Shows Main Idea – Parenting children is different for each child and each moment of the child’s life. Your six-year-old child steals something. You caught him, and he owned what he did. He went on to tell you that he has taken things at other times. It is his habit. Should you discipline him? You must punish sin, right? You want to set an example. What if you did something better? Here are eleven parenting tips that can transform how you think about discipline, your child, God, the Gospel, and your parenting practices.
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1 – The goal is for your children to walk “out the door for the last time” as men and women submitted to God’s authority, for His fame. Meaning, when they are 18 or 21 or whatever age, and they are “on their own,” you want them to be humble servants of the LORD.
2 – Your home is a laboratory to facilitate this right end for them.
3 – Sin in the home is an opportunity, by God’s grace, to teach children how to handle their transgressions. In that way, sin is not a bad thing, but a redemptive opportunity, because this is what you know: They will always struggle with and be tempted to sin. Thus, having two decades to teach them how to appropriate the grace of God to their battles with sin is a fantastic opportunity.
4 – Each child is different. Thus, you have to take each one into consideration independently while customizing your “caring shepherding approach” according to who that child is.
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Pattern or episode
5 – With this child in mind, you want first to determine if it’s an episode or a pattern. For him, it is a pattern. He has a habit of stealing. There are some “episodic” things in his life that you can overlook, as you wait to see if they develop into patterns or if they disappear.
Of course, some episodic things you can’t ignore like slapping a sibling or yelling at your wife. However, many episodes do not reach that severity, which is why you overlook them because you want to make sure your “disciplinary moments” are significant and memorable. Thus, always disciplining everything is not a good idea.
Your goal is not the perfect six-year-old, which is one reason you can overlook some things. There are a few parents who “intensify” the home by trying to get every “sin wrinkle” out of a child’s life. They end up exasperating the child.
6 – Though your son has a pattern of stealing, there is another element in play here. He told you the truth. He came clean. He confessed his sin. He was honest, transparent, and willing to talk about what he did. His forthrightness is amazing. It is more amazing than his sin. Thus, in my view, it needs more consideration than the sin.
Let’s say he stole something and was not forthcoming, but defiant and rebellious. That’s far different from stealing and being willing to talk about it, regardless of the fact someone caught him doing it.
Again, the goal is future submission to God, which you hope to see in his life now while in the laboratory (your home). Well, you just saw it. He did something you hope he will do a zillion more times: (1) sin and (2) come clean.
Here’s what you know: he will always be tempted to sin in various ways, and sometimes he will yield to sin.
Here’s what you hope: he will come clean about what he did by humbly owning it.
Imagine your child married to someone he occasionally hurts through sin. That’s not hard to imagine because if he does marry, he will sin against his wife many times. Now imagine him coming back around and repenting of his sin. His wife will “rise up and call you blessed” for teaching him how to own his sin.
7 – I would focus more on the “coming clean” part than the sin part. BTW, this is how we (Rick and Lucia) parent. I can give you many illustrations of my children sinning, and we celebrating the confession over the sin event. It is kinda like the prodigal son who came back to his senses: we kill fat cows and have parties, so to speak.
8 – The other part of this is the repercussion of discipline. If your child tells the truth and then gets a spanking, it could have an adverse impact on your long-term parenting goal of a child willing to submit to God. It could also teach him a weak message about God the Father, i.e., I confess my sin to God, and He punishes me. Legalists think this way.
A significant aspect of the Gospel is Christ taking our sin. What you have with your son’s sin is a picture (echo) of that Gospel truth. He confesses and experiences the father’s (your) pleasure. His sin and ownership of his sin could be a significant teaching moment about honesty, truth-telling, redemption, grace, transparency, and how you guys can best relate to each other in the future.
9 – What you do know is that your child will sin again and you may need to discipline him at that time. It’s not like you avoid discipline in your home or do not see the importance of it. There is a time and need for stern care.
However, there are fewer opportunities to model the redemptive effects of confessed sin. Most of the time we have to “pressure confession and ownership” out of our children. When they do own it, I think I want to pop a cork (soda, of course) and talk about what happen, post-sin, more than the sin itself. (Prodigal son and dad: I’m looking at you.)
10 – Afterward, (days and even weeks) you can speak to your son about stealing, why he steals, how you can serve him to work through his habituation. You can also remind him about the grace-gift of confession and how God gives favor (grace) for humility, which is essential to working through this sin pattern.
11 – I do want to speak to the discipline thing regarding your son. I purposely left that at the end of my response because I want you to soak in what I wrote while not thinking about the punishment aspect. With that said, there needs to be a form of discipline, though discipline is not the best word to use here. What you want to do is expand your child’s thinking about the Gospel.
E.g., one of the key elements of the Gospel is how it teaches about full reconciliation. There is a “thing” still hanging out there. Your son stole some things, and he needs to make that right.
You want to convey the seriousness of sin (a) to him, (b) to your other children, and (c) to the “offended” ones: the ones from whom he stole things. Some of the things you can accomplish by teaching him the “reconciliation aspect” of the Gospel are:
- Let him know that sin is serious. Elevate the seriousness of sin so you can make an impression on him. Remember, sin is so serious that the Father crushed His Son (Isaiah 53:10).
- Let others know you take sin seriously.
- Let him and others know there is a process to work through transgressions. Spread God’s fame through your family and the others involved in this situation.
- Model the reconciliation aspect of the Gospel, in addition to sin, guilt, conviction, confession, and forgiveness. Learn about full repentance here.
- You want to teach consequences for sin. By making him (a) confess his sin and (b) seeking forgiveness, which are more effective redemptive consequences than spanking him. I think spanking, at times, can be too easy for the parent and the child.
- Make him “work out his salvation” by active obedience. By not allowing him to do something is where spanking, in this case, can fail you: there is no work involved. I realize your son may not be a Christian, but the idea of “working out your salvation” still needs to be taught.
- There is such a thing as active obedience. Spanking falls within the passive obedience realm. Though a parent can work out their frustration by spanking the kid (which is so wrong) and the kid can “think it’s over,” it would be far better for him to do some work to tidy this thing up.
- The process of repentance that you’re walking him through now will mean more to him after he is older.
- You will spread God’s fame far and wide as you walk him through this.