So far in this series, we have looked at the first three ingredients of training our children: understanding the “why,” a healthy relationship, and clear expectations and consistent consequences. However, the fourth ingredient can determine whether child training is a ministry of grace or an application of the law. The fourth ingredient is heartfelt correction.
There are three issues to consider with heartfelt correction: honor, obedience, and the heart.
The fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” is the hinge between the first four about loving God and the last five about loving others. If a person refuses to honor his parents, how can he honor God and others? Honoring parents is a child’s path to fulfilling the law of love.
Honor is a two-way street! Our children learn from us what honor means. By our words and actions, they will see how we honor our own parents, God, other people, and them. If our discipline doesn’t affirm that we see our children as incredibly worthy and valued, then it lacks honor. Honor and grace go hand in hand. When we honor our children’s value in God’s eyes, we also extend His grace to them.
Obedience is really an aspect of children honoring their parents. (Ephesians 6:1-3, Colossians 3:20) Our children should obey us “in the Lord.” They can relate to us on a spiritual level. First, our parenting should be “in the Lord” which means completely relying on the Holy Spirit and His wisdom (not our own) as well as praying all the time.
Second, obedience is to be “in all things.” But here is the challenge: It’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of insisting on obedience, but not on honor. We might be able to make a child stop an unwanted behavior, but that child might still dishonor us in his heart by frowning, pouting, or sulking. Without requiring honor, we will train our children in the way of superficial obedience that teaches them to comply outwardly, but never confronts their inward attitudes. Behavioral discipline should correct both actions and attitudes.
Attitudes generally respond more slowly than actions, so we need to exercise patience. Not every situation needs to become a “because I’m the parent, that’s why” showdown or shutdown. Some besetting sins will take a little longer to train out of our children. Let’s keep our focus on the child’s heart, not just the behavior. At the same time, be sensitive to issues of age, personality, circumstances, and immaturity that can affect our child’s obedience. All disobedience is not the same, and we need to be sensitive to our child’s real needs.
Our child’s heart needs to be our focus. Before doing anything, focus the lens of our spirit on their heart. How often have you noticed an angry child become quiet and relaxed as a parent touches her head, speaks gently, and takes time to hear her child’s immature but very real frustration? It is amazing what can happen in a child’s heart when a parent will connect with them on a heart level, and a lot of that has to do with the relationship we cultivate with them when we aren’t in those “showdown” times. Once again, the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives and our children’s lives is paramount to a heart connection. We need to be praying all the time and relying on His gracious work in our lives and the lives of our children!
Training our children is a very difficult responsibility, but one that is so worth it. Let’s have conviction about the “why” of child training, cultivate healthy relationships, have clear expectations and consistent consequences, and connect with our children on a heart level by God’s grace. Sometimes it’s easy to think that the most important things we can do in this life are “big” things that outwardly affect a lot of people. But it is in the “small” relatively unnoticed work of loving and leading our kids that the world is shaped.