Guest Post: What’s The Alternative If You Don’t Spank? By Dara Stoltzfus

People who spank seem to believe that if they don’t spank, the only other alternative is to let the kids run wild, rule the roost, and become tyrannical delinquents.

But for those of us who have stopped spanking, we know how hard it is to “do” something without hitting.

Just recently my 10 y/o and my 8 y/o had a conflict. The 10 y/o was mostly at fault. She’d called her little sister a name and pushed her. When things like this happen, it triggers the old spanking circuits in my brain. Everything inside me wanted to scold her, yell at her, and punish her…to make her suffer for having done wrong.

So I called her to come talk to me and gave myself a quick “pep” talk as I waited for her.

I resisted the urge to scold and punish…and chose…to discipline instead.

I asked her questions about what happened and I gave her examples I hoped she could relate to.  She told me her little sister, “was being rude and irritating me so I called her a baby.”

I asked her if calling her a baby helped the situation.  I asked her if when she got mad at her little sister for being rude to her, if calling her a baby was polite.  I asked her if calling her a baby taught her little sister not to do what she’d done to irritate her again.  And I asked her why she did it. Her answer was typically childish. In her mind she did it because her little sis had irritated her. (I know grown-ups who think this way).

So I asked her if she could have done X, Y, and Z (different examples) instead of calling her a baby.  I used some funny examples too that made her smile. But with the examples of other choices she could have made, I helped her then to see that because her sister did something, it did not make her make the choice she had to call her sister a baby. SHE made the choice after her sister irritated her. She could have made 1,000 different choices but she chose to call her sister a baby. She chose to be mean.

At the beginning of the conversation she thought, “I called her a baby BECAUSE she irritated me.” At the end of the conversation she understood, “I called her a baby because I made that choice when I felt irritated by my sister.”

As we talked, tears came to her eyes several times usually when I asked the right question and I could see she came to the right conclusion. But the whole time her eyes and attention remained focused on me.

Then she told me some things that have been bothering her about what her older siblings have done to her, and more tears came. We talked about those things and I encouraged her not to follow their examples.

It took 10-15 minutes to get through this conversation and in the end…she sat down on my lap and hugged me, thanked me for helping her, gave me a kiss, and told me, “I love you.”

A few minutes later…all on her own…I heard her tell her little sister in all sincerity, “I’m sorry I was mean to you.”

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THIS is what happens when you don’t spank your children.

Had I still been a spanking parent…this would have ended in 30 seconds with a few whacks of a paddle, resulting in tears of pain and an obligatory apology. But instead it took 10 minutes and ended in tears of thankfulness and understanding.

NOT spanking is more painful for the (usually busy) parent in that it takes a lot longer to handle things…and takes a lot more mental energy, willpower, maturity, thoughtfulness, and creativeness on the part of the parent…but the results are worth the effort.

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Our God Is A Gentle God

2 Chronicles 5:12-14 (NASB):
“and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, ‘He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,’ then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”

I absolutely love this Scripture!

First, I love how all the singers and band players sang and played at the same time, in one accord.  That must have been a glorious, awesome sound!  If only the Church would do this again.

Another thing that I love about this Scripture is that the glory of the Lord filled the house with a cloud. The priests could not stand and minister due to the cloud which was the glory of the Lord!  If only the Church had that much faith so God could do this nowadays!

And the fact that it was the glory of the Lord that caused the priests to fall on their knees.  God gently brought them to their knees.  It reminds me of the song, “Sweetly Broken” by Jeremy Riddle.  The chorus goes like this:

“At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.”

God gently brings us to our knees.  I know many Christians, sadly, view God as harsh and punitive.  They believe that God can be harsh and makes bad things happen.

I’ve been through a great deal of hard times throughout my life.  I can attest that God has been my comfort if I allow Him to be and don’t turn away from Him.

Our God is a gentle God!  As parents, instead of forcing our children down on their knees, may we allow God to gently bring them to their knees.  May we follow God’s loving example and parent with gentle firmness.

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Parent Through Grace And Faith

Romans 4:13-16:
“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

I often see Scripture applying to the parent-child relationship where most would not.

