Have you ever wondered if your parenting is too strict? What about too lenient? In this article, we’re going to discuss a healthy balance between discipline and grace.

woman disciplining her child
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The easy and hard part of parenting

I think the most challenging part of parenting is that there are no guarantees. You could do all the “right” things, and your kids could still choose a life of crime. They could end up getting hurt or sick, marry someone you dislike or even wish to live their lives without you in it.

I mean, don’t get stuck on these thoughts. But really, parenting is like gambling if you think about it. 

You invest a LOT of emotion, money, and time, yet you have no idea what will become of your kids. 

But there is one thing that keeps us going, right? Love. And while parenting in and of itself most often feels like walking a tight rope blind, loving our children comes easy. 

Sure, we have those days where we’re annoyed or frustrated with them, but at the end of the day, we would die for our kids, and easily so. The love a parent feels for their child is the most beautiful form of love. We unconditionally give it, without expectation of love in return. 

It’s what motivates us to put up with bad teenage attitudes, change a million poopy diapers, and wake up six times a night for a year straight.

But, like anything in this world, our selfishness taints love. Because WE want our kids to act, behave, and BE a certain way, we do things — unloving things — that can sometimes damage their little hearts and push them away. 

We yell at them. We talk disrespectfully. We don’t have enough grace. We get too strict. We’re impatient. We discipline to control, instead of gently pointing them towards repentance.

And that’s where I’ll land. 

How can we parent our kids in a way that balances discipline and grace, reflecting the perfect balance that God exemplifies, and benefits their life without pushing them away? 

Because if I know one thing about kids, it’s this. In the face of a parent’s continual unhealthy disapproval and discipline, they can either become great little actors or desire to live their life as far away from you as possible. 

The very thought of healthily balancing discipline and grace gives me anxiety most days. But here’s what I’ve realized. One doesn’t have to come without the other. 

I write a lot about parenting on this blog. But I try to steer clear of the “do this and get that” mentality, and simply point people to the fact that kids are human. They mess up. They don’t listen. They disobey. Expect it, and learn how to come alongside their imperfect little hearts and help them navigate what it means to love and BE LOVED by God. 

But what’s OUR specific place in that? More specifically, what’s the very definition of a parent?

father talking to son

Understanding your influence as the parent

I attended my Grandfather’s funeral the other day, and as I sat there, listening to my Aunt describe how her now-deceased father made her feel when she was little, I realized something. 

She said, with tears streaming down her face, “He just made me feel so…so safe. He was kind. He never raised his voice. He always had a patient answer to the questions I had. He was gentle. He was…safe.”

Other than acknowledging my Grandfather was most definitely a better parent than I am, I also thought to myself, “a child should feel nothing other than safe in the presence of their parents, even when being disciplined.”

And those of us who had good parents do, right? Even when we’re disciplined, we know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever we do, our parents will still love us and accept us for who we are. And that’s the very definition of a good parent — someone who’s safe. Not because they were never disciplinary, but because EVEN IF they discipline, their kids feel…safe.

But discipline doesn’t feel good. It shouldn’t feel good; it should feel uncomfortable. It’s a necessary growing pain. But it shouldn’t cause our kids to feel unsafe or even angry.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 12:4

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What happens when you don’t discipline

Without discipline, a child will become entitled, thinking they deserve anything and everything that comes their way. They won’t understand that there are consequences to wrong behavior. They won’t understand the concept of forgiveness, and most definitely, the concept of an apology. It will ultimately ruin their lives, set them up for failure in their relationships, and probably keep them from holding a good job. 

Discipline is a necessity. 

But as a parent, I know how easily discipline can go wrong and become an unhealthy way to get our kids to do what we want them to do. 

