Should We Teach Kids They’re Dirty Rotten Sinners?

by | May 3, 2022 | Faith, Parenting Teens, Parenting Young Kids | 48 comments

Do we need to teach kids that they're dirty rotten sinners? Here's why the emphasis on obedience can sometimes backfire in Christian parenting.
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Christian parenting advice seems to really like discipline and obedience.

Rebecca here on the blog today. As I was researching other parenting books and various Christian parenting blogs as I wrote my book, Why I Didn’t Rebel, this focus on repentance and obedience was everywhere–how to teach your kids to obey, how to discipline your kids, what to do with an unruly toddler, how to help your kid turn away from sin.

And although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, it always rubbed me the wrong way. Is kids’ primary moral need to be taught that they are sinners? When kids do something parents don’t like, is it usually because children are disobedient?

Thinking more on it, talking to a few people about it, and reviewing the interviews I did for Why I Didn’t Rebel for the millionth time, here’s what I’ve concluded: we talk about misbehavior as a sin issue, when in reality, a lot of the time it’s an impulse control or naivete issue. 

Sheila just chiming in for a moment!

Rebecca originally wrote this post four years ago, but I wanted to re-run it today for two reasons.

First, it fits in perfectly with our series on attachment styles that we launched last week in our podcast! Tomorrow I’ll be looking at different attachment styles, and I thought this set the stage well.

Second, we’re in the process of moving the entire blog to a new domain– Well, it’s not the entire blog. We’re only taking with us the last few years’ worth of posts. So I wanted to update this one and make sure it made the move!

So here’s Rebecca:

Sheila Wray Gregoire

But before I go any further, let’s get some theology straight.

We all do have need for a savior, and we definitely need to teach kids right from wrong–no arguments there! So here’s what the Bible says about the sinful nature:

What does the Bible say about our nature?

  1. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Rom 3:23). Everyone sins, and we all need God’s forgiveness and grace.
  2. We are at war with two natures: the sinful nature, and God’s nature. We all have a sinful nature, but we are also created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  3. When we know God, we have His Spirit within us, and we adopt Christ’s nature and reject the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16-25).

Most parenting focuses on turning away from the sinful nature and squashing sinful tendencies in children by teaching them to repent. But what if this isn’t the best way to teach kids right from wrong? What if kids don’t need that same focus on repentance that we do as adults?

Let me give you a bit of my story growing up.

I grew up in an amazing Christian family. I have known God (not just known about God, I have truly known God) for as long as I can remember. When I was 3 years old, I used to make up songs about Jesus dying on the cross so we could go to heaven while riding the subway in downtown Toronto. And in Kindergarten when I lost my favorite toy on the playground, my response when my friend found it for me was, “Well, I wasn’t worried. I knew I would find my toy because I prayed to Jesus about it.”

When I was a kid, my relationship with God wasn’t rooted in my understanding of my natural inclination towards sin. Instead, I just thought Jesus was wonderful and was so happy that he wanted to be my friend, too! I liked talking to Jesus, and singing to Jesus, and hearing stories about Jesus, and I knew that Jesus was always there and that he loved me more than anything.

It wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I had my first true moment of understanding my need for a savior. I was sitting in my room and it suddenly hit me and I just started bawling–I got down on my knees, confessed, cried, and my dad actually came in and found me there and I just said, “Daddy, I really need Jesus, don’t I?”

But it wasn’t as though I didn’t know and love Jesus before I understood how much I needed him–I still had a real relationship with Him. I just wasn’t psychologically developed enough to grasp that deeper level yet.

When I look at how adults versus children are seen in the Bible, adults are told, “Be more like these kids!” But much of parenting advice seems to revolve around training kids to be little adults.

Jesus loved kids. He gathered them up and as the disciples tried to usher them away, Jesus threw away all the “proper” ideas of how children were to be around respected religious leaders like rabbis and instead said, “let the little children come to me!”

My concern is that somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the wonder of childhood.

When Jesus talks about us as his children, he compares us to sheep, not wolves. What’s the difference? Sheep are simply stupid. Wolves, on the other hand, are deliberately malicious. Jesus calls us dumb, stubborn sheep. But when it comes to the typical parenting advice out there, it’s like we’re treating kids like wolves, not sheep!

