As a parent we love our children so deeply – they are the thing we protect the most, and treasure the most. We want what is best for them. So much so that our heart hurts when our child makes a bad choice. The reality is they will make poor choices every day – to some degree. How do we respond? Today I want to share the best thing for us to do in these moments.
How to Respond when Your Child makes a Bad Choice
I’ve heard it said that we need to limit the choices our kids make – and though that might have its place the reality is every time we give an instruction to our child, they have a choice to make. Will I or won’t I? Every time they are confronted with a decision – will I or won’t I? Will I do the right thing or won’t I? Big choices, little choices – either way, as their parents, we have to learn to respond well – especially when they make that choice to not do the right thing.
We can’t get Angry and try and Fix them
The first thing we want to do is fix them! I’m sure we’ve all had a moment where we’ve felt like shaking them and making them see how wrong they are and how simple it would be if they would just follow the truth – or do the right thing! We may get angry and just tell them what to do – but it is a fruitless path. Remember there is something in their heart – a belief or value that is directing their choices. Until that heart is changed they won’t be interested in doing the right thing. And when we rant and rave, or get angry – they simply tune out and we miss the opportunity to reach their heart.
Punishment doesn’t work
The second thing we want to do is punish them. We may feel embarrassed, frustrated, desperate, or discouraged and we reach for our last resort – punish them. This doesn’t work either. They may or may not endure the punishment but all we’ve done is hurt the outside of them – and I don’t mean a spanking here – we may ground them, or take away something we think they treasure but it is all external. Once again the heart has to change – what they think, believe, value, feel – has to change to be in line with the truth before they will act in line with what is right.
Neither can we Ignore them
The third thing we slip into is ignoring them and hoping for the best. Though it is tempting to let things slide we cannot ignore heart issues. I heard someone say the other day that our choices are often between two hard things – and we need to choose our hard. It is hard to address heart issues – and it is hard to let them go unaddressed. Choose your hard. I think that really fits the choices we have as a parent.
It is our job as a parent to help our children grow in their ability to make wise choices in life so we can’t ignore the issue and hope they will grow out of it!
We must deal with the heart
It is so easy to parent to the behaviour. They do something – we react. We make them, by the the authority of being a parent, to do the right thing. But it isn’t the way of heart-focused parenting.
The heart-focused parent’s primary concern is what our child believes, values, thinks and feels. When they make a bad choice they are not choosing what is right, they are not remembering God’s ways, they may even have even hardened their heart towards God’s ways. And this is the bottom line – it isn’t about us, it is about our child and God – and their response to Him.
Here’s the heart of the matter as far as it concerns our response – Does our heart break because they’ve inconvenienced us – physically or emotionally? Or because they have disobeyed God and are walking away from Him?
It isn’t about our kids being Christians – or rather, it isn’t just about them being a Christian. They can make a decision to ask Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour, and they can have eternity with God, but here on earth, they need to find a practical application of following Jesus. That is what being a Christian is about – being followers of Christ, today, in the here and now. Being a Christian in this world is about becoming like Jesus: in thought, word, and deed. This has to be our desire for our kids. We need to either introduce them to God and his ways, or remind them and help them to walk in His ways.
Our First Response is to Pray
BUT….The first thing we should do when our child makes a bad choice is to pray.
Parenting is what we call a sequence of choices that I the parent make as I interact and engage with my kids . I cannot afford to let my child push me to respond or react in ways that are wrong. See the irony here – we are worried about our child making bad choices, and in order to teach and train them, we make bad choices. We don’t want to get to that place. So the first response is to pause and pray.
— Pray that God would guard and protect your heart – that He will give you a loving heart, a compassionate heart towards your child. That He would take away your frustration, anger and disappointment towards your child, and fill your heart with love as He loves this child, His child.
— Pray that God would move in this child’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit changes hearts – beseech the Lord – get down on your knees and pray in earnest for God’s intervention. As you do this you are recognising that it is a work of God – that you can’t do anything but God is bigger than any situation, God is bigger than your child’s attitude, God is bigger than our own shortfallings.
— Pray that God would give you wisdom (as He promises He will, James 1:5) God has given you this child, He has given you a love for them, a responsibility for them to teach and train them towards godliness and for that He sent the Holy Spirit to teach, guide and comfort us. Wisdom is the practical application of knowing Jesus. How is knowing Jesus going to change how you now address your child?
Sometimes we need to travail in prayer. That is an old fashion word – in this day and age of instant gratification we want God to do it NOW and that is not always going to happen – we may need to carry this burden to God for a while – don’t put a time limit on God – spend time in His presence praying for your child, praying for yourself, thanking God for your child, thanking God for His love and wisdom.
