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Chastening Children

by Jonathan Lindvall

Copyright 1996 Jonathan Lindvall

(Page Updated March 18, 2002)

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This article was originally published in Home School Digest.

The use of corporal punishment, or spanking, has come under increasing disfavor throughout western culture in recent decades. Many social workers define all such punishment by parents as child abuse. Some governments, notably Sweden, have legislated injunctions against all physical discipline. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child proposes to make such a position universal.

Yet the scriptures clearly call parents to lovingly chasten their children. God is clearly displeased with child abuse, yet He requires the use of the rod as a means to train them. Reacting to modern sensitivities to the possibility of abuse, however, many Christian parents today are looking for alternatives to the Scriptural norm of reproof.

There is a desperate need today for clear, Biblical instruction regarding the chastening of children. Our churches need to more frequently and thoroughly present scriptural exposition on the various facets of the discipline of children: Why is it necessary? Who is to do it? How is it to be done? When is it to be done? etc. Does the Bible address such issues?

But chastening children is so distasteful. It seems so contradictory to the romantic notions our society promotes of a fondly affectionate, nurturing relationship with our children. I am frequently asked, by those attending my seminars, for recommendations for alternative disciplinary measures, like "time out." No doubt there are many disciplinary tools that wise, loving parents can and should use, but if the motivation is to seek an alternative to the scriptural norm, I think we have a deeper problem.

We must start by confronting certain fallacies that are gradually coming to acceptance as pre-suppositions. The most obvious is equating spanking with abuse. This tragic confusion is partly founded on fact. All too often parents have not committed themselves to lovingly disciplining their children promptly. In many instances as the children push the limits of their parents' tolerance, they precipitate explosive outbursts that are invariably abusive toward the children.

Furthermore, I have cringed at the vocabulary some use in regard to the discipline of their children. When a mother threatens to "hit" her child, the terminology certainly gives one the impression of angry abuse and tyrannizing bullying rather than loving correction.

But it doesn't follow that all physical discipline is abuse. In fact, we all recognize that not all infliction of pain is abuse. Many medical and dental procedures cause temporary pain for the patient, and some might, in a moment of paranoia, accuse the doctor of abuse. But clearly doing something for someone's own good is not abuse.

Virtually everyone in our society would agree that inflicting necessary pain by a medical or dental procedure in order to overcome potential or current physical dangers is appropriate. Yet because of our modern Western materialistic world-view many find it incredible to apply the same logic to spiritual dangers. Yet as Christians we recognize the greater dangers to our children are spiritual rather than physical (Matt. 10:28).

In the illustration above, the patient might be a willing adult, which makes the analogy to chastening children rather tenuous. But what of medical treatments that wise parents and doctors "inflict" upon an unwilling child who does not understand the long-term benefit? Despite the child's temporary displeasure, the act of administering the treatment cannot be considered abuse. Even if it can be later shown, as is sometimes the case, that the parents and/or doctor were ill-advised in carrying out the particular procedure, it still cannot be classified as abuse, because the motivation was one of benevolence, not harm.

Motivation is the Key

The key to discriminating between abuse and appropriate chastening is motivation. If the intent (whether recognized or unrecognized) is to exalt oneself at another's expense to vent one's own anger the punishment is abuse. If the intent is to humbly obey God and compassionately bring the child to grieving repentance of his sin the chastening cannot be classified as abuse although pain will be inflicted. As with the medical procedure, it is good for the child, despite his current displeasure.

When two good friends slap each other on the back in congratulations over some mutual delight, although there may be a momentary localized sting neither party considers it a bullying attack. Thus striking another individual is not in all cases considered assault. If a choking victim is the beneficiary of a passerby's lifesaving Heimlich Maneuver, he might even receive a resulting bruise, but it is certainly not considered a vicious attack it is a compassionate act in the other's best interest.

In the same way, a parent spanking his child as an act of love, for his long-term benefit, is not abuse, regardless of the fact that observers, and even conceivably the child, might perceive it as such. We will return to this issue when discussing scriptural chastening methodology, but for now, we can clearly reject the assumption that all physical restraint or reproof is always, and perhaps even typically, abusive.