Yes, we all have a sinful nature. But we’re also created in the image of God, and have His Spirit in us, too! And for those of us born into great Christian families, the Spirit side is our norm. And I think we need to understand the difference between misbehavior and maliciousness. A 5-year-old coloring on the walls isn’t malicious as much as it is just dumb.

My little sister, Katie, used to write on everything. And I mean everything. But for her, it wasn’t a chosen sin the way it would be if I were to color on the walls now, as a 23-year-old. For her, it was just the impulse control issues that 5-year-olds have! Telling her she was a disobedient little girl who needed to confess to Jesus would have been entirely inappropriate–and my concern is that it may cause a lot of shame and a feeling of never being good enough.

Kids learning repentance and good behaviour

As a general rule, kids develop in stages–even with our moral understanding.

According to Kohlberg, morality develops in three stages.

Stage one is called the pre-conventional level, where morality is all about what it gets you.

You don’t lie, because if you lie you get a time out. You clean your room, because if you keep your room clean you can go for ice cream on Fridays.

First Morality Stage: Doing what brings me rewards

Stage two is called the conventional level, and it’s all about social norms and becoming a “good girl” or “good boy.”

Morality is about what authority says is right (parents, government, teachers, pastors). At this stage, children believe that you should follow the rules even if there aren’t rewards or punishments because rules are what dictate morality. (That’s why children get upset when you change the rules to a board game. That’s just not done!)

That desire to be moral is lived out by following rules. Billy doesn’t run in the house because Mommy says you can’t run in the house and he wants to be a good boy. And he knows he’s a better boy than his brother Tommy, because Tommy runs in the house when he knows that mom can’t see him, but Billy doesn’t run no matter what.

Teaching kids about repentance and morality

Second Morality Stage: Wanting to follow rules. Rebecca was always so glad she followed more rules than Katie!

Stage three is the post-conventional level, and it’s a more philosophical understanding of morality.

This is when you get into moral questions like, “if lying was wrong, was it a sin for Rahab to lie about the spies in her house?” Rules and laws can be broken if need be without it necessarily being immoral, and there is understanding that people can come to different conclusions about morality based on past experience and present situation (e.g., one person can decide to become a soldier and fight in a war for their country and another can see all forms of war as innately evil and choose not to fight, and you can see the validity of both positions).

Third Morality Stage: Thinking through moral issues

Understanding Christianity’s moral laws really falls under the post-conventional level. We’re not supposed to follow God just because of what it gets us (stage one), or to be governed by rules or earth authority anymore (stage two), but instead to follow the Spirit God has given us and make decisions based on our individual callings under the greater umbrella of God’s morality (stage three).

Here’s the kicker, though: most kids don’t enter even stage two until late adolescence. So much of Christian parenting advice, though, is about teaching kids that they are fundamentally a sinful being who needs to repent! That’s a stage 3 type mentality!

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

I’m not saying we don’t teach kids how to behave–I’m saying we change our thinking around misbehavior.

It’s not evil for a 2-year-old to play with her potatoes. It’s just her learning what mashed potatoes feel like, and enjoying the smushiness! It doesn’t mean she’s following her sinful nature as much as just being a 2-year-old.

My parents definitely taught us to behave well–they didn’t tolerate my sister scribbling on everything! But the emphasis needs to be on helping kids make the right decisions instead of shaming them for doing something wrong.

Take colouring on the walls, for instance. There’s a big difference between teaching a 3-year-old to ask Jesus to help her stop coloring on the walls and forcing a 3-year-old to confess her sin of coloring on the walls to Jesus so she can be forgiven.

Let me give you a scenario following the typical Christian parenting advice I often find in books or on blogs:

  1. Have the child answer the question: are you being obedient or disobedient?
  2. Make them apologize for disobeying.
  3. Confess his/her sin to Jesus
  4. Decide on a punishment

When we’re talking about really young kids, this can become a very shaming message.

Here’s what my parents did instead when Katie doodled:

  1. Explain that the act was wrong and why (If you color on the walls, you are damaging mommy and daddy’s things.)
  2. If they are sorry, show them how to apologize to the injured party for the specific act (I’m sorry I colored on the walls, not I’m sorry I disobeyed you)
  3. Talk about how you can not do it next time (Let’s have an easel set up so you have a better place to color)
  4. Find a way for the child to fix the problem they caused (The child scrubs the crayon off the wall)

Instead of focusing on what we did wrong, it was about making things right. How can we avoid this in the future? How can you fix it now?

