them unconditionally. Hug your kids, take an interest in their interests, and be there for them. Kids are more inclined to see that our discipline comes from love if we’re involved in all areas of their lives, not just their discipline.
- Admit when you make a mistake. Apologizing to our children and asking for their forgiveness is an opportunity to share the grace we’ve received from Jesus.
What would happen if the next time we lost it with our kids we were able to say, "I'm sorry I yelled at you, and I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I try hard to be a great mom, but I don’t always get it right. No matter what mistakes I make along the way, Jesus forgives me. Every day I get a new chance to be a better mom than I was the day before. Little by little, I learn from my mistakes and make better choices, but I'll never be perfect. I will always need Jesus' grace and so will you.”
Grace and discipline go hand-in-hand. In the case of the 4-year-old and the broken Christmas ornament, she was punished — not for breaking an ornament but for disobeying her mother. The mother explained she forgave her daughter for her breaking the ornament (grace), but there were still consequences to her decision to disobey so she was sent to timeout (discipline).
Wise, biblical discipline is an act of love that involves correction, rebuke, teaching, and training. Wise use of mercy is knowing when not to give a child what they do deserve.
When we show our kids both mercy and discipline, we allow them to experience grace.
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