By Ginger Hubbard
“Mooooomy, I want some juuuiiice!” Whining
“She was mean to me first!” Blaming
“You’re stupid!” Disrespecting
“Tommy’s not doing what you told him to do!” Tattling
“No, I’m not going to clean my room!” Disobeying
“I didn’t take a cookie from the jar!” Lying
“You don’t love me anymore!” Manipulation
What causes a child to speak such tender words as “I love you” and “You’re the best mommy in the world” in one breath and in the next say something terrible? Before I had children, whenever I thought about my future family, I envisioned happy, well-mannered little darlings who always obeyed. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. What happened to all my plans for great parenting and well-behaved children? The stick turned blue. Twice.
In short order, I became the mom who was consistently taken aback when her kids spoke foolishly, whether it was in the form of whining, lying, or talking back. With an expression of shock, I would ask, “Why do you act like that?” After a closer look at the Word of God, I realized I was asking the wrong question.
Jesus explained, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt. 12:34). In other words, there is merit to the old saying, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.” Our sin does not begin with our mouths; it begins with our hearts. The sin that shows up in our words comes from inside of us, and it starts sooner than we might think. King David proclaimed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). When parents truly grasp the origin of sin and the total depravity of man, we no longer question why our children sin.
I slowly learned to quit asking, “Why does my child sin?” and began to ask myself, “When my child sins, how might I point him to the fact that he is a sinner in need of a savior? How might I help him understand and live in the power of the gospel?”
Through much prayer and searching the Bible, I found that having a three-step plan of action for getting to the heart of behavior, reproving children biblically, and training children in righteousness can make a positive difference in how we respond to a child’s need for correction.
Step 1: Getting to the Heart of Behavior
A wise parent will learn to move beyond the words of her child by addressing the issues of the heart. After all, if the heart is reached, the behavior will take care of itself. Jesus set the ultimate example for how to probe the heart of another in order to draw out what lies within. When dealing with sinners, Jesus did not shake His finger at their faces and tell them what they were doing wrong. Instead, He would ask thought-provoking questions in such a way that the person to whom He was talking had to take his focus off of the circumstances around him and onto the sin in his own heart. Heart-probing questions cause children to evaluate themselves, which helps them recognize their need for Christ.
Step 2: Reproving Your Child Biblically
In Matthew 18:15, God commands that we reprove those who are caught in sin. A biblical reproof exposes wrong by shedding light where there is darkness. Fortunately, God has faithfully provided us with all that we need to speak wisdom and truth into the hearts of our children. We need not look any further than the infallible Word of God. Once we have determined the issue of the heart that drives the outward behavior, we can then address the offense in accordance with Scripture.
Step 3: Training Your Child in Righteousness
It is never enough to tell kids what not to do; we must teach them what to do. In the book of Ephesians, we are told to “put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22). Teaching children to “put off” wrong behavior comes naturally for parents, mainly because we find wrong behavior unpleasant, but the key to successful parenting is found in training them in righteousness. It is equally important, if not more important, that we teach our kids what to put on when we tell them what to put off. This is what training them to walk in the righteousness of Christ is all about.
If you would like to know more about how to reach beyond the behaviors of tongue-related struggles—such as lying, tattling, and whining—to address your child’s heart, check out Ginger’s book, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!
Ginger Hubbard, bestselling author of Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Wise Words for Moms, and I Can’t Believe You Just Said That, speaks at women’s events, parenting conferences, and homeschool conventions and co-hosts the Parenting with Ginger Hubbard podcast. Visit her website at GingerHubbard.com.