One key to increasing the likelihood that discipline is a loving (rather than a bullying) act is to evaluate our foundational thinking about the issue. Specifically, are we called to chasten our children or punish them? Is there a difference between these two? I don't want to quibble about words, but our words have meanings and reveal our understanding and beliefs.

Punishment implies bringing justice to bear on a transgressor. Thus punishment involves paying our children back for their sin, getting even, getting revenge, retaliation, retribution, etc. But Jesus has already paid the penalty for our children's sins on the cross. There is no vengeance to be wrought since Jesus was willingly penalized on our behalf. Yet, even though our sins are forgiven "whom the LORD loves He chastens" (Heb. 12:6).

What is the difference between punishment and chastening? Chastening is a loving act looking toward future maturity. It is an optimistic act that is willing to endure temporary inconvenience and pain for the joy that is anticipated (Heb. 12:2) in the eventual result "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Heb. 12:11).

Rather than focusing on past misdeeds as with punishment, chastening looks forward to overcoming the fault being dealt with. The scriptures call parents to chasten their children rather than punish them. Still I will not be offended with others for using the terms chasten and punish rather interchangeably. Please don't be offended if I also do this. But we must be clear on what we believe God is calling us to do. This is not a matter of just and fair penalties, but rather of loving correction of sinful tendencies for our children's own ultimate benefit.

Consistent Chastening Sequence

Let me share the disciplinary steps we have come to use in our own home. We have purposed to apply the following ten steps as consistently as possible. We have endeavored to base each step on scriptural principles. I encourage parents to base their child training on God's word rather than the latest fads of the world's authorities.

Our family is not perfect and no doubt many will have insights beyond what the Lord has given us. Some may not see the benefit of each step. However, especially if you are struggling in this area, you may find our ten steps adaptable into your family situation. In any event I appeal to all Christians to come up with some scripturally-based discipline sequence that they can apply consistently.

Early in my fatherhood I noticed a subtle desire to keep my children off balance by making certain they could not predict my response to them. Somehow this gave me a sense of control. In fact this was a very unhealthy practice. It produced a sense of insecurity in my children.

We need to be predictable in our responses to our children. Someone has said if your children don't know how to get a spanking, they don't know how to avoid a spanking. Our children should discern such consistency in their parents that they know rather certainly that given behavior will, without exception, lead us to correct them.

We have found that the more thorough and consistent we are in applying the following ten steps, the less often we have to carry them out. However when we lapse into inconsistency or short-cuts, we find ourselves becoming exasperated with more frequent disobedience. The key seems to be integrity in consistency.

Step #1: Immediately Send Them to Privacy

The first thing we do when one of our children does something requiring chastening is send them to a private place. With this they know that the chastening sequence has definitely commenced. Proverbs 13:24 tells us, "He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly." Emphasize that word promptly. Children need rather immediate response to their misbehavior for the discipline to be most effective.

I imagine every parent has noticed that children have a tendency to misbehave at particularly inconvenient moments. They wait until you are involved in a long-distance telephone conversation and that's when they choose to fight. Or they select public settings to challenge your authority. In the privacy of your own home they would never think of showing disrespect, but in the grocery store they think you won't do anything.

We have occasionally had to leave a full grocery cart in a super market and hope it is still there when we return from a visit to the car. But my children must know there is no place or time when they can violate our parental authority. If I am talking on the phone or involved in some complex task I don't have to stop immediately. (That might even become a manipulative device in the hands of a child seeking attention.) Instead, I immediately ("promptly") begin the chastening process by sending them ahead of me to the private place where the actual chastening will occur. In the case of a telephone conversation, I may simply motion to them, and they know what I am communicating.

Why is it so critical to discipline a child "promptly?" No doubt most parents would join me in admitting we have sometimes given our children too many warnings. I give a command requiring or forbidding something and the child seeks an opportunity to defy me without any repercussions. For example, if they wait long enough, they may imagine that I have forgotten my own directive. They exhibit outward nonchalance while watching for my response as they proceed with their disobedience.