Once we have taken it to the Lord in prayer we can step back into the situation with a different attitude. Our sad heart can change to a heart of peace. Oh for sure, the situation still hurts, that our child could have done such a thing, but there is a peace that surpasses all understanding. Don’t deal with your child till you have that in your heart.
Then you will experience God’s peace,
which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7 (NLT)
Find a Heart Solution
We need to find a heart solution.
A heart-based problem needs a heart-based solution.
When you are confronted with a bad choice the first step is to look after your heart – and then look after your childs.
Last week we looked at when our child has a bad attitude – that is also a heart based issue.
An attitude or a bad choice both need parents to pause and think about what value, or what belief is missing so much in their child’s thinking (or in their heart) that they are making this choice.
- Are they missing the understanding that other people are precious, are they thinking that they are the most important person in the room?
- Are the missing the value of respect for authority and thinking that they are the boss?
- Are they missing the respect for property, and believing that everything can be replaced? So they don’t have to be careful?
When we can see what belief or value is missing from our child’s heart we can pull them aside and instead of ranting at them or insisting that they do the right thing straight away – we can give them time to reflect, and come to an understanding of what is going on in their heart.
Though our actions come from what we believe, we don’t always automatically understand what we are believing or what false thought we are acting upon. We easily make decisions and choices from lies and false information in our heart – and we need to create time for our kids to process that and choose to do the right thing because they understand what is right, and why it is right and they want to do what is right.
Heart conversations, or heart corrections take time.
Remember a heart-based problem needs a heart-based solution.
Heart-focused Action Step
So the heart-focused action step for you this week is to work on your first response. Remember, the first thing to do is pause and pray. Pray for your heart, your child’s heart and for wisdom so you know what steps to take. And this is for big choices and little choices. So often we let the little choices they make get under our skin and react in ways that are not consistent with our beliefs and values. So regardless of how big or small – stop and pray.
That alone will change things in your home, it will change the relationship between you and your child, and it will potentially change how your child responds in the situation.
I’m also going to suggest that you consider what is the biggest issue that you are having with one of your children right now, and add that to your prayer list – daily ask God for insight as to what is the wrong belief or value that has a grip on your child’s heart and ask for wisdom as to how to address it.
God will be faithful – you may well be surprised what He tells you!! As always I too am praying for your family that you will continue to grow as a God-loving and honouring family in all your ways.
If this was helpful…
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Our children make poor choices all through the day. They constantly ask themselves – will I or won’t I? It is our job as a parent to give them the information (in their heart) that helps them know what the right thing is and why they should do it. We need to teach them to listen to their conscience and have the courage to do the right thing.
To be able to do that though we have to keep our heart gentle towards our child and resist the urge to be frustrated or angry. Instead we need to show them love, mercy and grace = compassion. Not to excuse the behaviour, it isn’t loving to leave them not knowing how to do the right thing – but compassion so that we can guide them over and over again – because we know how hard it is to choose to do the right thing.
Regardless of the choices our kids make we have to respond in ways that are consistent with our beliefs and values. Learn to respond this way every time and you’ll start to see a change in your family.
It isn’t a secret – but it is not easy.
Pray. Don’t react. Pray.
Scroll through these slides to see the 3 prayers you need to be your automatic response when your children’s choices disappoint, frustrate or exhaust you!
Heart Conversations Take Time Out of Your Day How Can it Be Wasted Time when it Changes Hearts? When parents value heart lessons they change how they use their time and how they value their time.
When Family Relationships get Tense – Look for the Niggles: The niggles are a vibe you get when things aren’t quite right. When we deal with the Niggles we stop serious harm from being done to the relationship.
What does your Child Believe: When we are addressing issues of the heart we are in partnership with God – God wants our children’s hearts more than we do!
Be Careful about Wrong Information Stored in your Heart: When we have the wrong information in our heart it makes us make wrong choices. Make sure we are believing what is true so we can honour God in all we do.
Hi there! I'm Belinda and I'm glad you are here!
I am a family life coach and help parents to raise their kids with faith, values and life skills in a way that is intentional, relational and heart-focused. Read more on the About page
You can learn about heart-focused parenting through my podcast, blog and weekly email (Heart Boosters).
You can email me here.
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I also offer one-to-one coaching. Your first coaching call, JumpStart, is free - and we spend time getting to know each other, as well as discussing the things you are finding hard so that we can clarify the key step forward. At the end of the call, you will have a heart-focused action step to work on. You can then decide if you want to book a Moving Forward call and then later continue with an Accountability call.