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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.
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.
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:
Rick launched this training network in 2008 to provide life-changing resources that equip Christians to help others. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).