My inclination is to give them a stern warning. Why do we give children warnings? Is it that we doubt they understood the command initially? Generally not. Certainly in my case, the reason I prefer to give another warning is that it is inconvenient and unpleasant for me to interrupt what I am doing to deal with their misbehavior. So I raise my voice and scold them, rather than actually carrying out the chastening they know God directs. I repeatedly warn them, "If you do that one more time..." But they time their disobedience such that I can rationalize another warning each time.

What am I doing? I am teaching them that my commands can be avoided if they are sneaky or persistent enough. How many warnings should a child require before he obeys? Some would insist that we should give at least one warning before actually chastening. But if we do this we are communicating that the first instance of a command can be disregarded. Instead we should make certain that our directives are clearly understood the first time, and bring prompt discipline if there is a violation. Delayed obedience is disobedience!

But what if the child claims to have forgotten? Perhaps there are instances when it is unrealistic to expect a young child to remember intricate details for long periods of time. Certainly reminders are called for in some instances. Yet we all know that children will often conveniently "forget" something we have made quite clear. Proverbs 10:13 tells us, "a rod is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding." Initially this sounds cruel. Should a child be spanked for misunderstanding? Hardly! But for conveniently and repeatedly forgetting? Absolutely! The application of prompt discipline instead of delaying with warnings motivates a child to attentiveness toward his parents' commands (Prov. 2:1; 3:1; 7:1).

Even when there is nothing that would be interrupted by dropping everything and immediately spanking a disobedient child, we still follow this step of sending him ahead of us to a private place. A secondary, but significant, reason for this, beyond the promptness issue is that I want to give myself a few moments to make certain that I am in complete control of my emotions. I don't want to react rashly to my child, so I wait at least a few seconds before following the child into the private place. I have purposed to never spank my children in anger.

I must admit when one of my children is disobedient I find myself struggling with irritation or anger. Now this is an area the Lord must deal with in each of our lives. We must learn to surrender our rights to God and thus eliminate the basis for anger. But while we are gaining victory here we do well to structure our family lifestyle patterns such that even if anger exists it will not dominate our relationships, especially with our children. Thus I maintain the pattern of immediately sending them ahead of me, but checking my own emotions momentarily before following them into the private place.

A third reason for sending them into privacy is that it is not my intention to humiliate the child in front of others through the process of chastening. I want to facilitate their repentance by making it as easy as possible for them to respond to their sin in a godly way. I don't want to embarrass them, so the chastening is carried out away from even their siblings. (There will be a further step later, in which the child must humble himself before the person the offense was against. But the chastening is not the time for public humiliation.)

Step #2: Require a Confession

At the first step no discussion is permitted. The child may not argue or explain. He must simply go quietly to the specified private place and wait for either Connie or me to follow him.

But the first thing we do when we have joined the child is ask, "What did you do? Why did I have to send you here?" The child must, at this point, confess his sin. Sometimes the child will protest that he wasn't doing what we thought we saw or heard; or that he wasn't aware that whatever he was doing was a violation of our directions. Occasionally we are persuaded that this is the case, but usually we can discern a manipulative attempt to avoid chastening (we were all children once ourselves, remember).

I insist on hearing a confession from the mouth of the child where he names and takes full responsibility for his own sin. If necessary, particularly if the child is quite young, I will put the words in his mouth by having him repeat after me: "I I, hit hit, my my, sister sister." Willing confession of sin, in humility before God, is an essential habit we want to cultivate in our children early in their lives. John writes (1 John 1:9), "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Step #3: Express Grief (vs. Anger)

In response to the confession of my child's sin, I want to let them sense my heart. However my heart must be right. How should I respond emotionally to my children's transgressions? In one of the clearest New Testament mandates to parents Paul wrote, (Ephesians 6:4) "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."

How does a father provoke children to wrath? No doubt there are many parental practices that should be avoided on this basis. Teasing, belittling, defrauding, and leaving children vulnerable to either physical or spiritual dangers could easily promote anger in a child, particularly a perceptive one. But one practice that almost ensures producing rage in a child is exhibiting one's own anger toward him. We must never punish our children in anger.

During a break in one of my BOLD PARENTING Seminars a woman came up and identified herself as a social worker. She was offended by my insistence that godly parents must purpose to consistently follow the scriptural mandate to chasten their children. She told me, "I could never spank my children except when I'm really mad."

