Addressing Deliberate Disobedience in Children

December 14, 2023

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Today's question says, "How can I teach my daughter better self-control? She loves God, reads her Bible, and prays, but often if I tell her to do or not to do something, she'll think it through knowing right and wrong and willingly choose to disobey because as she puts it, I wanted to."


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast. Where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "How can I teach my daughter better self-control? She loves God, reads her Bible, and prays, but often if I tell her to do or not to do something, she'll think it through knowing right and wrong and willingly choose to disobey because as she puts it, I wanted to." So this is an important question for us to think through with disobedience in our children or when they're making decisions that we have told them or asked them not to make. We want to think through, how should we respond to this?

Before we dive down deep into this question today, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you can submit that by going to Also, if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, please like and subscribe to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes and want to also ask that you invest the time writing a review if you're listening to this on an audio platform or if you're watching on YouTube that you take time to comment. Doing those things just helps more people discover this content so that we can equip as many Christian adults as possible to get their kids carefully evaluating the ideas that they encounter.

Now, as we think through this question about better self-control and a child deliberately disobeying, we need to make sure that we are identifying whether is this deliberate disobedience with something that's right and wrong, or is this just the child making an unwise decision? Because the question asks about self-control, but a lot of times what self-control is is controlling our impulses. However, it sounds like this questioner's daughter isn't having trouble controlling her impulses. What she's doing is actually thinking through a decision ahead of time and then making a decision that is contrary to what the parent has asked. So we need to discern, okay, is this deliberate disobedience or just unwise decision making? For example, for the person who wrote this question in, are you telling your daughter to work on her homework saying you need to work on your homework right now, and she's deliberately walking away and doing something else? If that's the case, she is disobeying you and disobedience is different than making unwise choices like an unwise choice. For example, do you suggest that she get her homework done before dinner, but she chooses instead to play or to watch a show? Those are two completely different things. One is a situation of disobedience. Another is a situation where she's making unwise decisions.

Now, in situations of deliberate disobedience, this is sin and it needs to be confronted and punished. We are choosing not to take a suggestion that a parent has made it's unwise, but it's not necessarily sinful, nor is it direct disobedience. So teaching, teaching wisdom, if we're saying, hey, you're really tired after dinner and you're not at your best and it's really hard for you to concentrate on your homework, so you really should try to do your homework before dinner. That's teaching wisdom. And what that requires is just pointing out the natural unwanted consequences. When an unwise decision is made. After dinner, your daughter probably is not going to be at your best, at her best and she might be cranky and have trouble doing her homework or that's when you need to say, okay, remember when I told you be wise to do your homework before dinner? You made this choice and now you're going to have to suffer the natural consequences of it. You're going to have to sit here until your homework is done and it's going to be more difficult and I don't have time to help you right now. And so in those situations, we just need to let our children suffer the natural consequences, and we need to be very careful that we are doing this because a lot of times what I see parents do is they'll try to help their child make a wise decision and then their child will make an unwise decision and then the parent kind of comes in and helps them lessen the consequences of that. And if we do that, according to Proverbs, what we're doing is we are actually leading our child to death because we're not teaching them the way of wisdom. So when our child does something that's not sinful but is just unwise, we need to make sure that we are letting them bear the full weight of the natural consequences of that so that then the next time they're tempted to make an unwise decision, they remember the weight of those consequences and they choose to make a wise decision the next time.

However, if our children are not just making unwise decisions, but they are deliberately disobeying us, that requires more intentionality to correct. It's not just letting the natural consequences happen. That might be part of it, but there's more that we have to do because deliberate disobedience is a more serious offense than just making unwise decisions. Now, if our children are deliberately disobeying us, this is a matter of the heart and the will, what they're choosing to do. And so the first thing that we need to make sure that we're doing is that we are praying for their heart because as I've mentioned in many previous podcasts, only God can take a heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. And so we need to pray that God would soften our child's heart, that they would feel the weight of their sin, the guilt that is there, and that they would confess and they would repent, that they would turn to the Lord and that they would be reconciled to him. We need to pray for a softening of their heart. Another thing that we need to do is we need to be honest with them of our concern for them because Jesus is clear. In John chapter 14, verse 15, Jesus says to his disciples, "if you love me, you'll keep my commandments." Now, we don't want to use this verse as just a guilt trip for our children or to try to manipulate their behavior. That's not how Scripture should ever be used, but we should be honest with our child - I'm really worried about some of the deliberate disobedience that I've seen in you recently because you tell me that you have turned from your sin and you've trusted in Jesus. You read your Bible and you pray, and God's word is clear that if we love him, we will obey his commands. Now, this doesn't mean that we're never going to sin. You see me sin, I sin and I have to turn and confess and repent to the Lord and to you. But what it does mean is that we will have a desire to obey and that when we do sin that we will feel guilty for that and we will confess and repent of that. So we need to be honest with our child that we're concerned over the condition of their heart, not to try to manipulate them, but just to be honest with them that we're concerned that they have a heart that is hard towards the things of God.

And that's something that we need to even ask ourselves as we look at our children after they do deliberately disobey after they sin, do they demonstrate a godly sorrow that leads to repentance? Are they actually sorry over what they have done? Now, this might not be immediate, but at some point, do they demonstrate a godly sorrow, not just that they're sad that you made them go to bed early or that you don't want them have a snack after dinner, not just that you punished them, but a sorrow that shows that they're actually grieved over the fact that they sinned against God and they sinned against you.