That’s a much more empowering message for kids, and much less dehumanizing than making them debase themselves for simply not having proper impulse control.

Jesus celebrates children’s innocence, their kindness, and their unwavering trust and faith in God. 

But a lot of Christian parenting advice seems to forget that kids generally want to do the right thing–they just don’t know how yet. Let’s teach them how, rather than telling them that they are dirty rotten sinners.

Child Development vs. Dirty Rotten Sinners Language

What do you think? How can we incorporate more child development in our discipline? What’s gone wrong? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8. Check out Why I Didn't Rebel, or follow her on Instagram!

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. CMT

    “we talk about misbehavior as a sin issue, when in reality, a lot of the time it’s an impulse control or naivete issue”

    YES. I was raised this way and have had to make a conscious decision not to carry it forward with my own kids. My oldest in particular is intelligent and sensitive, but impulsive and with tendencies to anxiety and perfectionism. Telling him he’s a sinner every time he behaves childishly would crush him.

    It’s not simple to just decide not to do this, though. I’ve had to deal with a real fear that I was harming my kids souls by not hammering their sin and disobedience. After all, I was told over and over again that I had to obey my parents so I could learn to obey God, and every failure to obey my parents was a sign of how rebellious I was against God. I wonder if anyone else has had this experience?

    • Jo R

      Well, if you change “every failure to obey my parents” to “every failure to obey my pastors, Sunday school teachers, and ‘Christian marriage and sex authors,” then yes, absolutely.

      And as I also am a perfectionist, “crushing” is QUITE accurate.

    • Stefanie

      Yes, I had that experience. I can also recall a parenting devotional my church hosted where they taught this exact line of thinking – that if kids can’t obey their parents, they won’t obey God. So it seems to be implied (or maybe it was explicitly stated) that the single most important thing you need to do to ensure your kids become Christians later in life is to enforce their obedience as children. This involves spanking. Oh! And they need to obey “the first time.”

      • CMT

        Yep. Thats about it. I think this was a Focus on the Family thing. At least that’s where it seemed to be coming from in my home growing up.

      • Cynthia

        I remember being a bit shocked when I heard other parents talk about wanting instant, automatic, first-time obedience. I think some of the other parents were shocked by the fact that I was shocked.

        Here’s the back story though: I had basically grown up hearing stories about the Holocaust, and how people had done the most atrocious things because they were “just following orders”. So, in my mind, instant obedience was actually a terrible thing.

        Instead, I wanted to raise kids who would grow to be good people who would do what was right. Obedience is a bit useless for that. After all, I’m not right beside my kids all day. They need to have the character developed to want to do the right thing, and the skills to figure out what the right thing is in a situation and how to go about doing it. Sometimes, that will mean that they won’t obey someone who wants them to do the wrong thing, and will have the strength and independence to do right instead.

        • A2bbethany

          That was my conclusion as well. And i have a thing about being too passive because of being too obedient in childhood. It’s made adulting hard, because I’m so used to following someone’s lead and not thinking for myself.

          • Jo R

            And especially when some—crap, whom are we kidding????—most of these “Christian” teachings are made matters of sinning against a husband or even against God.

            Yeah, that doesn’t put a clamp on one’s own thinking, especially when you’re a new believer who didn’t grow up in church, but trusted Christ as an adult. 🙄🙄🙄

      • anon for now

        oh!! “obey right away” ack. It seems so logical, but, really?? I was challenged in this by an educator who runs a blog for ADHD students and their families (A Heart for All Students, if you’re interested). The absolute subjugation of one will to another’s…is that REALLY obedience?? So, when an adult tells my kid to take his/her underwear off and not tell me about it, they should NOT question that? Well if they are subjugated into unquestioning and immediate obedience with the people they know best and hopefully trust most, what in God’s mercy are they going to do with the orders of someone who doesn’t care for them???

        someone please give me an answer for the inevitable comeback: “yes but they have to learn to obey right away so if you yell when a car is coming they get out of the way”

    • Laura

      When I was 7-8 years old, I went to catechism classes and during the season of Lent, the teacher gave each of us a calendar. During each day of Lent, there was a task we had to follow (ex. No arguing or no desserts). Well, on the day that said no arguing, my brother and I had a fight. I didn’t know what arguing meant and when my mom explained it to me, I told her not to put a gold star on the calendar because I was sinning. She insisted on putting that gold star on the page. I felt guilty.

