Written by Paul J Bucknell on October, 29, 2018
Catch : Confront : Correct: The Proper Correction of Our Children
What would be considered the most effective and caring form of discipline for a disobedient child? And why?
Have you ever uncovered your child’s sin? It’s just like turning a rock over and shocked by all the creepy crawly things underneath! We never expected what we found. One time I caught our son lying. He professed to be a Christian. He knows lying is wrong. So what should we say to him?
I’d like to share what I said to him. I realize there are many ways to discuss this kind of issue, but my chief concern is that in many situations we do not handle it quite right because we do not think about it rightly. Let me focus on some important issues by the way I explained it to my son.
God wants pure hearts so that we can be best of friends with Him and others. When we do what is right, then we can be transparent. This is the same for God and people. When we have nothing to hide, no ulterior motives, we can have the best relationships possible. We can be our real selves with nothing to hide.
When we go against God’s ways, part of our heart becomes further darkened. I described it to my son as a pocket of sin in our heart. When we sin, the sin doesn’t just go away with time. It will stay hidden in our pocket like a heavy rock until we empty it. Have you ever cleaned out a pocket of a child that had been collecting things he discovered? It can be rather grotesque, but still, the pocket needs cleaning. The biblical teaching that highlights this is John 3:19-21.
And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
Our hearts reveal what we love. If our deeds are evil, then we will favor the darkness. We love the darkness because our deeds are evil. Being ensnared, people cannot on their own escape. By correcting our child, we associate pain and displeasure with the wrong choices he makes. We are making it so that he is not blind to the consequences of the wrong decisions that he makes. As a young child playing near the street, so the child making foolish decisions sometimes cannot see the terrible consequences of his/her choices.
Physical discipline doesn’t create a love for good thing as this only comes when God changes one’s heart through His saving grace and mercy. Discipline merely reminds the child that doing wrong is not good so that his heart might not be convinced his way is the best. This training enables the child to see good in God’s design, and so, this adverse instruction must be combined with an emphasis on relaying the glory of God’s way—the way He designed us.
The way we relate with others affects our relationship with God. I showed my son what happens when we leave that sin hidden away deep in our heart’s pocket.
When people commit evil, a pattern of hiding from God begins to develop, along with others we might have offended. The darkness is stored deep in our heart’s pocket. We can call it the ‘hate the light’ syndrome. Until the darkness goes away, a person will shy away from God. If the person has to relate to God or the one he has offended, then the person burdened with ‘pockets filled with evil’ will need to devise ways to both excuse what he has done as well as pretend that all is well. Any relationships formed will be superficial and built on deceit.
“...and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
Relationship with God
Unconfessed sin always leads to a distasteful lukewarm love for God which will eventually move a person to lukewarm churches or to leave God. Do we need to force ourselves to worship or simply change churches to find more compatible teaching that fits our hearts? Shouldn’t we deal with our sin and establish our love for others? Certainly.
Relationship with People
The same situation occurs in personal relationships like between parents and children. When children have sin hidden away in their hearts, they try to escape the home. If not, they deceive their parents, or whoever they are offended by.
If sin is not dealt with, then it is stored in the heart, and it increasingly makes it more difficult for the child to listen to God or talk with their parents. No wonder that many children when a bit older just revolt against their parents. They basically insist on an independent lifestyle virtually unchallenged by their parents’ directives.
There is no real unsurprising teenage rebellion. That extra tension often accompanying teenage years accumulates due to hidden and unconfessed sin. Before the child was deceiving the parent but now feels like he or she needs to escape. What is really needed is for the parents and children to apologize for their sins against each other. The parents should, upon sensing such tension between themselves and their children, call everyone together to resolve this situation.
Piling the Sins Up
I further explained to my son that when there is sin in your heart, then there are probably more sins in the pocket than you think. Once the pocket has something in it, it becomes easier to throw other things in with them. This is where Christians become hypocritical. As sins pile up, their hearts are hardened. The only way out is to confess ones sin and apologize. Fortunately, the blood of Christ can forgive any sin.
Let’s take this case where my son lied to me. He, first of all, has sinned against God and then against me as his Dad. No person can grow under the dynamics of isolation, superficiality, and deceit. The father and son should be able to share on all levels. When the child has to hide a specific aspect of his life, then not only will he continue to deceive, but he will never receive help in that area. It is for these reasons that parents need to apply God’s method of correction.
The 3 C’s to Disciplining our Children
There are three aspects with properly discipline our children: catch, confront, and correct.