This poor woman's concern was that Christian parents might inadvertently abuse their children. In fact, she was the abusive parent! When a parent displays anger when reproving, the child feels abused. Each of us has, at one time or another been scolded angrily by someone. We felt abused. When a parent displays anger toward his child, even with no physical contact whatsoever, the child feels abused!

True abuse is a misuse of our emotions! In the absence of anger abuse is impossible. But when anger is present abuse is inevitable. The key to avoiding abuse is overcoming anger, or at least controlling our tempers. We should make certain we never chasten our children in anger. It should always be a loving act in which the children discern our grief. They must be convinced that their sin makes us sad, not mad.

Our anger toward our children is ineffective in bringing them to repentance. James wrote (James 1:20), " the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God." Displaying grief toward our children reveals the intensity of our abhorrence for their sin without projecting a rejection of them personally. On the other hand, if we react angrily, they feel attacked and provoked. If their temptation is to harbor resentment or anger, we have clearly "provoked them to wrath."

Step #4: Review God's Required Consequence

Although chastening should not be perceived as bringing justice to bear or paying our children back for their sin, there is yet the need for obedience on the parents' part in applying loving chastening to avoid and correct sinful patterns. Thus there are scripturally mandated consequences to children's sin.

After expressing my grief at the child's sin, then, I ask them what I have to do in obedience to God's word. The child must answer that I am required to chasten them. I want to be certain my children understand that inflicting pain on them is nothing I take pleasure in. (If spanking your children ever does bring you pleasure, or releases your frustration, that is when you should not do it. Cool down first!) It sounds trite, but my children need to know that I can honestly say, "This hurts me more than it does you."

Occasionally we will even pause at this point and review some of the scriptures that mandate parents' chastening of their children. There are a number of such passages, especially in the book of Proverbs. For example, we might look at Proverbs 19:18: "Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction." Another is Proverbs 29:15: "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."

A passage we have considered more intently, perhaps, than some of the others is Proverbs 22:15: "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him." Some wince at such strong wording, protesting, "Do you really spank your children for being silly?" This passage says to use the rod to drive out foolishness, not silliness. These are not the same thing. Yet much silliness is foolishness.

What does the Bible mean when it talks of foolishness? No doubt there are many things, but perhaps it is especially helpful to consider the primary attribute of a fool in the Bible. Psalm 14:1 and Psalms 53:1 both tell us, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Many Christian parents immediately assume this could not apply to their children. Why, our children aren't atheists! Notice the fool doesn't necessarily deny God with his mouth, or even with his intellect. It is in his heart that he says, "There is no God."

How would one say this in his heart? When a child (or an adult) believes he can do something wrong and get away with it, he is denying that God sees, hears, and knows everything. When he says, either aloud or in his heart, "No one saw me. I won't get caught," he is saying in his heart, "There is no God." He is a fool. In his foolishness he has been deceived. Paul wrote Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

How can we rid our children of such foolishness? Again, Proverbs 22:15 states "The rod of correction will drive it [foolishness] far from him." We must instill in our children a healthy fear of God. The antidote for foolishness, of course, is wisdom. But we are repeatedly told the foundation for all true wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 15:33; Is. 11:2-3; 33:6). Through the use of the rod children develop a healthy fear of the Lord.

While the normative default methodology is chastening, certainly there are other ways to instill a fear of the Lord in children. But if we are simply looking for alternatives to God's norm, we need to discern the rebellion in our own hearts. However, let me share one particular strategy that has worked for me.

At one point I began to be concerned that my children were likely doing wrong things I was not aware of and were getting away with them. I believe it is good for children to get caught. That is why I catch them. But what if they don't get caught? I began praying, "Lord, help them get caught." Shortly afterward, however, I felt the Lord's prompting to pray this aloud in my children's presence. Can you imagine the healthy terror inspired in a little boy's heart to hear his father pray, "Lord, even when I don't see them, you do. When they do something wrong secretly, help them get caught." I could see the shock and concern in my sons' eyes as they imagined how God might answer that prayer. This is a proper fear of God.