      Years later as I recalled this story to a friend, she told me my mother’s action was like God erasing our sin and replacing it with His grace.

      My experience in catechism classes was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my mother’s decision to take us out of organized religion. Both my parents were raised in the Catholic Church and my brother and I were raised in it until those catechism classes. I was a perfectionist and very hard on myself. I did not need to be burdened with being called a sinner. To this day, I still hate that.

      • Nessie

        “my mother’s action was like God erasing our sin and replacing it with His grace.”
        That is so incredibly beautiful! <3

        • CMT

          Yet she was so stuck on the need to do everything right that she couldn’t accept it. That feeling of someone being gracious making you feel even worse… ugh. Good for her parents for noticing it wasn’t healthy for her and acting on that. A lot of people would have assumed “well I was taught that and I turned out fine, so you just need to suck it up.” Which of course would make a kid think they’re the problem even more.

          • Laura

            Looking back, I think my mother made the right decision by taking me and my brother out of organized religion. I just had to learn how to find Jesus which I did during my teen years. I didn’t come to Jesus because I believed He loved me unconditionally. I accepted salvation so I would not have to experience eternal torment which I was taught at a friend’s church. This was the same church where her uncle (the pastor) preached about how wives needed to submit to their husbands because the husbands were kings of their castles. If I wanted to stay in Heaven, I was told that I could not be a feminist. This was so conflicting to me.

            If Jesus really loved me, then why would He insist that husbands be in charge of their wives? At least, that was the message I heard from the pastor. So, in my teenage mind, I thought that if I wanted to be a Christian I was not allowed to believe in equal rights. But, I strongly believed in equal rights for both sexes and my friend told me that as a Christian, I could not believe that. So, I resolved that if I wanted to remain a Christian and believe in equal rights for both sexes then I had to remain single for life. But if I wanted to get married someday and have a marriage where there was equality between my husband and me, I could not be a Christian. So, I walked away from organized religion. I never stopped believing in God, but I refused to read the Bible thinking it was an outdated book full of sexism and that women did not matter. It was also discouraging that women were hardly mentioned in the Bible, so for many years, I felt that God thought less of women.

            I love how Rebecca talked about her sincere love for Jesus which is the kind of love I want to experience in my relationship with Him. For me, I think staying away from organized religion is what I need in order to experience this kind of relationship.

          • CMT

            “I strongly believed in equal rights for both sexes and my friend told me that as a Christian, I could not believe that.” Gah can we please stop this? The list of “you can’t believe x and be a Christian” is like… 4 things?? Lots of people do believe in equality AND Jesus, but it seems like the loudest and most numerous voices (in the US at least) do want to make it an OR. That’s discouraging and it’s no wonder you got turned off organized religion. I was taught a much less blatant but still problematic message (the whole “equal worth subordinate role” schtick) and it slowly poisoned my ability to trust God till I finally ditched it. So I feel you!

    • anon for now

      “After all, I was told over and over again that I had to obey my parents so I could learn to obey God, and every failure to obey my parents was a sign of how rebellious I was against God. I wonder if anyone else has had this experience?”

      YEP. 🙁

      BUT. God isn’t ever done. 🙂 Praise Him!

  2. Nessie

    So much of this advice is echoed (or perhaps trained into us) in adult issues’ “resolutions,” such as bouncing one’s eyes. “Don’t look at a woman lustfully because God says not to…” ok, but maybe God’s “why” is because He wants us to honor others and look at their humanity and as children of God. If all we do is follow the rules, we often fail to truly develop compassion and empathy for those whom God has created.

    I have done so much wrong in my life, but I did take the same approach as Rebecca’s parents in “training” my child and am so thankful I did. He is an imperfect but sweet, loving, kind young adult who is growing in his understanding of deeper things on his own timeline. He is a rule follower by nature but he understands the bigger reasons which underlie the “rules.”

    So glad for this series- I have full confidence both my husband and myself will greatly benefit from what we will read!

