No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
Balancing grace and correction in parenting is something that most of us strive for, but feel like we fail at doing!
Why is it so hard to discipline with grace? Over the years of being a mom and talking to other parents, I’ve identified four key reasons:
- We are reactive, rather than proactive. It’s much easier and requires less mental energy to simply respond with a routine of snapping at our kids or barking orders than to work with them and train them in “the way they should go”.
- We are busy and so it’s hard to focus on having a patient response. We want to get things over with quickly and move on in our busyness–which makes it hard to think through the effectiveness of our discipline.
- We don’t really know what to do. When my four kids are fighting with each other, my response is to pull out the fighting words too! It’s so frustrating and many times in the moment, I’m not sure how to guide them, so I resort to disciplining with a harsh response.
- We expect more of our children than they are capable of. I’ve noticed this mostly in parenting my youngest, who is 5. Sometimes we expect her to behave or respond in the same way that her older siblings can, creating frustration and discouragement for her little heart, rather than allowing her to experience grace when she needs to work on something.
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If you can identify with some of these same struggles in your own parenting, I want to share with you five practical principles to guide you in how to parent with grace.
FIRST: Before you get started with a big plan to do better, spend time in prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit. You probably know this, but spending time before the throne of God gets you in tune with what He wants for your family and the special way He can use you to balance correction and grace in your specific situation.
Every child is different. So what worked for one parent might not work for you. This isn’t meant to be discouraging, but rather to point you to the Word and to ask God for wisdom, which will be given to you (James 1:5)!
SECOND: Have a long-term view of parenting. Imagine yourself looking up to the top of a mountain that you’re going to be hiking. It seems like it might not be too far of a climb, but once you start, you realize you have a long way to go and that the ascent is harder than you thought. It is going to take perseverance and determination. It involves some stumbles and lots of reliance on grace and grit.
In parenting, it is the same. We have to shift our approach from thinking that it’s going to be an easy, breezy hike to the “peak” and see our journey in parenting as more of a long, arduous hike with stops and breaks on the way when you need to take a deep breath in the thin mountain air! It will sometimes involve reevaluating and veering off to a path that will bring you a better result. But it is worth it.
When you get to the top of that mountain and finish that climb, you feel victorious (and somewhat relieved!). It was all worth the hard work for the glorious view you now can see clearly.
We can have this long-term perspective on parenting too, knowing that what seems like an uphill battle at times will eventually give us the reward of a beautiful, panoramic scene at the top.
This eternally focused perspective will help us parent gracefully. Why? Because it helps us differentiate between what’s important to correct and what really isn’t. We can get very caught up in the minor things that are more annoyances rather than using our energies to focus on correcting character flaws that need to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it’s annoying that your child’s idea of dancing is doing the floss and “dabbing”, but it’s simply a silly behavior that is likely short-lived. Instead, use your parenting time and energy to work on what the Bible says about taming the tongue and learning to speak life to others, which prepares our kids for many interactions they will have as adults in the “real world”.
THIRD: Don’t shame or blame. It can be tempting to use words like “you always” or “you never”. Consider how these phrases hurt your child’s spirit. Shame is punishment, not discipline. Apologize to your child for times you have done this in the past and experience God’s forgiveness in this area. Then, start a new habit of having a different response when your child makes a poor character or behavior choice. Give a practical consequence, and then talk to them about those poor choices in calm moments, not always in the moment, which helps you avoid a knee-jerk reaction that you’ll regret. Arm yourself with Bible verses to have ready during these times so that you can replace a reactive response with a biblical, graceful one. It takes practice! But you can do it, with the help of God!
FOURTH: If you don’t know how to respond to certain situations, do some research. Read a Christian parenting book that focuses on grace-filled parenting. Two of my favorites are Parenting by Paul David Tripp and Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Then come up with an action plan. Write down five quick, calm and biblical responses you can have for when tough situations arise. Try using them 7-10 times and if they don’t work, continue to tweak them. Remember, parenting is a long game! If you need some extra help with this, you can download my free resource I provide when you subscribe to my blog: A Graceful Response: Biblical Solutions to Five Common Behaviors that will Help You Parent with Grace.
FIFTH: Focus on nurturing character and pointing your child to Christ. Like I alluded to before, some behaviors aren’t wrong, they’re just different. Not every behavior requires discipline.
One goal of a grace-filled home should be to nurture character qualities through correction, yet also allow your children to develop their individuality (the way God designed their personalities to be). Point your children toward developing integrity, trustworthiness, and other things that are noble, right and excellent (Philippians 4:8).
We can do this by getting into God’s Word, exposing our children to Godly entertainment, sharing wise counsel with them and setting rules that help our kids learn how to be a part of a family that loves and serves Jesus and others. Having boundaries and rules are good, but they should be framed in the context of love, mercy, and forgiveness when our kids fail.
And when that happens, as it inevitably will, we can point them to Christ and remind them of the gospel: that Jesus died and rose again for them, so they can be forgiven, have an eternal home in heaven and experience grace each day of their lives.