Follow up – Don’t treat your toddlers as their sins deserve!

Here is a great comment and question from Maia on yesterday’s post:

“Could you give a real-life or real-life like example of this in action. So Johnny is hitting his little brother. How do we correct this issue without setting Johnny up to learn the formula of what I did was wrong, I paid the price. My husband and I are living this right now and our prayer is that we will parent the way God desires.”

Glad that you asked!

Godly discipline always points to Christ. This is what Ephesians 6:4 is all about. Simply correcting behavior without challenging the heart is nothing more than manipulation.  This leads to self-sufficiency, resignation, or rebellion. So, Paul says that children are to be raised in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, lest they become exasperated. The formula that parental discipline equals payment for sin can easily masquerade as biblical discipline. Let’s get to the example that Maia asked for. First, we will look at how not to go about it.

Johnny has once again hit his little brother, Ben, because he is irritated with Ben wanting to play with his toys. Mom walks in and finds that, once again, Ben is wailing and Johnny has a look of frustration, anger, and guilt. So mom says:

“Johnny, did you hit Ben again?”



“Yes, but he was taking my favorite truck again. I never get to play with it. So, I pushed him away from it. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

“Johnny, you know what this means! How many times must we tell you not to hit. God does not want you to solve problems by hitting. Mommy will discipline you. Then you will tell Ben you are sorry. Then you will go to your room and think about this for 30 minutes until the timer goes off. Maybe this will help you to learn not to hit. If you are good and don’t hit Ben anymore today, you will be able to have some of our special dessert tonight. If not, you will go straight to bed after supper. You must learn that God says you must not hit! Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mommy, but I didn’t mean to. Please give me another chance. Please!”

“What matters is you hit your brother again. I gave you another chance yesterday. You must learn not to do that. Come on, let’s get this over with. Mommy doesn’t like this anymore than you do.” As they walk off Johnny looks back at Ben and they both stick their tongues out at one another.

After a scenario like this, no one has really been helped.  Ben is not happy, Johnny is still angry, and Mom is discouraged and thinking how long will this go on. The above scenario is an example of attempted behavior modification. Yes, God’s name has been used, but not his instruction. Johnny faces negative responses for his for his behavior. If he is motivated by the lure of the dessert he may refrain from hitting Ben again today. If he doesn’t hit Ben again, Mom may think she was won a victory. In reality all that has happened is momentary behavioral change without long-term heart impact.

Let’s revisit this scenario. This time let’s focus on the heart and the gospel. To add a little more background, Johnny’s parents have been spending time with him addressing his giving into anger and hitting Ben. They have used occasions such as family worship and the brief prayer time in the morning to challenge Johnny with being kind and to see his need of Christ. Mom has taught Johnny that the Bible says being kind is being thoughtful and to be quick to do good to others. Progress is being made, but there is still work to do. Mom also knows that she has two sons that need to know Christ, not just one. So, let’s revisit the scene where Johnny has once again hit Ben. Ben is whimpering and Johnny is sadly holding his favorite truck, to make sure that Ben can’t get it.

Remember, this conversation is taking place in the context of many days of concentrated focus of loving discipline and instruction and taking every opportunity learn and love God’s word. Discipline and instruction have been ongoing.

Mom enters the playroom, kneels down and says, “Johnny and Ben, come over here.” She gives them each a brief hug. Then she says in a kind but firm voice, “Neither one of you was thinking of the other first, were you?”

Both boys shake their heads no.

Mom then says, “Remember what we have been talking about. Jesus died on the cross so that you could love each other. Ben, were you thinking about how you could love Johnny when you grabbed for the truck?”

Ben says, “No, mommy, I wanted the truck.”

Mom continues to use the same kind, firm voice and says, “Johnny, were you thinking how you could love Ben when you pushed him away?”

Johnny says, “No mommy, I just didn’t want Ben to have the truck.”

“Okay, so neither one of you was thinking of God first, you were thinking of your selves first. Is that right?”

Both boys nod affirmatively.

“Johnny, what does the Bible say that kindness means?”

“It means I should want to help Ben have fun and not be selfish?”

“That’s right, sweetheart!”

“Ben, does being kind to Johnny mean that you should ask him if you could play with truck instead of trying to take it from him?”

“Uh, huh.”

“That’s right also! Okay, this means that Mommy will need to discipline both of you because I love you and because discipline will help drive selfishness far way. You guys are making great progress. Then when we are finished we will come back in here and you both can show me how fast this truck can go. I love you both very much. Let’s pray:

Dear God, please help Johnny and Ben not to be selfish, but to be kind. Thank you for reminding us in the Bible that we should be kind and tenderhearted to one another. We know we can’t be good by ourselves. We need Jesus to give us new hearts so that we can be kind. Please forgive our sins. In Jesus name, Amen!”

When mom disciplines each boy she will specifically have them pray with her to ask forgiveness for being sinful and unkind.

This type of scenario takes much more time than the first. But this one goes far beyond just achieving an immediate result of modifying behavior. In this scenario, Christ is honored. There is no longer a formula to be applied. Rather, there is a Savior to be served.

This kind of parenting is challenging. It leaves you wholly dependent upon God and his power. It is what God has called parents to do. Just so that you know, this scenario is not based upon abstract thought. It is a composite of real-life scenes that I have witnessed over and over again.

Let me know your thoughts.


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