1) Catch the sin
Should we expect to find sin in our child’s life?
When we look at the scriptures, it says that foolishness is bound up in the child’s heart. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (Prov 22:15).
As parents, we should always be on the outlook for sin in our children, not acting as a critical parent anticipating some evil but caring enough about our children to train them in righteousness. We love enough to carefully watch over their lives so that they don’t get trapped into evil and destructive patterns.
Some parents don’t think their children sin. There are fancy philosophical terms to describe their various behaviors, but more important is how these perspectives will bring unbiblical influence the way they care for their children. Similar to them are the parents who can’t rightly interpret their child’s evil behavior. They know what their child does is wrong but can’t bring themselves to think of it as so.
Their precious child just spouted out some rude words telling the child, “You don’t mean what you just said, do you?” The child really did mean it. The rhetorical question does not seek an answer. They wouldn’t know what to do if the child said, “Yes.”
Children can sin just as well as adults. The problem is that they are less mature and cannot cleverly cover it up. But still, they know how to put the cookie jar cover back on or carefully replace the cookies around on the sheet so it looks like nothing is missing.
I need to clarify something, though. By ‘keeping an outlook for their sin,’ I do not mean that we are ready to lash out, “I knew you were the one who lied about breaking my picture.” This condemning statement will foster more lying in the future.
Instead, we hopefully paint a picture of godly living. We warmly encourage our child to do good things. Often in the morning during our family prayers and instruction, I would say to everyone, “Today is a day to be kind to one another. We are to see how we can help someone out. We even might do some secret good things for another.” I describe my good expectations before them. We lead them to righteous living. “... He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake” (Psalms 23:3).
They will sin, of course, but because of our prayers and patient correction, we are anticipating less sin. We are not to be blind to their nature. Our work is already difficult enough to ignore their evil nature that they were born with (from us!). Many of us have heard about being born again but never have thought twice about what was so wrong about the first time we were born! Our nature naturally tends to do evil. Neither have we thought about why is it that big people are so mean and ugly. They used to be children. They didn’t all of a sudden become that way but grew up in their sin.
Do we have hope for our children? We sure do. Just as God can deal with us, so He can deal with them. He is the master of grace and mercy. Invite the Lord God to come and help you as a parent to train them in righteousness.
It is not enough to catch our children with their sin. If we leave them there in their sin, then we are terribly irresponsible parents. Why is it important to be on the outlook for sin in the lives of our children? We will see that in the following two points.
2) Confront the child
What do we do with the child once we are sure they have done wrong?
Should we overlook their sin once we find it? Some parents think that by lovingly ignoring their child’s wrong action or attitude, that they will learn how to be nice to others. The problem is that it just does not work! How we all wish it would! If we ignore our child’s evil behavior and attitudes, then like weeds, they will just keep growing until they get out of the control. This is why it is said in the scripture, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov 13:24). Some parents have never seen how children should be confronted with what they have done wrong. Some parents do not have a clue as to what we should do.
Other parents, when small, have been threatened, censored and criticized into submissiveness. And when they have grown up, they have either copied this pattern, much to the child’s dismay, or done the opposite. In the later course, we develop spoiled brats. We know we are to be loving but don’t recognize it and do not want to bother considering how that love should be integrated with child discipline.
There are some who have identified physical discipline with the lack of love. The scriptures leave us with no conclusion but that unless one uses physical correction such as spankings, then we do not love. How can people hold to two such perspectives? Why would those in the first category even try to make it illegal to paddle or spank a child?
Part of the issue is that those who oppose physical discipline have not been able to see the sin nature of the child. The other part is that they have probably seen much abuse; even if not personally experiencing it, they see no place for discipline.
The question seems to come down to how does mercy blend with training in righteousness. Do we always have to confront sin? When should we overlook sin? When we understand what is happening underneath the surface of the child in the conscience, it is easier to judge the answer to these critical questions.
Parents rightly exude extra mercy when discovering a child is under special duress or when there is confusion as to whether he knew what was expected. When we see that our child has a cold and fever, his attitude is often much worse than usual. He is not exercising self-discipline in what he says or does. We will still discipline him for his insubordinate behavior, but we will soften the correction. It doesn’t take much to rebuke him. Along with the softening of correction, we will need to multiply our love and patience toward him. Remember a firm spanking might be needed, but then we should be right there with tender holding and loving words–softer correction and more tenderness.