  3. WD

    Looking back, my childhood seemed to be focussed on punishment for mistakes, lack of understanding or disobedience. We were spanked, yelled at, shamed. We weren’t taught how to fix our mistakes. We weren’t taught emotional regulation. We weren’t taught coping skills. I often wonder if this is because my parents didn’t know how to fix mistakes or regulate emotions or cope. Punishment always seemed to come from a place of anger not from logical consequences. I believe there was often punishment for age appropriate behaviours. Looking back, I recall fear and shame and confusion. And then we were told to “stop that crying or I will give you something to cry about.” When the person you most rely on for all your needs threatens you, it is devastating. But I hear most parents of that generation were impatient with crying.

    When my own children were newborns, I was told not to respond to them every time they cried because babies try to manipulate adults. I never believed this.

    When my children were young we discovered that, often, “disobedient” behaviour occurred if a situation was overwhelming or too exciting. If we spent a few minutes assisting our child to calm down, perhaps by going to a quiet room or outside for 5 minutes, we avoided misbehaviour and drama.

    At 55, I still struggle to manage mistakes. I feel shame and self loathing. I want to physically punish myself. I feel fear. And often, I don’t know how to cope with the logical consequences of my error.

    I really wonder if these behaviours of punishing are learned by children from their parents and passed on to the next generation. And it does make sense that it happened in the past because parents were taught their children were evil and needed to be forced to be good.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I definitely think the things that we are taught as kids and believe, especially shame, still influences us. I’m so glad this conversation is happening, because it really does look like millennial parents are learning how to parent in a very different way.

    • WD

      Another thing that I have noted over the years… kids with parents who severely punish every perceived error learn to hide mistakes. They know mistakes result in punishment not logical consequences. They know they can’t rely on their parents to help them navigate mistakes and make corrections or learn how to prevent the mistake in the future.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, very true. It’s all about curbing outward behavior rather than shaping character. And when kids don’t feel safe with their parents, they stop telling their parents things.

        • Laura

          When my friend was in high school (I had already graduated), she kept her pregnancy a secret from her parents. She was afraid her father would get mad and take out his rage on her the way he did with her brother when he got in trouble. I didn’t even know she was pregnant until after her son was born. It is very true that kids will keep secrets from their parents.

    • CMT

      “At 55, I still struggle to manage mistakes. I feel shame and self loathing. I want to physically punish myself. I feel fear. And often, I don’t know how to cope with the logical consequences of my error.”

      WD, I would like to give you a hug. I hope you have someone IRL to help you with this. It’s brutal what our own minds can do to us in these places.

      Shame lies. You do not deserve to be punished for being human. God treasures you.

  4. Laura

    “We’re not supposed to follow God just because of what it gets us (stage one), or to be governed by rules or earth authority anymore (stage two), but instead to follow the Spirit God has given us and make decisions based on our individual callings under the greater umbrella of God’s morality (stage three).”

    It seems like a lot of Christian adults are stuck at stages one and two. I admit that I’ve had the mentality that I follow God because of what it gets me (keeps me out of hell) and follow earthly leaders like pastors and husbands (I’ve been divorced a long time, so I’m relieved of this burden).

    It’s time we get to the third stage and stay there. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself and sensing God wanting me to do. My individual calling does not fall in line with the social-constructed biblical womanhood guide (it’s not really biblical, because there is no one specified way to be a Christian woman). The same goes for marriages and parenting: there is no one specified way on how to have a successful marriage or how to raise children successfully. Every marriage is different. Some couples choose to have separate bank accounts, while others insist that it’s God’s way to have joint bank accounts (I do know people who say this). Household tasks are divided up not according to stereotypical gender roles, but according to the individual’s strengths. For example, I know a couple where the husband does the grocery shopping and the cooking. He loves to cook and he does the grocery shopping because his wife cannot handle being around large crowds. She handles the finances because that is her strength. As for parenting, each child is different.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this is part of being honest and authentic before God, allowing Him to lead us into what He made us to be. When we instead try to enforce rules, we make no room for the spirit or what God may be calling us each individually to do.

    • Liz

      I thought the same thing Laura. Even Jesus talked about the Pharisee and Tax Collector mindset (stage 2) and I literally feel most Christians are stuck there too. I never had an abortion and I’m not gay so I’m better than you although I covered up child abuse and I’m addicted to porn but ya know, soooo glad I’m not like those women out there that kill their babies or those pervs out there grooming children to be trans! To name current and very relevant examples from recent news headlines!