Step #5: Administer the Physical Chastening

After discussing with my child the biblically-required response to his sin, I then administer the actual chastening. I want to be discreet in discussing this. There are occasionally some who take a perverse delight in talking about the details of corporal punishment. This is warped, and we need to be cautious when folks seem to find thrills in such explicit discussions.

Yet, too often today Christian leaders have failed to address the clear teaching of scripture on the practical directions in scripture on how we are to chasten our children. There are many young Christian parents who have never been exposed to more than the world's experts on this subject. Many even lack a model of chastening by their own parents assumed in Hebrews 12:5-11 ("For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." verses 6-8). This evidence of a lack of parental (specifically paternal) love need not be passed on to another generation, however.

Does the Bible tell us how chastening is to be implemented? Regarding several specifics, yes, the scriptures are quite clear. First, we are repeatedly directed to use an implement the Bible calls a rod. Proverbs 26:3 tells us, "A whip for the horse, A bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the fool's back." Is it critical, for example, that we not use a whip in spanking our children? I suspect there is something significant here. A whip is to be used on animals, while a rod is to be used for people ("fools"). I discourage parents from spanking their children with a belt. A belt becomes a form of a whip.

Frankly, I have concluded that I should not use a paddle in chastening, either. A paddle is more accurately classed as a club than a rod. I used to use a moderately wide paddle. A paddle can possibly leave deep bruises. Many have joked about applying "the board of education to the seat of learning." When we used a paddle my children much preferred my wife's spankings to mine. Her flagellation was not nearly as painful as mine she could not wield the paddle as effectively as I could simply because of its size. Since we began using a rod, however, I cannot swing the thin stick any faster than she can, and thus the sting of a spank from either of us is equally dreaded.

Some have taken strong issue with ever using a hand to chasten a child. While I generally agree, I don't know that we must be legalistic about forbidding either a belt or a paddle, or even a hand. Particularly when a child is quite young, the principle of promptness (discussed in step one; Proverbs 13:24) may take precedence. I find it appropriate, for example when a young child touches something forbidden, to immediately remind them this is a no-no with an immediate slap on the hand (without anger, of course).

But why not generally use a rod as the scriptures direct? The consistent reference to a rod as the instrument of chastening seems at least possibly significant. Proverbs 23:13-14, for example, says, "Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell." (Note how abusive such passages sound to our twentieth century ears. Despite our sensitivities, this is God's word.)

But if we are to take the scriptures this literally and actually use a rod, and I believe we are, what exactly is a rod? The Hebrew word translated "rod" is shebet. It literally means a thin stick or branch. Some families use the handle of a wooden spoon. That's probably about right. We prefer to go to a hardware store and purchase wooden dowel rods (generally about 3/8 inch in diameter).

Some time ago our commitment to using literal rods resulted in a rather humorous incident. I realized we needed to replenish our stash of rods, so I took my sons with me to building supply store. I allowed each of the boys to pick out his own personal rod, then we took them to the check-out counter. I hesitated nervously when the check-out clerk asked good-naturedly what we were going to do with them. One of my sons, though, not recognizing the need for discretion looked up with a grin and said, "Those are to spank us with!" You can imagine both the clerk's and my awkward silence. We left as quickly as possible.

Some are aghast at such suggestions of physical chastening (certainly finding the above much less than humorous.) These would prefer to simply scold their children. Certainly our words of correction are important, but they must be accompanied by chastening. Proverbs 29:15 tells us that mothers who fail to use both verbal correction and chastening with a rod with their children will experience embarrassment. "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."

But the scripture is even more explicit in explaining why verbal correction is inadequate by itself. It boldly proclaims that the benefit of physical chastening is found in the PAIN! Proverbs 20:30 states, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Can you imagine that? And it even inflames our sensitivities more by calling our euphemistic swats "blows."

Are we really to "hurt" our children? Once again, slight, temporary pain is not abusive. A loving parent will provide momentary discomfort to help a child avoid future tragedy that would be truly harmful. It is apparently our responsibility, as fathers and mothers, to make certain our children experience noticeable pain in the chastening process. We must thereby get their attention.

