The Balance Between Grace and Discipline When Training Children

Mother and Child, Henry Essenhigh Corke

My children are an indescribable gift.

Each one is different, crafted with particular traits and talents that make them unique. While we share traditions and memories, favorite books and foods, values and beliefs, I can see God’s fingerprints on each one — and His way of crafting each individual to reflect something different of His own heart.

This is why there will never be a formula for exactly how you should raise your children. Because each one is an individual, living in your home, with your circumstances and your values and your community of friends.

Discipline encompasses all we do to train and mold and encourage our children to grow in the grace of God, to shape their characters to be like His, to help them find those particular bents and talents that best magnify God in their lives.

Disciplining children well means first knowing them–what’s going on in their lives, their strengths and weaknesses, their particular idiosyncrasies that perhaps no one else would know. And then it requires that I know and listen to the Lord, asking for His wisdom when I’m confused as to whether they need correction, encouragement, or more training. So often the whiny child is tired, the grouchy child is hungry, and what they really need is a fix to that problem rather than a stern correction–and that goes for adults, too!

“I have often met well-intentioned parents who think they must be harsh and demanding to their young children in order to secure their obedience and good behavior and to build their characters. Too often, I’m afraid, they fall into the trap of simply lording it over their children rather than truly reaching their hearts.

I’m not saying that obedience and behavior and character aren’t important. In fact, I think that teaching our children these qualities is essential. I believe, however, that Jesus showed us plainly the most effective way to do this: by modeling obedience and right behavior and good character. And this requires us to do what Jesus did for the disciples–to lead our children not only by telling them what to do, but by showing them.

When we choose to graciously overlook our children’s messes and accidents, we are teaching them to be patient and forgiving with the mistakes of others. When we react sensitively, thoughtfully, and patiently to them, we are helping to instill these qualities in their lives. As they benefit from our unconditional love, they learn to extend it to others as well. As they watch us extend hospitality, care for others, and pray for them, they learn to make service a part of life. And as they observe us searching Scripture, spending time with the Lord, and making faith-based decisions, they learn these things as well. Modeling loving service to our children gives them something to emulate in their own lives.” The Mission of Motherhood

Aren’t you glad He knows you and is patient with you? Do you ever feel pressure to discipline a certain way because someone else said so, rather than trusting your heart about what your child might really need? 

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  1. Jessica says

    Thank you for this reminder. I really needed it today. I am very thankful that God is gracious to me and I desire to be gracious towards my children and others. It is a work in progress.

  2. Kristen says

    One older mother told me last year that she thought it sounded like my son needed to be spanked more. I came home from that mentoring session for young moms in tears because in my heart I just didn’t believe that was the way to this child’s heart. That child had not responded well to that form of punishment in the past, and my husband told me that he disagreed with this older woman. God is continuing to teach me that I need to parent each one of my children differently because he made them all differently. While I wish there was a formula so that I knew if I was doing it right, I am sure glad that God deals with me on a personal and individual basis as well. And grateful for a husband who loves the Lord and listens to Him first, rather than other people!

    • Natalie says

      Hi Kristen, I just read your post, and I love how you wrote “God deals with me on a personal and individual basis.” That really meant a lot to me. I have two young boys, 8 and 5. It is difficult at times to know how to discipline them. I struggle with this often. My heart’s desire is to see them come to the Lord, and I pray that God will open their spiritual eyes to truly see Him despite my mistakes. God is ultimately the One who will save them. I, of course, have to do my part as a parent, but God is sovereign. I, too, have a husband who listens to the Lord and balances me out! Mothering is the most rewarding, yet most challenging task I will ever do! Have a great day.

  3. says

    What a beautiful post. Knowing our children, inside and out and then modeling expectations are so important.

    I recently figured out that one of my children had a lactose and/or dairy intolerance. This intolerance manifested itself in REALLY bad behavior. I remember crying out to God for insight because I was sure this child was headed in a very bad direction. Once I started limiting dairy, I could clearly see the effect it had on him 24 hours after consumption. I’m thankful I can extend grace to him and help him with obedience simply by watching what he eats. There was a delightful little boy just wanting to come out and shine.

  4. says

    Yes, I have definitely felt pressure to do things a certain way. I think we almost expect more out of children than we do adults. No matter what the situation (how much sleep they’ve gotten, how they feel, etc.) they are supposed to practice immediate obedience, not whine, be perfectly compliant, etc. Yet as adults we often whine, throw temper tantrums (in socially acceptable ways) and are delayed in our obedience. Perhaps we need to remember that our kids are young and still learning – from us.

  5. says

    THANK YOU for this reminder today. It’s been quite a comedy of errors around here today, and some not nearly so comical, and I feel like Murphy moved in as well! It has been a struggle today to let the Lord overcome my impatience and selfish desires with His abundant grace, so that I can parent each of my four little ones in the way that will reach each individual heart!

    • Brooke says

      Thank you for your post. I also have 4 little ones, (4 and under currently) and am struggling how to balance grace with discipline. There are so many of them with many physical needs that often there other needs (me playing with them and disciplining them fall to wayside.) often times I’m so very overwhelmed that I hide behind my housework. I do of course spend time with them and discipline but it is so difficult to know exactly when to discipline and when to just have everyone take a break or just get a snack. A little scattered of course but that’s my life right now :)

  6. Hillary Nichols says

    So timely! Thank you! I so appreciate you :o) You articulate what is in my heart but I just can’t get to words, you help me look at situations with the eyes of Jesus. Thank you!

  7. Surprise says

    I appreciate this so much.

    I need help. We have now been staying with my 9 year old step-daughter for two years. I have difficulty in being gracious and being patient with her. This is a burden for me.

    She is rude, esp. to me and our helper. She lies a lot. She constantly reminds me that I’m not her mother. She rejects my love and hates being rebuked.

    How do I deal with this situation?

    • Katie Lengel says

      I hesitate to share this because I have never been in your situation(although I do have two girls), but I want to offer you the things that came to my mind. It sounds like a lot of pain is coming out of her, although I know that doesn’t make it any easier for you. :) Pray for wisdom and keep loving her. One day she will look back and remember all of the love you poured into her life. Spend lots and lots of time doing fun things together so that hopefully she will begin to open her heart up to you.

    • Susan says

      I also have never had a stepchild, but I do have four daughters (and four sons), and I do agree with what Katie said. The other thing that struck me was that your stepdaughter is NINE. Nine, I believe, is a difficult age. I have a 9 year old little girl (heading to 10), and she is more boisterous and loud and obstinate than she ever was before. We had (and still have, though it’s a bit more effort sometimes :)) a GREAT relationship, and I STILL sometimes feel like tearing my hair out with her.

      So, though I am sure your girl has been troubled for a while (and no wonder!), I couldn’t help thinking about the 9 thing. A book I happen to have received from my mother (about planning age appropriate birthday parties, of all things), speaks of age 9 as a hard age, too. :-) I took comfort from that.

      I will pray for you.

  8. Helen says

    I really appreciate posts like this. I need to be reminded continually. I have 2 daughters only 2 yrs apart and they have very different personalities. I’m still learning what works with my son who is 5, and his behavior can be hard for me to understand at times. I am praying for wisdom and for God to teach us how to parent him best. I must say that so many well meaning family members are so quick to tell me I should be harder on him and that I’m not raising him to be “a man” because I’m not hard enough on him. It really upsets me because I don’t think that’s the answer. Anyway thanks Sally for this post it has been a blessing for me today x


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