  5. A2bbethany

    Very revelant right now! 8days pp and my toddler was at grandmas house for several days. Little to no rules enforced and a large area to run and play! Back to our 2bd apartment and a fragile baby doll….yeah we’ve been adjusting and having fits. But she’s learning and really handling it well. I’ll admit that financial stress and other feelings of my current situation, have made me lose my temper. And she knows that because I always apologize and tell her mommy is sorry.(my parents never apologized for anything ever, and I think not doing that isn’t healthy)
    I believe it’s good for her to see that mom and dad also have various emotions and we sometimes mess up. But we apologize and hug when we do.

    Aside from her impulse control, she’s a very sweet helper and I know she’s going to continue that!
    (Like Rebecca, this time was so much better! 2nd degree instead of 3rd and painkillers! I learned to swallow pills)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Bethany, congratulations on your new little one! I’m so excited for you! And I’m glad the birth went better!

    • Cynthia

      Congratulations! My younger two are only 21 months apart, and keeping #3 safe around #2 was a big concern. I learned that if I said “don’t bonk the baby on the head”, my tot would immediately do just that. So, what I did instead was show her “gentle”. When she copied and touched him gently, I immediately said “good gentle touch!” and gave her a hug. Then we did it again. And again. With tots, repeating stuff 47 times seems to be their thing and the way that things get programmed into their brain. We still kept an eye on her to be safe, but she became more gentle and started to become quite protective of her baby brother. She still is, even though he’s now a foot taller than her.

  6. Nathan

    Obviously we’re all imperfect and sin now and then, but the vast majority of us (especially children) are basically good people. We should teach our kids that they’re good a beautiful children of God who sometimes make mistakes. If we discipline them, it’s important to tell them why what they did was wrong, not just yell and hit them.

    Also, constantly lecturing children that they’re inherently bad and rotten and one inch from Hell, and telling them that we have to “beat the devil out of them” doesn’t really create emotionally strong and healthy people going forward.

  7. Meredith

    Just popping in to say that the idea of Original Sin (that we are dirty rotten sinners even in the womb) was invented by Augustine because of his sexual dysfunction and to justify the abandonment of his mistress.

  8. Phil

    Awe Becca your story is so awesome. I really have a lot to say today about this post. I dont recall reading it 4 years ago for some reason..but sure am glad I read it today! First off I love your book. I recall reading it really fast on a plane. There were some real favorites in there for me. I loved the Jesus message and the be a team message. For me there wasnt a ton of surprise in your book. My wife and I were doing many of the things you wrote naturally for some reason. I cant really tell you why because my past says I shouldn’t have been. But I made changes in becoming more intentional about certain things because of your book. And so did my wife. We were actually talking about your book this past Friday. We have laid the ground work with our kids and it is up to them to exercise it. See, what I knew was the case but couldnt quite realize it completely is the fact that as your children age the fruit of your work is witnessed. I am watching my kids grow Becca. And I am quite proud of them. Ya know I could talk to you for an hour about this post. I have a lot of proud Dad stories to tell. Instead of bragging about my kids, I will share just one story. My 14 year old daughter has a boyfriend. He is a nice kid. He is a goofball and basically my wife and I joke behind the scenes that our daughter is dating her little brother 😂. However the kid is super nice and he fits into our environment and he gets my comedy. We have spent time with his parents and the kid impresses me by calling me to ask if he could come over or take my daughter to a dance. He even tried to set up a fishing date with me and his step Dad (which we are working on). He has set the bar real high for any potential other kids that might show up in my daughters life. Here it is…he is SUPER RESPECTFUL to my daughter and to us. One thing I really love about him is he is just genuinely kind to my daughter. Recently, our families where gathered at an event and we were talking about Easter. The Mother of my daughters boyfriend starts telling us how her 4 year old daughter made up a song about Easter being all about the Easter Bunny. Then she says to me well how do you tell a 4 year old about Jesus? My jaw dropped. I was so unprepared for this moment. All I wanted to say was YOU JUST TELL HER! I was so embarrassed by my lack of ability to spit it out. I was truly afraid of embarrassing the Mother. It saddened me that I was unable to say anything and I let her mumble herself out of the statement as I just stared on. However, You know what I am really sad about? That this precious little girl is missing out on Jesus. I am with you Becca – telling kids they are awful sinners is NOT good parenting. NOT telling your kids about Jesus because you think they wont understand is even worse. I dont know what to do with this story except tell it and pray for that little girl. The best I can come up with right now is to lead by example. That is my favorite slogan. I may not always be the best example but I certainly put forth best effort. I am grateful today for what God has given me. Watching my kids grow into responsible young teens and adults. It is SUPER rewarding and It makes me SUPER hopeful for the future of my kids as they pass the torch of Jesus to their kids. 😁

    • Phil

      I just got a solution from prayer Becca – I am going to find a really good children’s book to give to Hensley. Thats what I am going to do.

