When my son was seven, he lied to his teacher once to get out of trouble.
When I picked him up from school that day, I noticed that he wasn’t behaving like his usual self. On further probing, he admitted what had happened and burst into tears.
Having heard his side of the story, I told him that I could understand why his fear of punishment led him to lie. But his lying did not please God and, if left unchecked, could make him less trustworthy a person.
However, it was good that his conscience was working, I said, and that explained why he was feeling bad. I suggested that he write a short letter of apology to his teacher and assured him that it would make us very proud of him regardless of the outcome—and that God too would be very pleased. He agreed and worked up the courage to pen the note. When his teacher received it, she forgave him and was glad for him.
Correcting our children when they err means teaching them what not to do, warning them of the consequences, and orienting them to the right values. But how can we correct our children effectively and in a way that is consistent with Scripture?
Help! How Do I Discipline My Kid?
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The Bible offers valuable godly insights on how we can correct our children. Here are three things to keep in mind:
1. Get the Facts Right
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
—1 Corinthians 13:6
I once reminded my son to work on an assignment with a looming deadline. Some time passed and I chided him, thinking that he hadn’t done as he was told. I later realised that I had wronged him—he had handed in his work without my knowledge.
Immediately, I apologised to him. The Lord used this episode to remind me that I must get my facts right before trying to correct my children.
On many occasions we jump to the wrong conclusion. And the one time we get it wrong can cause much unneeded hurt and pain.
We may assume that our children should behave in a certain way without us having to say so. We assume that we know what they will do or say—even before they do or say anything. At times, we may be right. We may even be able to complete their sentences or predict their behaviour fairly accurately.
Nevertheless, on many occasions we jump to the wrong conclusion. And the one time we get it wrong can cause much unneeded hurt and pain.
To avoid making a wrong judgment, we can first ascertain the truth in love by hearing personally from our children. On some occasions it may also be necessary to find out what happened from two or three other people, such as their classmates or teachers. Let’s not assume that our children are always—or never—at fault. Only when we have pieced things together can we decide how best to correct them.
2. Correct or Punish Judiciously
A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.
This proverb instructs parents to discipline their children with “a rod and a reprimand”. According to one commentary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, this could mean employing both physical punishment (the rod) and verbal correction (the reprimand).
Accordingly, discipline can be punitive or corrective:
- Punishment seeks to re-establish what is right after misbehaviour. It can take the form of a spanking on the hand or the withdrawal of a privilege, such as access to a gaming device.
- Correction seeks to reorient misbehaving children to what is right. It can involve stern warnings or the imposition of stricter rules until we see signs of improvement.
The line between punishment and correction is very thin. There is a time and season for both and we need God’s wisdom to decide when to use either.
But let us correct more and not only punish. After all, we approach God not just as His subjects who will be held accountable for all we have done, but also as His children who have received “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). God is both our divine judge and heavenly Father, who disciplines us through life’s circumstances and consequences to mould us into wiser, more mature Christians.
3. Restore Gently
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
—2 Corinthians 2:6–8
Discipline doesn’t end at correction—restoration must follow. Paul addresses this in his second letter to the Corinthians, encouraging them to “forgive and comfort” and “reaffirm [their] love” for a fellow believer who had sinned, having already punished him (2 Corinthians 2:7–8).
The word “restore” literally means “mend” or “repair”, or to make something whole again, as noted in The MacArthur Study Bible. When our children sin, we rightly discipline them, but this can damage our relationship and our confidence in them. To help our children bounce back from failure, it’s important that we reiterate our love for them and affirm their efforts. That is what restoration is about.
Moreover, we are to restore our children in a spirit of gentleness: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Galatians 6:1).
We may be familiar with the idea of tough love—stern or harsh treatment to help someone in the long run. In a way, the love that God extends to us is tough love. The book of Hebrews tells us that God’s discipline can be unpleasant and even painful at times. How then should we apply Galatians 6:1, which instructs us to restore others “gently”?
There is no contradiction here. We can mete out tough corrective measures when our children go astray. But we are not to do so with a holier-than-thou attitude. Instead, we can do so with humility, empathy, and patience—helping our children understand the seriousness of their sin while assuring them of our unconditional love for them.
Restoring our children won’t always be easy. But when we choose to do so in gentleness, we reflect the gentleness and grace of God, who always forgives us rebellious children when we repent.
One approach my wife and I have found helpful is for the parent who meted out discipline to allow a short time to pass before revisiting the matter with the child. This gives space for all to think through what just happened.
Meanwhile, the other parent serves as a listening ear for the child and helps him to understand the disciplining parent’s intentions.
In the end, the disciplining parent must still reconcile and restore the child personally. For older children and teenagers in particular, having all parties tell their side of the story is essential to the process.
Restoring our children won’t always be easy, especially when it involves disobedience or a breach of trust. But when we choose to do so in gentleness, we reflect the gentleness and grace of God, who always forgives us rebellious children when we repent.
Fellow parents, we can correct our children in love by first finding out the truth before disciplining and restoring our children in gentleness. “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire” (Proverbs 29:17). But for those of us who remain far off from these delights, may we persevere in holding fast to God’s instructions and promises.