Once I discovered that one of my sons dropped a piece of regular paper in the toilet. I was thinking about correcting him, but then realized he might not have known about our rules about what we put in the toilet bowl. So although he did wrong, I believe he did not think he knew that it was wrong. It is possible he did know it was wrong, but if I have not sufficiently clarified the rules, then I should not hold him responsible. Husbands and wives have to agree on their parental instructions and rules. So I turned from my thoughts about correcting him and instead instructed him. I explained to him about bio-degradable material and where other papers go. I also warned him there would be consequences if he violates this in the future. I lastly asked him if this was clear. If the paper was big or troublesome, I would have had him join me in cleaning it out. It wasn’t, so I just let it be.
Our child’s welfare is built from good, loving-hearted, and consistent disciplinary action. If we do not confront a child consistently when needed, then we are erasing the line in the middle of the road. The child is less sure of the importance of staying on one side of the road. He will cross over the former line because he considers it now okay, or if wrong, he can escape detection!
We need to confront the child’s sin or it becomes lodged in their hearts. We must do it consistently, even though it is easier to overlook it this time, for the sake of the child. They must understand by consistent clarification and rebuke that the rules are clearly marked and that there are specific consequences for breaking the rules.
3) Correct the child
Often the question is not on whether the parent should correct the child, the question is on how. There are many different answers given to this question. The scriptures are very clear on the necessity of physical correction. We should not conclude this means all the time or at all ages. When the rod is needed, it will be given. No one likes using a rod on their child and seeing him cry. It would appear to be–and so many parents mistakingly conclude–much better to lovingly encourage him to promise never to do it again. That would be great if it worked, but the God who made us knows better than this.
I have eight children and fully understand that each child is unique, but each still has a sin nature that needs to be trained–just like their parents. We are not suggesting a ‘one for all’ specific pattern but a general approach–as children need personal love, they need discipline when they rebel. Inconsistency displays wretched mercy, sending confusing messages to the child and increasing the number of times a child will rebel.
The rod brings a strong, yet measured and temporary physical affliction to the child where guilt is acknowledged and dealt with. The child feels clean after the punishment and restoration–within minutes everything can be righted (except the broken pot). The rod is quick. It is done. In just a few minutes, restoration can be made. The child in the corner might have time to think over his mistakes, but does the child go through the restoration process? Is there a certain change of attitude?
The constraint of activity is much more appropriate for older children who have been trained under the rod when young and therefore have been trained to humble their heart when they have done wrong. Other kinds of verbal rebukes and having children staring in a corner do not appropriately if at all, deal with the guilt fighting in a child. Again, these other methods have their place, but they need to stand as assistants rather than the primary means parents deal with wayward children just as the scriptures teach us.
We will at another place amplify more about a general framework on how to correct a child. For now, we want to convey that it is essential to correct our children. We cannot skip overcorrection because of possible damage to the child’s self-esteem! God considers identifying one’s sin, rebuking him, and leading to correction with hopes of reconciliation is much more important (i.e., God with Cain - Genesis 4).
Think about it. If a child gets away with sinful actions, they will do them again in the future. We are in a sense creating a path that enlarges their willful ways, strengthening their thirst for control. They will think highly of those things they can get away with. This is creating a person who is unruly and will insist on their own will. Whatever we think about self-esteem must succumb to the instructions of the scriptures.
Parents are facing a crisis in raising their children precisely because they, in most cases, ignorantly go against the teaching of God’s Word. The world has so accentuated the case of ‘self-esteem’ that the world’s advice makes sense to them, but then, they need to compromise on God’s Word. God corrects sinful people rather than allowing them to waver in their waywardness, falsely confident of themselves, and seeing them perish. God cares too much for this generation to have them walk in darkness without showing the light, and so should we, especially for the sake of our own children. This moral epidemic of false teaching has ruined this generation, bringing them to think they no longer need God, forgiveness, and His direction, meanwhile suffering a horrific breakdown of relationships and the use of drugs to cover up the sinful effects of poor teaching.
Study Questions for Catch : Confront : Correct
- Why do children avoid their parents when they do wrong?
- How does God respond to people when they sin?
- Is it better to overlook our child’s wrong or confront him/her? Why?
- Should we encourage our children to make their own decisions? What if they are wrong decisions?
- What is the problem of self-esteem teaching when applied to physical discipline?
- What is the advantage of proper correction?
- Read Genesis 4 and observe the ways God handles Cain in his sin.
- What are the principles we can learn from this regarding confronting and correcting our children?