  9. Boone

    A big problem that I have with fundamentalist is their need to control everybody. Children are placed in the same category as horses. They have to be broken. Self esteem is seen as sinful and negates Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Of course, the lower opinion that one has of one’s self the easier one is to control.
    Your mention of the lost rabbit reminded of an incident with my daughter when she was five. She’s now thirty. Early one morning she was accompanying me out to the barn to feed the horses. As we arrived we were greeted by a approximately six week old very loud and very hungry black and white kitten. My daughter ran forward, picked him up and with a big smile announced that this was the kitten that she had been praying for. I attempted to assure her that this was a totally different cat but she was adamant. I did convince her after the kitten had breakfast to drive around to all of the neighbors and see if any were missing a kitten. She agreed to humor me all the while assuring me that we were wasting our time. One by one with evil grins the neighbors denied ownership of the kitten. As we left the last house my daughter said, “See, I told you that was the kitten I’ve been praying for.” I told her that we already had a cat. She replied that Clem was the family cat. This cat was just her’s. As we arrived home I told my wife the obviously we had been divinely appointed to raise and nurture this cat and there was no way that I was going to destroy this child’s simple faith. So, that day Cleetus became part of the family.

  10. Cynthia

    I’m totally grateful that when I had 3 kids under 5, I took a parenting class from a mom of 12 (with another in the way), who recommended a book called Raising Roses Among the Thorns. While it is aimed primarily at a religious Jewish audience, it is basically all about the importance of attachment. The main message was that if you have a strong attachment between parent and child, the child will naturally look to the parent as a role model and will tend to absorb the parent’s values. So, building a strong bond and then being the sort of person that you would want your child to become are the main tasks. There is more focused discipline along the way, but that is largely a matter of practical structure and problem-solving.

    My kids are now 17, 19 and 22, and I found this approach worked really well. The relationship is the bedrock for everything else. If your child feels safe, accepted, loved and heard, they will generally be willing to both talk and listen. Yes, kids and teens have a developmental stage where they need to assert that they are separate individuals, but they don’t need to reject everything a parent says or constantly act out in anger. If you set the stage, lots of teens are happy to talk about life.

    Along with this, kids naturally respond better when we expect the best from them. When a parent says:

    “Don’t be a slut”
    “Don’t be stupid and flunk out”
    “Don’t get drunk or do drugs and mess up”

    Kids hear that as “my parents think I’m a slut, I’m stupid and likely to flunk out, and I’m probably going to be an addict”.

    If a parent says:
    “One day, you’ll find someone and have a deeply committed, loving and respectful relationship.”
    “Good luck on the exam. I know you took the harder course, but you are studying really hard and know your stuff.”
    “Keep making good choices for healthy living. We can go over some studies on stuff that might be dangerous and what they effects might be. If you ever need any resources for help, let us know because we can help connect you.”

    The message given to the child is very different. The goal of guiding the child through potential dangers is still there, but the relationship is better and the child is left with a better image of themselves.

  11. Eliza

    I think what really changed my mind about seeing childishness as “sinful” was watching a close friend of the family, my childhood pastor’s wife, suffer from early onset dementia. Early on, it affected impulse control predominately. Her children had to curb and supervise her as one would a toddler. And I thought, “Has this godly woman, whom I’ve respected my whole life, suddenly become more sinful?” Of course not. She just lost the part of her brain that reminded her of consequences and helped her see the big picture. No more are children sinful when they haven’t developed that part of their brain yet.

    • Karena

      What a powerful example, Eliza! It really is about brain development and capacity for understanding. Do strongly fundamentalist Christians really think that baby Jesus didn’t cry when he was hungry or wet or cold or tired, or that he didn’t explore as a toddler and perhaps knock something off the table on occasion (because these things are selfish, disobedient and sinful in their minds)? God’s grace for us is so much bigger than this narrow view of “we are all dirty, rotten sinners” at every single stage of life!