For example, this Scripture clearly states that living by grace and faith is what we ought to do as Christians because merely living by the Law brings wrath and voids faith. We all know that the reason Jesus came to die on the cross was to allow us to have an easier way to access God.  People cannot successfully keep the Law of Moses. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, we now have grace and can live by faith in Jesus.

So, how come so many Christian parents tend to make their children live by the Law which brings about wrath?

Parenting by the Law means that parents set up rules by which their children cannot abide such as expecting a toddler or preschooler to sit quietly through an hour long church service. This is completely developmentally inappropriate for young children. Then when the child inevitably breaks this arbitrary rule, the child gets spanked/hit or otherwise punished by the parent. The Law brought wrath upon the child. The parent’s and child’s faith are void because neither is trusting God in that moment even if the parents think they are doing as God commands by punishing the child.

Therefore, when a parent spanks/hits a child, he/she is parenting under the Law and acts as a judge. The child commits an offense, the parent tries the child and decides a spanking is necessary, the parent doles out the punishment, then the child is free to go on since he/she paid the price.

Only, as Christians, the Law is no longer binding. If we want children to learn the grace, peace, love, and mercy of the Law of Christ, why do we parent under the Law of Moses?

We are supposed to be living by grace and faith. 
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Living and parenting by faith means we get to know Jesus and follow His example in our parenting. He set realistic limits for His disciples and gently corrected them.

We also need to understand child development in order to set realistic limits for our children. For example, instead of expecting toddlers or preschoolers to sit quietly through a church service, we either worship at home with them, bring crayons and let them color as we sit in the back of the sanctuary in case they need to leave, or allow them to go to children’s church.

Grace doesn’t punish. It doesn’t nullify faith. Grace sets appropriate limits and allows natural consequences when appropriate. 

Let us parent our children through faith and grace.

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Sacrifice And Love For Others–Especially Our Children

Romans 15:1-7:

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

I think this Scripture is key in how we should interact with others, especially our children. It seems that many Christians are not willing to self-sacrifice for the betterment of others. If it’s not convenient for us, then we won’t sacrifice for others.

Guess what!  Being crucified on a cross was not convenient to Jesus, but because He loved us so much, He died a horrific death for us–His beloved children!

I think it’s beyond sad that many popular, mainstream “Christian child-rearing experts” actually discourage parents from self-sacrificing for their children. Instead of rearranging their lives to include children, these “experts” teach parents to force a new human being to fit within the parents’ lives so the child knows that he/she is not too important.

How is that obeying what God clearly lays out in the above Scripture?  Children are indeed weaker than us. They need constant care and guidance from us which should involve major self-sacrifice from us.

Leaving infants to cry-it-out so that we can get a good night’s sleep is not self-sacrificing nor is it accepting infants for who they are.

Staying up with them and engaging in nighttime parenting despite being absolutely exhausted is self-sacrificing and accepting them.

Spanking/hitting, using time-out, shaming, arbitrarily taking things away, yelling, and other harsh punishment with our children is not self-sacrificing or accepting children.

Doing the hard work of disciplining (teaching, guiding, correcting) using positive, respectful, and gentle techniques such as modeling, child-proofing, validating feelings, fulfilling the child’s physical and emotional needs, setting realistic limits and boundaries, helping children comply, giving choices, and using natural and logical consequences with children is self-sacrificing and accepting of our children.

Most Christian claim that if they don’t spank/hit and “teach” their children that the world does not revolve around them that their children will turn into self-entitled brats.  Let me tell you this: Children learn by our actions. Some of the most self-entitled people I know grew up in punitive households where they were constantly “put in their places.”  Their parents were so focused on forcing their children into self-sacrifice that the children never truly learned how to sacrifice for the sake of others.

True love means being willing to sacrifice, accept, give grace and mercy for another no matter how inconvenient it is to us. We must model this to our children.

Biblical love does not involve inflicting pain on children as many Christians still believe due to errant interpretation of this verse:

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24, NASB).