I imagine each of us recollects occasional instances when, as children, we experienced relatively mild spankings that did not induce significant suffering for us. But we often reacted rather dramatically, screaming loudly, to persuade our parents that they had been adequately forceful. We must recognize our children will similarly endeavor to manipulate us. The intensity of my chastening is not related to my child's response, but rather, to God's directive in His word. It is my job to make certain my children experience pain in the process.

Note, also, that the passage mentions "stripes." We certainly want to be careful here. We all know that true child abuse exists, and often results in appalling, dramatic signs of disfigurement or other marks of physical damage to a child's body. This is clearly not what the scriptures are encouraging. However, the over-reaction to such true abuse has induced many to insist that if a parent ever leaves a mark on a child's body it is evidence of abuse. Such a stance is blatantly false and unscriptural. As a result of such dogma many parents fear risking the provision of thorough chastening, lest they might leave a mark.

It should never be an intentional result, but if you chasten your children correctly, you will occasionally leave what the Bible here calls "stripes" on their bodies. God has made a certain portion of our anatomy particularly sensitive, and without leaving deep bruises, a rod will leave very temporary reddened lines. Frankly, though, that is another good motivation for modestly covering up this portion of the body.

Furthermore, I would encourage parents to honor their children's sense of modesty in the chastening process. There are those who, recognizing that clothing can form a buffer against the needed pain in the chastening experience, require their children to partially disrobe. This seems unnecessary and unwise to me. Yes, clothing can minimize the pain I have just described as so critical. but if the child bends over before the parent the clothing is tightened such that the buffering factors are significantly reduced. In this way, though, we honor and foster the child's sense of modesty.

Some have suggested that we must continue delivering blows (swats) until the child demonstrates a broken will through tears. I have heard what were intended to be scriptural arguments for this position, but am not at all persuaded that the scriptures teach such, at least not plainly. Rather, it is clear that I am to chasten my child thoroughly, but it seems unwise to gauge my actions on his ability to produce or withhold emotional responses.

Certainly if I clearly discern continuing rebellion, I must deal with it. But some children cry more readily and more persuasively than others. I must lovingly ignore their emotional responses looking deeper for true repentance. Tears are not the issue.

In fact, I do not allow my children to react dramatically or loudly to my chastening. They may certainly cry softly, but are not permitted to yell, scream, thrash, or run. Any such responses not only prolong the current chastening session, but will likely result in additional chastening.

Step #6: Comfort the Child Affectionately

After chastening with the rod the child is generally crying. I suspect it is because I do not force the tears that my children generally cry rather readily when disciplined. At this point I immediately communicate and demonstrate my affection for them through sincere sadness at not only their sin, but also at their pain. In various ways I articulate that spanking them is never something I enjoy. It is, in fact, probably one of the most difficult tasks required of loving parenting.

Thus, I typically pick the child up and seat him on my lap, allowing him to weep for a few moments. This can be a very tender time as the child is allowed to sense the depth of my grief. He needs to know my heart.

The old proverb seems trite and unbelievable to children: "This hurts me more than it does you." However, it needs to be true with every chastening episode. If chastening my child is not a deeply painful experience for me, there is a danger that I may be simply venting my frustrations on him. Both he and I need to sense that truly chastening has required of me self-sacrifice--I would rather not have done it, but only proceeded because of wise awareness of my child's need.

Following the chastening with such affectionate reassurance also serves to give hope to the child. I want him to know that I fully anticipate that the chastening will have been effective, and that, at least for the particular infraction at hand, the lesson has been successfully learned. Colossians 3:21 cautions, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." We want to avoid anything that will discourage our children. If we simply chasten our children without reinforcing our affection, we risk disheartening them.

We need to help them see the realistic goal we are aiming for in the chastening: their mature character development. I love to remind my children that I find great solace in such passages as Proverbs 29:17, "Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul." I want the child to join me in eagerly anticipating this fruit of our discipline.

Step #7: Pray Aloud for the Child

After allowing the child to cry for just a few moments (certainly much less than a full minute) I begin to calm him down. I signal the time to discontinue the audible crying by beginning to pray aloud for the child.