So let’s talk about healthy discipline, and from there, we can gain an understanding of its purpose while also bringing to light the reason God places YOU as the shepherd to your child and the perfect person for the job of discipline. 

family dancing

The definition of healthy discipline and what it should accomplish

Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Healthy discipline should:

  • Lead our children to peace and a righteous life
  • Teach our children to see their sin as the problem, and not THEM as the problem. 
  • Help them see God as the ultimate authority.
  • Lead to reconciliation and restoration of the relationship.
  • Be covered in kindness, gentleness, and grace. 
  • Never cause our kids to feel unsafe. 
  • Never be a way for us to control or manipulate our kids.
  • Never used as a way to overrule our kids or show them our “power.”

Now, let’s talk about when discipline becomes unhealthy, and you’re being too strict as their parent. 

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Signs you’re being too strict in your parenting

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You find more fault in them than good 

Here’s the thing. If we truly KNOW our kids — spend time with them, listen to them, understand who they are — then we will be better equipped to discipline them in a way that’s productive. 

Here’s why. 

If the most interactions you have with your child are governed by correction, then there’s a problem. That’s allowing discipline to overrule grace. How will they feel like they’re doing anything right if you’re constantly reminding them of how they’ve failed?

I get how exhausting it can be when a child is continuously disobeying or defying you. But if this happens, it could be they feel as though they never live up to your standards anyway, so why bother. 

How can you stop the cycle? 

Begin to look for the good in your child. Encourage them in that. Make that your go-to throughout the day. And as I always say, be patient. Just as seeds planted take time to grow, so does your child. 

“As our world moves more and more towards immediate results and instant gratification from everything, it’s important we don’t expect the same outcome from parenting. Give them time to grow.”

Hillary Gruener
child spilled milk

You’re disciplining their undesirable actions, instead of their sin. 

If something my child did was undesirable, but not sinful, I don’t discipline.

Example. 

My child spills milk on the carpet — undesirable, but not a reason for discipline.

My child spills milk on the carpet because he disobeyed and didn’t keep his milk in the kitchen, but brought it out to the livingroom — undesirable AND sinful.

He directly disobeyed my orders, which were for his own good, and the result is discipline. Don’t discipline your kids for missteps, especially if they didn’t go against your orders. This could be translated to disciplining kids for being kids. Not cool. 

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a blue book with camera in front of it

You discipline because you’re offended or put out in some way.

One of my biggest pet-peeves in parenting techniques comes from Love and Logic. I don’t doubt some of their stuff is good, but most of it’s manipulative from what I know. 

If your only motivation to discipline your child comes from the fact that they’ve offended or put out in some way, then there’s a problem. 

Discipline’s motivation should always have in mind the desire to point your children towards godly behavior, not “mommy-pleasing.” Read more about how to prevent your child from becoming a people pleaser. 

child with trophy

You desire perfection from your kids.

Perfectionism is a real issue among young people these days. They have pressures on all accounts — social media, friends, parents, sports, teachers, academics. This is where KNOWING your child becomes of utmost importance.

Some kids can handle more; some can’t. If a child is not wired to juggle many tasks or requirements, good rules and boundaries can quickly feel like the world weighs them down. 

To know your children is to listen to your children. But listen to understand and not respond. Even though they are kids, they still struggle with anxiety, fear, and anger. They are human, just like you. But they haven’t learned the skills to navigate it constructively.

That’s where you come in. Instead of being the place they need to feel perfect, be the space they can go with their feelings, especially when they feel imperfect. 

You pay more attention to their behavior and not their heart.

It’s easy to get caught up in your child’s bad behavior throughout the day. It’s something that gets our attention. With some children who feel neglected, they subconsciously recognize this. You know the saying, “Any press is good press?” Yeah. In a child’s mind, any attention is good, so misbehaving has just become a way for them to get some time with you. 

Along with putting our smartphones first, this happens when we start paying more attention to their behavior, instead of their heart.

It can go both with something they did wrong and with something they did right. 

If you only admonish them for things they do good, but not who they are as a person, this is paying attention to their behavior instead of their heart. 

If you only discipline bad behavior, instead of addressing the “why” behind it — same thing.