In order to understand this, we need to understand that the Biblical Rod was a big, heavy stick with spikes on it. Shepherds never hit their own sheep with the rod. Rather, they used it to protect their sheep from predators. We need to do the same with our children. We need to sacrifice ourselves in order to protect our children from the enemy, satan, who comes to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).

Biblical love is clearly defined as:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cornithians 13:4-7, ESV).

May we use self-sacrifice to truly love our children and everyone!

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Hearing vs Doing The Word

James 1:23-25 (NASB);
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

How many times have we all read God’s Word and then turned around and have done the exact opposite?  I know I have. God gently convicts me when I do this.

We all mess up. Only God is perfect. But, I feel like many Christians don’t even try to be doers of the Word because instead of loving others, including children, they are often harsh, judgmental, and condemning. Yet, the Bible says there is no longer condemnation in Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s ok to condemn sin. But it is not ok to condemn sinners as we are all sinners. 

I believe children get condemned the most by many Christian sects. They insist we must spank/hit children and control them. Yet, the Bible says to treat everyone with gentleness.  This includes our children.

Colossians 3:12-15:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

Ephesians 4:2:
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

Galatians 6:1-2:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

When we fail to extend mercy, love, and gentleness to others, including our children, we become hearers of the Word. To spank/hit, punish, and treat children harshly is forgetting the beautiful Gospel message because Jesus taught, corrected, and discipled His disciples and others.  He never hit anyone. No, not even when He cracked His whip in the temple. 

We need to be doers of God’s Holy Word. We need to be gentle with everyone. Treating children gently and working with them is one of the best ways we can be doers instead of merely hearers of the Word.

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What Will Your Legacy Be?

Yesterday my mother-in-law went Home to be with the Lord. Today is the 12th anniversary of my dad going Home.

I am am filled with grief as I write this post. Thankfully, last week my husband and I were able to visit her. She and I were quite close. I miss her so much.

She was such a wonderful, kind, generous, loving, and gentle mother to my husband and his sister. When my husband and I began dating, she totally accepted me into their family. She beamed with joy on our wedding day.

My husband and his sister have all happy memories of her. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a great mom. And that is her legacy!

My dad, however, was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive to me. I hate that that is his legacy as I can’t deny what he did to me. Yes, he was often loving, but after 33 years, it’s the yucky stuff that still comes to mind when I think of him and that makes me sad.  It’s especially hard on days like this to remember him because he refused to heal our relationship while he was still here.

It’s an interesting thing.  The more a parent hurts a child even if the parent is loving at times, it is those harsh, abusive times that come to mind most when thinking about that parent.  Yet, if a parent is loving, gentle, kind, and empathetic, THAT is what the child will also remember the most.
No matter how “lovingly” you hurt your children, they will remember those times more even if they try to deny it.

Do you want your legacy to be how you inflicted pain on your children? Or do you want your legacy to be how you loved them and positively disciplined them?

It’s up to you and until you die, it’s never too late to repair and heal the relationship with your children. I wish my dad had repaired our relationship before he died in 2003.

I’m so grateful my mother-in-law left behind a wonderful legacy for her children and to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her. And even though my mom is still alive, I’m grateful her legacy is positive. She sacrificed so much for me.

What will your legacy be?

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All About “Gentle Firmness!”

As an early childhood professional and Christian, it is important for me to dispel the widely held myth that God wants us to spank our children. Leaving infants to cry-it-out is another big trend within some Christian circles. Neither of these practices are Biblical, and are actually quite damaging to the young brain. This is why I wrote the book, Gentle Firmness. Christian parents need to be informed that the mainstream Christian parenting advice is not only not Biblical, but it deeply scars their children.

With my deep love of young children, I have always struggled with the rod verses in the book of Proverbs that seem to advocate spanking children, because seeing how children react to being spanked, and knowing what I know about how young children learn, it just never made sense that God would want children to be spanked. For example, I saw the heartbreaking event of a wonderful Christian mother who truly wanted to do the best for her children, slap her toddler’s hand for the first time because he kept touching something she didn’t want him to. It took a couple slaps before he confusingly looked at his stinging hand then at his mom to try to figure out why she hit him. I’ve also seen children “lovingly” spanked and still freeze up when they disobeyed. Interestingly, when positive discipline was used with these children, they cooperated.