There are two primary reasons for praying aloud. The first is simply that the scriptures seem to repeatedly encourage lifting up our voices (not just our hearts) to the Lord. The Psalmist writes (55:17), "Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice."

The second reason for praying out loud is that I want my child to join his heart with mine before the Lord. When assembled Christians pray together, frequently certain ones will lead out in audible prayer. Why? Certainly the Lord hears silent prayers. But the purpose for praying aloud is so others will hear the prayer. Clearly Jesus warned us not to pray with the motivation of impressing others--that they may be seen by men (Matt.6:5-8). He encouraged private, in the closet, prayer. But He was clearly not forbidding, or even discouraging public prayer, since He Himself frequently prayed aloud before His disciples. He was warning of hypocritical, self-exalting prayers.

When we pray aloud among Christians our purpose is to help guide our unified hearts to the Lord. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 14. He makes it clear that when with others we must be alert to how our prayers impact them (although we are speaking to the Lord). We are to pray articulately, helping others express, with us, our joint petitions and praises. In verses 16-17 Paul concludes, "Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified." Thus public prayers are not simply for the Lord's benefit, but also for the edification of others listening actively.

I pray aloud for my child with the intent of modeling how I want him to pray in a few moments. I am, by example, teaching him how to offer penitent prayer to the Lord. There are three points I want to stress in the prayer. The first is confession of sin. I tell the Lord (with the child listening) what sin was committed. The second is requesting forgiveness. I specifically ask the Lord to forgive the child's sin. The third is requesting grace to avoid this sin in the future.

1) Confession of Sin: Psalm 32:5 says, "I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' And You forgave the iniquity of my sin." Confession of sin is the first step in repentance, leading to forgiveness. James directs (5:16), "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."

Some question whether it is appropriate to confess another's sin. However, we know God was pleased with the prophet's prayer of confession beginning in Daniel 9:4 when he confessed the sins of his fathers, the kings, the princes, and the whole nation. It is right for me to confess my child's sin, especially as I am modeling how he should do the same personally.

As far as whether Christians should confess sins, John the Apostle was clearly writing to Christians when he wrote (1 John 1:9), "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

2) Requesting Forgiveness: King David's powerful example of confession of sin in Psalm 51 is clearly interlaced with the request for forgiveness. He said, "Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions."

Confessing one's sin is important, but going further and specifically asking forgiveness is a critical pattern we want our children to cultivate. The scriptures repeatedly tell us (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Recognizing our children need God's grace, we want to train them to welcome and embrace every opportunity for humiliation so they can receive all the grace God intends to provide.

Again, some have questioned whether it is appropriate to ask God to forgive someone else's sin. Job offered prayers and sacrifices (Job 1:5) on behalf of his children. Stephen, when he was being stoned (Acts 7:60), prayed, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." It is certainly critical for the child to personally ask for his own forgiveness (this is why I am modeling such a prayer), but it is also appropriate for me to ask for his forgiveness.

3) Requesting Grace to Avoid this Sin in the Future: It is inadequate to confess sin and seek forgiveness if one's heart is not turned away from the sin. Repentance includes an abhorrence at the prospect of repeating the sin. Yet we recognize that in our own strength we are incapable of avoiding sin. Thus we earnestly seek God's grace here.

We need His help in giving us both the motivation and the power to conquer sin. But God's grace is more than sufficient for this. Paul wrote, (Philippians 2:13) "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." God wants to give us both the desire and the ability, the "will" and the "do" of obedience. I pray for this grace for my child.

Step #8: Have the Child Pray Aloud

After I have concluded my prayer for the child, I then ask the child to pray aloud. I want him to pray, in his own words, the same three things I have just prayed on his behalf. He must confess his sin, specifically request forgiveness, and finally ask God's help to avoid repeating the sin.

Some have questioned whether it is right to teach as yet unregenerated children to pray. Their contention is that God is not pleased with the prayers of sinners (Prov. 28:9). This, of course, raises theological issues beyond the scope of this article about when a child enters the kingdom. Regardless of one's position on this, I suspect all Christian parents recognize the need to train children for adult patterns. We encourage children to thank God for their food from early ages. Similarly, I believe we should teach children early, to confess their sins to God.