The difference is subtle. Again, KNOW your children.

Here is an awesome card game we play as a family to get to know our kids more deeply. 

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You use discipline to control rather than guide.

One of the main struggles of every single human on earth is control. I don't care who you are; you will struggle with wanting control at some point in your life. 

It's human. It's normal. And most often, we don't even realize we're doing it. 

Disciplining your children can easily turn to a way of control. So how can we avoid that? 

Think about the main reason for discipline. It's to teach your kids what's right and what's wrong. But who's to say what's right or wrong? If we don't have an ultimate authority we answer to, this is relative to the individual.

In a world that all about "living your truth," us Christians see things a bit differently. We live our lives in submission to God as the ultimate truth. So what He says is the ultimate authority. When teaching your children the difference between right and wrong, we allow Scripture to guide us. It's God's diary that influences our morals, decisions, and way of life. 

So as you're guiding your children to live a life according to what God wants, it's important we make discipline about God and not us. This is where the word repentance comes in. 

Discipline should always lead to repentance. If you discipline your child and then force them to say sorry, even though you know they don't mean it, it won't do anything. 

But if you guide them towards repentance to God, it leaves room for God to do the work in softening their hearts. You can't force your child to repent. You can only do your part to discipline their wrong actions and encourage them to give it to God. 

This should be done VERY gently and without coercion. 

I'm all about my kids coming to an understanding and making a choice on their own. I never force them to pray, and most definitely don't force them to repent. Remember, you're their shepherd, an ambassador for God. You are NOT their controller or dictator. If they choose not to repent, that's their choice. 

The difference between using discipline to control vs. guiding them to godly sorrow leading to repentance is to let God go the distance.And as with anything in parenting, modeling how and why you should do something is the best form of instruction. 

If you've wronged your child, apologize to them. Tell them you've apologized to God for not being a good parent. This is being an example of how to healthily repent and ask for forgiveness from someone you've wronged. 

Wrapping it up:

As always, I encourage parents to not only have grace for their children but for themselves. We often see our faults and get discouraged, thinking we aren't good parents. 

But the fact that you're reading this would suggest you want to better yourself. Or perhaps you're just curious. Whatever the reason you're here, it's my desire that this encourages you, rather than making you feel like a failure. 

Parenting isn't about perfection. It's about making our children feel safe. Safe to share their hearts. Safe to be instructed and disciplined. Safe to know that whatever they do, whoever they are, they will be loved unconditionally by you. 

God loves us this way. 

But God also disciplines us.

"For the Lord disciplines the one he loves..." Hebrews 12:6

May we find balance by truly knowing and understanding who our children are, what they need, and how to carry out the beautiful task God has given us to parent our children. 

The fact that I have direct access through prayer to the God who created my children gives me peace. Peace in knowing I'm not alone, and I don't always have to have the answers. 

Thank goodness that my parenting is not the end of the story for my child. 

God has them. I know I'll fail them, but He won't. 

Positive parenting tools for every parent 

Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation

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Book List for Kids and Parents

Check out my recommended books for parenting

Book list to teach kids about racial diversity. 

Journaling for Kids

When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid's Printable Journals -- created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination. 

Chores for Kids

Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge

Implementing chores and structure in your child's daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks. 

If you're looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option. 

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If you're looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly "missions."

Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids

Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment. 

We even offer an "Exemption Time" for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences. 

Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!

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Author

Hillary Gruener is a wife, mother, writer, and musician. If she's not at her desk writing content on family life, she's adventuring the world with her husband and two boys.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Addiction and Parenting | Word From The Bird | Parenting

  2. Hi Hillary, thank you very much for your helpful article. Can you please check this verse or let me know in what Bible version you got this in? “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 12:4. I tried to check and read the chapter to put more context to the verse, but didn’t find it.

    • Hillary Gruener

      It was a typo! It’s Ephesians 6:4. Thanks, for pointing that out!