      Someone in my Bible study group just this past week said something about helping her kids see that they are just rotten sinners, and that they then realize their need for Jesus. It just broke my heart!

  12. Belinda Colyer

    There is something good about what you say, specifically that we should understand children’s developmental stages etc. Children should not be punished for childlike behaviour but guided into maturing and growing. I do think that we can mistakenly label childish behaviour as sinful and that is not helpful.

    However, I also think that sin is present in us from birth. It’s not that we at some stage of development develop a sinful nature. We are born with it and therefor it will manifest itself.

    We also are not born with God’s nature. That is a gift of salvation. We are images bearers (as are all humans) and therefor have a capacity to know and understand what is good and right. But that is not the same as having God’s nature. We become partakes of God’s nature by faith. (2 Peter 1)
    Knowing this,
    Christian parenting is walking in wisdom in discerning behaviour that is expected and normal for a child’s development and correcting and guiding behaviour in a way that is fitting according to that stage of development. Parenting is also discerning sinful behaviour and pointing them to the grace of God in Christ for that. Not only in content but in our manner and motive. (Should be gracious and with their benefit in mind).

    As a parent, I’ve erred both ways. And like my children, some mistakes were made out of my own immaturity and some were made out of my own sinfulness. And like my children, I needed teaching and guidance and I needed the grace of God and his forgiveness.

  13. Angela

    Good article in general. However, scripture never calls sheep dumb, ever. That’s a modern trope and common sermon fodder, and a pet peeve of mine. Wild sheep are smart enough to survive, and I bet ancient domesticated breeds were smarter than today’s kinds. But regardless, none of the sheep metaphors God uses are about us being dumb.

  14. Jane Eyre

    Beautiful, Rebecca.

    The problem of shame-based parenting is that eventually, people get tired of being ashamed of being human. They figure out that the shame never ends. They twist themselves into knots to avoid shame, and then one day, cease being able to take it anymore.

    Kids aren’t miniature adults. We form them into adults, but that’s a journey.

    • Marian

      That was really well-said!
      “Ashamed of being human” is exactly what we learn when we are routinely shamed for acting according to our neurobiological development as we grow up, and then may continue to learn this in so many ways, even as adults (for example, as human emotions/experiences are over-spiritualized and spiritually bypassed, rather than honored as valid human experiences, worked through authentically… or as subtle legalism adds to the load of standards help up for measure).

  15. Chrysti

    I’m thinking about this a lot lately, and this post (when it was published previously) is one that got my husband and I talking about and altering the way we parent our children. Seeing children as dirty rotten sinners, or “vipers in diapers” as the pastor at a previous church would say, takes the joy out of parenting. It caused me to go through my day expecting my kids to disobey. I dreaded it. I’m learning to see my kids the way Jesus does, as whole persons who need discipleship and shepherding… not correction and training like a dog.

  16. Marius

    Wow, 23 year old Rebecca had a lot of insight – particularly on child development! I wish I was that wise when I was 33, let alone 23.

    However, adults shouldn’t be told that they are dirty rotten sinners either. It’s hard to understand how Christians got this idea!
    Yes, the Bible says that we all have sinned, but if you look at the context, what it says is, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” – it’s supposed to be Good News, not to shame us. We are justified by grace, that is the message here – not ‘we are dirty rotten sinners’.

    Have you noticed in the Gospels that Jesus spends basically no time shaming or guilt-tripping people? The only people he kept criticising were the religious, those who were shaming and guilt-tripping others.

    Even his core message – “Repent and believe in the Gospel” – in Greek it doesn’t mean what we think it does. It means, ‘change the way you think, and believe in Good news’.

    The Bible gives us a goal – ‘the glory of God’; ‘be holy because God is holy’; ‘follow Me’ – we are challenged to be the best we can, and then, when we fall short, it provides grace so we can get up, dust ourselves, and try again.

    To shame and guilt anyone is a rotten thing to do – to adults or to children. I wonder when, of if, the church will put Christ back into Christianity.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good, Marius! I’ve been thinking about how Jesus really concentrates his criticism to the heavily religious as well. It seems to be that we always keep making the same mistakes.


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