Let me briefly explain that the Biblical rod was a huge heavy walking stick with spikes on one end of it. Shepherds never hit their sheep with it nor did they break the sheep’s leg. The rod was used to protect the sheep from predators. The Hebrew word for the rod is Shebet. This is symbolic for authority and discipline. It was never intended to be used to hit young children.

Another thing is that if God truly wanted children to be spanked, there would be zero neurological, psychological, or spiritual harm done to the children. But research shows otherwise. Even so called “lovingly” spanking is very harmful. And if some Christians are wary of research, many researchers actually are Christians. I cover this research in depth in my book. Romans 1 says we can learn much about God by looking at His creation.

I can also attest that leaving infants to cry-it-out always harms as crying is the only way infants can communicate. Sure, they eventually stop and “sleep” when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is. Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress. Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur. As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but ignoring their outright cries is not.

Understanding child development is crucial to disciplining children appropriately. When we see that God actually created children to go through each developmental stage, we can figure out kinder, merciful ways of guiding them through each stage. The Bible says that children are blessings from God in Psalm 127:3. Yet, more often than not, they are treated as little sinners in need of the devil beaten out of them. Jesus says we are to be like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 18. Jesus raised the status of children. I also discuss attachment theory in my book as God created infants to cry in order to communicate with us. Crying is never manipulative for infants 12 months and under. God always hears and comforts us when we cry out to Him. We must do the same for our children.

The reason I named my book “Gentle Firmness” is that discipline must be gentle but firm in order to be effective. If discipline is only gentle, then it’s too permissive. If discipline is only firm, then it turns into punishment. Children need gentle but firm discipline. The principles of Attachment Parenting encourage gentle but firm discipline for all children. All children deserve sensitive, respectful care.

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Consequences vs. Punishment

Many people mistake punishments with consequences.

Disciplinary consequences are either natural or logical. They relate directly to the child’s behavior and help the child learn. Pain may be a by-product of the disciplinary consequence.

Punishment, on the other hand, is arbitrary, inflicts pain on the child, is not related to the child’s behavior, and do not help the child. In other words, punishment intentionally inflicts pain on children whereas disciplinary consequences never intentionally inflicts pain on children.

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Common sense must come in here. If the natural consequence will injure the child, don’t allow it to happen. When I say that pain may be a by-product of a disciplinary consequence, I mean, for example, a child not being able to find his/her favorite toy because he/she didn’t clean up and now can’t find it is a disciplinary consequence.

Another example of a disciplinary consequence is the child not putting his/her bike away in the garage and the rain causes the bike to rust. Or, the child missing a fun outing because he/she wouldn’t get dressed in time to go. None of these are punitive, but the child will be sad.

A natural consequence happens naturally. Children refusing to wear a coat outside will get cold. Hitting a friend makes the friend cry and not want to play anymore. We don’t need to impose any other consequence or punishment on children. They will learn from the natural consequence especially if we are there to talk to them about what happened. God allows us to deal with the natural consequences of our actions.

A logical consequence is imposed by us, but it still directly relates to the child’s behavior. For example, if the child refuses to turn off the TV to do his or her homework, he or she won’t finish his or her homework on time and will get a lower grade. And since TV is interfering with homework, he or she may not be able to watch as much TV for a while. If a child lies about where he or she went with his or her friends, then he or she won’t be able to go out with friends alone until he or she wins back our trust.

One thing I must caution with using logical consequences with children is that it is very easy to use them to punish children. Again, the idea behind logical consequences is not to punish our children. They are to continue helping our children take responsibility for their actions, to help produce godly sorrow in them instead of worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow makes the child truly want to repent and make things right.

A punishment is the parent taking the favorite toy away for not cleaning up. Or a parent purposely damaging the bike. Or saying, “No playground because you didn’t obey.” Making the child hurt is punishment. Allowing reasonable consequences is discipline. Of course, it’s also important to respond empatheticallly to by-product pain. “Oh, I’m sorry you lost your favorite toy. We can clean up and see if we can find it!”