In Luke 18 Jesus compared the prayer of a religious leader with the penitent prayer of an unworthy sinner In verses 13-14 he said, "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I want to teach my children early in life to approach God humbly. Thus during each chastening episode I want to direct their attention to Him as we reinforce the pattern of asking God's forgiveness first, regardless of whoever else an offense may have been against.

Step #9: Plan and Give an Apology

But there is generally an offended party who was sinned against and must be apologized to. We require the child to make an apology as part of the chastening process. But making humble apologies does not come naturally. It is a skill that must be learned and cultivated carefully.

My children's natural inclination (and my own, I must confess) is to give prideful, half- hearted apologies. It is not a humble apology for a child to reluctantly say, "I'm sorry," and then go off and pout. Such an apology is not very believable. Other variations of half- hearted apologies are statements like, "I don't know why you are bothered by this, but I'm sorry," or "If I've ever done anything to offend you, please forgive me," or "I was wrong, but you were, too."

What are the necessary ingredients of an effective, humble apology? It seems to me they are the same as the points in our previous prayers: first, confession of fault, taking full blame, specifically naming the offense; second, requesting forgiveness, humbly seeking the sincere pardon without any hint of a rebound accusation; and third, articulating a commitment to avoid repeating the offense by God's grace.

Such an apology must be planned specifically. Before we leave the private room, we work out, and often even practice, the specific wording, voice tone, and body language for a simple but believable apology that projects sincere humility. Jesus told the story of the prodigal son's return, and how he planned the exact wording of his apology, then repeated it word-for-word when he came to his father (Luke 15:18-21).

The wording of our apology will go something like this: "I was wrong when I [name the sin]. Will you please forgive me? [Wait for an answer.] I am asking the Lord to help me never do that to you again."

Learning to clear our consciences through humble apologies is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn. Jesus noted how lack of reconciling apologies can hinder our relationship with God. He said (Matthew 5:23-24), "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Our peaceable relations with others are apparently so critical that God tells to make them a priority before bringing Him gifts!

What is a peacemaker? In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9) Jesus promised blessing on peacemakers, who would "be called sons of God." One of the greatest testimonies of God's work in one's heart is a willingness to accept blame. As Christians we know we have inexhaustible mercy through our Savior and can therefore accept blame, since we know how to be released from it.

A peacemaker is one who will accept more than his share of blame in a conflict. Rather than insisting on some sort of 50-50 compromise to reach resolution, the peacemaker doesn't project accusation at all. He simply absorbs all the blame his opponent is inclined to cast his way and humbly apologizes without retaliating with charges of his own. We want to teach our children such a godly response pattern.

Step #10: Require Expression of Forgiveness

The final step in our process is not the responsibility of the offender, but is still critical for closure. We require the offended one who has received the apology to somehow articulate forgiveness. They must say something like, "I forgive you."

If an offended sibling refuses to express forgiveness we will begin the chastening process with him. Unforgiveness is not permitted in our home. We see bitterness and grudges as serious sins. Jesus seemed to link forgiveness of others with our own forgiveness. He said (Matthew 5:7) the merciful would "obtain mercy." More directly, he said in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." What a dire warning! This is not something to take lightly. Therefore we require our children to project forgiveness toward one another.

You can imagine these ten steps take longer than a few seconds to implement. But we have found that the more thorough and consistent we are with them, the less often we have to apply them. They really work. We recommend you give them a try. 


Jonathan and Connie Lindvall live in Springville, California with their six children. Jonathan is Administrator of Pilgrims School and has an extensive background in education, pastoral ministry, and broadcasting. He is noted as a speaker, writer, and songwriter.

Jonathan presents his BOLD PARENTING and BOLD CHRISTIAN YOUTH Seminars around the country. In his seminars and various other convention and workshop appearances he focuses on developing scriptural parenting patterns that help families to implement radically holy lifestyles and train Godly sons and daughters.

To comment on this article, communicate with Jonathan Lindvall, arrange for him to speak for your group, or for other information or ordering his other resources, call or write Bold Christian Living, PO Box 820, Springville, CA 93265, (559) 539-0500, or leave him an e-mail message