Now, if this is not the case, if our children never demonstrate this godly sorrow, that is probably evidence that they don't truly love God and that they haven't actually been reconciled to him. Now, can we know that a hundred percent for sure? No, we can't. But that is a good indication, and this is something that we often get confused about in American Christianity. That we think, okay, as long as someone has prayed the sinner's prayer and seemed sincere, then they're automatically saved. They're regenerated. They're reconciled in their relationship to God. We're what we see throughout Scripture is that conviction of sin and repentance of that sin is evidence of salvation. And if we don't see that, if we don't see a conviction over sin and a godly sorrow that's leading to repentance, we should rightly question whether or not our children actually have been reconciled in their relationship to God.

I think there's several passages of Scripture that point to this, and I'm just going to read two of them to us. The first one is in Jeremiah chapter 31 verses 31 through 34, and this is when God is talking to Jeremiah about the new covenant that he's going to one day make with his people. And starting with verse 31, this passage says, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more."

That this is a clear description of the new covenant that God has ushered in through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son Jesus. That no longer do we just look to some external law that we have no desire to follow, but that God actually gives us new hearts. He gives us hearts that his law is written on our hearts and that are we still going to rebel against him and sin against him? Yes, but that law will be written on our hearts so that we are convicted by God's Holy Spirit when we sin against him and we turn and we repent of that sin.

Paul talks about this new covenant and the spirit of the law that is written on our hearts in 2 Corinthians chapter three verses one to six. In this chapter, Paul writes, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not by the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

And here Paul, in this passage, is contrasting the letter of the law that was written on tablets of stone versus the true spirit of the law, which is written on the hearts of those who have been regenerated, those who have been reconciled in their relationship to God. So I read these passages to us just to say that we need to be honest with our children about our concern for them if they are consistently choosing deliberate disobedience and never demonstrate a heart of repentance because the heart that has been reconciled to God that has been regenerated by his spirit will demonstrate a brokenness over sin and a desire to confess and repent of that sin. Now, as we're thinking of working with our children when they are deliberately disobeying, we cannot change our children's hearts. We cannot take a heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh, but we can put in place things in our home that are the right ingredients for potentially cultivating the affections for God.

And so one thing that we need to make sure that we have in place is discipline. That when our children's sin, when they rebel against God, they rebel against us, that we are disciplining us. As I mentioned before, Proverbs says that if we do not discipline our children, we do not love them because we are leading them to death that we are letting their sin nature go out of control. So discipline in our home, it should be done out of love, not out of anger. It should be done out of a desire to see our children reconciled to God and reconcile to us. And that discipline needs to be consistent. This is one of the hardest things about discipline is to actually be consistent because it takes time to discipline, and a lot of times we have to stop what we're doing and put down our to-do list to actually make the time to be consistent in our discipline.

It also needs to be appropriate, okay? We need to make sure that the punishment is a consequence that fits the crime. If our child does something, if we tell them not to take a cookie before dinner and they take a cookie before dinner, obviously that needs to be punished. They need to be disciplined for that. But taking a cookie before dinner is a different kind of offense than consistently pushing another sibling or hitting them. That's a more grievous offense because it's a more direct offense against another family member. So that punishment needs to be more severe. So the punishment needs to be appropriate for the offense that was committed. It also needs to be explained, okay, why are you punishing them? That needs to be explained.

That's something I so greatly appreciate about my mom and the way that she disciplined my brother and my sister and myself, is that it was always consistent. Well, not always. My mom is not perfect. I don't want to present her as a perfect parent, but it was almost always consistent that she wouldn't just come out of nowhere with some consequence that we've never heard of, and she wouldn't turn a blind eye to our disobedient. So she was consistent. The punishment was appropriate when we would hit one another, when we would use our hands to sin. The punishment was for 15 minutes, we would have to sit on the kitchen floor with our legs crossed. It used to be called Indian style. Now they call it crisscross applesauce. We'd sit with our legs crossed and our hands had to be underneath our bottoms because my mom wanted us to remember that we had used our hands in a sinful way. And so we'd sit there for 15 minutes and then the consequence was explained to us. She would come in and she would ask us what we did, why we did what the results were, and then she would explain to us what we were supposed to do. And so the discipline should be explained and then it should be reconciled.

There needs to be reconciliation between us and our child, a time where they are confessing of their sin and asking for forgiveness, and where we're extending that forgiveness and being reconciled with them, that these are things. Are these things always going to cultivate a heart that has affection stirred towards God? No, but we're setting up these God-honoring rhythms in the hopes that our children's hearts will be stirred towards God. We need to make sure that we're spending intentional time building relationship with them. The gospel is all about relationship. It's all about God reconciling us to himself, him reconciling us to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and Him even reconciling us to ourselves to a correct understanding of who we are. So we need to make sure that we're investing time in building that relationship because our whole relationship with our children cannot just be telling them what to do and what not to do and disciplining them. We need to have positive times with them.

We should also make sure that we just have regular family worship together times of studying God's word, praying together. We need to make sure that we're serving together in the local church and in the community that we're doing these things that are going to cultivate these rhythms that will hopefully stir the affections of their heart towards God.

So that's just what I recommend in this situation. We have to discern, is this a situation where my child is being deliberately disobedient where I actually need to address this? Or is this a situation where they're just making an unwise decision and I need to make sure I allow them to feel the consequences of that unwise decision?

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. But as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the children that God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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