Natural and logical consequences may hurt, but not because someone is inflicting pain on us. They hurt because we realize our actions caused the consequences. This is why natural and logical consequences work best for children rather than inflicting pain on them.

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We need to remember that discipline means “to teach.” Discipline helps children learn to express their negative feelings appropriately, learn how to behave, learn empathy, learn limits, learn that there are consequences–both positive and negative– to their actions, and learn life skills. It takes much more work to discipline a child than to punish him/her.

Discipline is long term whereas punishment is short term and has long term negative effects.

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Born to Love and Radiate!

In Shawn Mullins’ (1999) song, Shimmer, he sings:

“Sharing with us what he knows
His shining eyes are big and blue
And all around him water flows
This world to him is new
This world to him is new
To touch a face
To kiss a smile
And new eyes see no race
The essence of a child
The essence…

He’s born to shimmer
He’s born to shine
He’s born to radiate
He’s born to live
He’s born to love but we’ll
Teach him how to hate.”

I often hear Christians say of toddlers and young children that we don’t have to teach them how to hit, kick, or bite. They are born knowing how to act “naughty.”  When Christians say this of young children, they’re referring to children’s “sinful nature.”  But, do young children really come into the world knowing how to be mean and malicious?  Based on what the Bible says and on my knowledge of child development, the answer is no!

In fact, Jesus tells us to become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and also gives us a very stern warning regarding causing them to sin!

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven'” (Matthew 18:1-3, ESV).

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:4-6, NASB).

 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10, NASB).

And look how Jesus reacts when His disciples try to keep children from being brought to Him:

“But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these'” (Mark 10:14, NASB).

You see, as the song says, we are born to shimmer and shine.  Young children are so open to God and Truth. They only act out physically when they don’t know how to verbalize to us. This has nothing to do with children being “sinful.”  Children are just learning and developing. It’s not their fault their brains are young and immature. It’s not their fault they lack verbal skills.

We are the ones, as the song says, that teach our children how to hate and stifle their lights. How?

Every time we impose our wills unnecessarily over children and treat them harshly, we’re teaching them hate and are slowly putting their lights out. Yes, most Christian parents claim they’re showing their children “love” by ignoring their cries, spanking/hitting them, and sending them to isolation. This is a form of hate.

The Bible says gentleness and compassion is true love. Harshness is not. If we want our children to truly shine, shimmer, and radiate, we need to treat them as Christ treats us.

We also need to make sure we shimmer, shine, and radiate God’s Light to all!

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NASB).

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The Forgiving Nature of Children

So many people believe children are born “sinful.”  Yet, young children are quick to forgive whether we apologize to them or not. They don’t make us pay for our mistakes before they forgive us.  Rather, they offer forgiveness freely.

If you ever watch young children playing, even with their peers, one minute they are fighting and the next minute they are best friends again. Young children are incapable of holding a true grudge against anyone. Yet, we often take advantage of their unconditional love and forgiveness by making them pay for their mistakes against us.

Even abused children will often forgive their abusive parents and will ask to go back home with them despite the horrible abuse. Perhaps this is one reason Jesus calls us to be like them in Matthew 18:3.

Forgiveness, despite the fact that it isn’t listed in Galatians 5:22-23, is a fruit of the Spirit. You need everything listed as a fruit of the Spirit in order to forgive. Children have most of these. The only reason they lack self-control is due to an immature brain. Calling something out of their control “sin” is not fair.

Children are forgiving in nature, therefore, they cannot be “sinful.”  It’s only when we become adolescents and adults that we begin to struggle with forgiveness. I truly believe that being raised in punitive homes, especially Christian homes, where children must pay for their mistakes before they are offered forgiveness leads to this struggle most of us have with freely forgiving people as Jesus has freely forgiven us.

We need to help our children keep their forgiving natures by connecting with them and giving them our forgiveness without making them pay through punishment. This does not mean we don’t allow them to experience the natural and logical consequences of their actions. It means that we become more Christ-like and do not inflict pain on our children.

The nature of children is forgiving, not “sinfulness!”

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