Godly Parenting: How to Have Discipline Conversations
by Greg Palys
When your child disobeys, it’s tempting to view the situation negatively. Whether you’re with your own children or serving in children’s ministry, a discipline conversation can seem like an inconvenience to an otherwise enjoyable family dinner or a distraction to an otherwise smooth Sunday lesson.
Discipline conversations, however, present some of the best opportunities to point children toward Christ. Godly parenting in discipline situations enables us to help children grow in faith. But to do so, we need to view the conversations through the lens of the gospel.
See Disobedience as an Opportunity
Matthew 12:34 teaches: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” What we see in our actions is simply an overflow of what is already happening inside us. So, when a child disobeys, we get a glimpse into their heart—which is what God is mainly concerned with. This is why our discipline should move past simply correcting behavior and rather, get to the source of behavior itself. So, when a child disobeys, we can start by thanking God that he has graciously revealed the child’s sin so that it can be met with the gospel.
Let Their Sin Show Their Inability
What does it actually look like to focus on the gospel in discipline situations? Godly parenting starts with bringing the child face-to-face with God’s standard. Start by asking them what the Bible has to say about their disobedience. First, this roots the authority behind the discipline in God, not in your opinion. Second, this shows them their real offense was against God. They have rebelled against God in their heart by denying his ways. Third, this frames the disobedience as sin.
We frame the disobedience as sin because it is precisely in our sin that the gospel becomes so precious. A discipline conversation makes the child face the unavoidable reality that they have not kept God’s law. And it is only when they see that they cannot keep God’s law perfectly that they can see their need for a savior.
At this point, you can show the child that Jesus perfectly did what the child was unable to do. Jesus perfectly told the truth, perfectly loved his enemies, and perfectly obeyed his authorities. And when we trust in Jesus, we gain his perfect obedience and the power to obey.
Practice Putting Off, Renewing the Mind, and Putting On
Finally, disobedience provides an opportunity to teach a concept core to the gospel: repentance. Ephesians 4:22-24 teaches that the new life in Christ doesn’t mean we merely put off wrong actions. We’re also called to renew our mind and put on right actions. The gospel compels us to make a full 180-degree turn.
Ephesians 4:28 illustrates this well. It is not enough for a thief to stop stealing. Repentance looks like a thief working hard enough to have something to share. We can model this in discipline conversations by not only requiring the child to ask forgiveness, but also by coming up with a positive replacement action. Whining is replaced by finding ten things to be thankful for. Struggling to share is replaced by finding a way to serve a sibling. And if they struggle to repent with their whole heart, you can lead them back again to their inability without Christ.
These kinds of godly parenting conversations usually don’t happen when children obey. When viewed through the proper lens, discipline conversations can present a great opportunity to point them to the one who perfectly obeyed on their behalf. Parents, and anyone who is discipling the next generation: don’t waste these conversations.