“Time to come to the table and eat,” you say. “No!” shouts the 3-year-old. “I don’t want to.” Then the 8-year-old chimes in, “I hate when you make this for dinner. It’s disgusting!” The 10-year-old shouts down the hallway, “Be right there,” but never comes. 

Sound familiar?

Though these moments happen like clockwork all throughout the day, they have a special way of testing our patience and wearing us down until our last brain cell has been used up! 

What do you do when your kids defy or disrespect you as their parents? If you’re like us, you’ve tried a variety of techniques like…

  • Timeouts – restricting your child to one space for a short time, hoping when they get up they will correct their own behavior
  • Verbal reprimands – giving your child a firm warning that something unpleasant may come if they keep it up
  • Positive reinforcement – ignoring your child’s bad behavior while rewarding their good behavior, hoping to incentivize them to make better choices
  • Redirection – creatively diverting their attention to something more positive so they immediately stop the negative behavior
  • Open conversation – attempting to reason with your child by discussing their feelings and concerns while helping them find alternative solutions

After trying all these techniques and more, we learned a few things: Each of our kids respond differently to different methods. None of these methods seem to work exclusively without incorporating aspects of the other methods – there is no “silver bullet.” No matter how we discipline our children, they are still prone to feelings of fear, shame, or guilt, and we can’t always stay calm when our kids inevitably push back on our tactics.

This caused us to cry out to God for clarity and reassess the purpose of corrective discipline. In the process, we landed on this primary principle:


The goal of discipline is to train our children to be loving, respectful people who can resolve conflict in a healthy way and restore broken relationships.


The Jesus Model

Jesus said it this way in Mark 12:30-31, when He was asked what the greatest commandment in Scripture was, replying, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

In other words, Jesus’ primary goal is to develop loving people whose sense of security and belovedness is so nourished in their relationship with God that it naturally flows into all their other relationships.

If I’m being honest, for years I thought of discipline mostly as a tool to force my kids to stop behaving badly so we could get back to my agenda and the things I felt mattered more. But in this paradigm of raising loving, respectful humans, I realized these moments of discipline are the most important moments, the things that mattered more. 

I also realized, as their leader, I had to model this kind of loving humanity in the way I disciplined our kids, which meant my method had to make room for my own needs as well. It couldn’t just be about behavior anymore, it had to be about the heart – mine and theirs. 

So after years of prayer, experimenting, and reflecting, we landed on a simple 5-step method that works and incorporates different elements of other popular discipline methods. And in case we mess it up by starting out of order, we have a crucial sixth step as a failsafe! 

Step 1: RESET

If the most crucial part of raising loving kids is modeling love and patience to them, then we need to make sure we don’t become angry – at all costs. Though we found timeouts don’t correct the behavior alone, they do help defuse the situation before it escalates. 

But timeouts are not just for our children – they are for us, too. We have to be willing to pause what we are doing to address the issue, or else our frustration will mount and anger will rise up. 


Timeouts can do a powerful thing for us as parents – buy us time to think. It’s easy to feel like referees, calling fouls and making split-second decisions just to keep the game moving. 

 But if we want to raise loving, respectful kids we need to function more like coaches, helping our kids learn from these moments and take powerful lessons with them. In other words, discipline can be a powerful teaching opportunity. 

But what do they need to learn? As you take your own timeout, take a few minutes to reflect in prayer or mindfulness. 

I simply ask God to remind me that I am loved regardless of how I will lead this situation. Then I ask Him to show me what He is doing and what He wants to say to each of us. I always come out of these moments with greater clarity and compassion for my kids, which helps me relate to them better, which in turn helps them receive correction. 

Step 3: REVIEW

When you’re ready to talk to your child about the issue, open by reviewing your family values, not just the rules. If you want to raise loving, respectful children, then you have to attend to the heart, not just their behavior. 

Rules emphasize behavior, but values emphasize the heart. I simply review the family values with my children, reminding them our family is about loving God, one another, and our neighbors like Jesus has loved us. 

We often ask, “Is that what love looks like?” Then we let them reflect and confess what’s in their heart, leading to the next, most crucial step…

Step 4: RELATE

It’s easy to become a more compassionate parent when you think of all the ways you have felt what your kids are feeling. As adults, we are just better at coping with our emotions and more sophisticated in how we express them. But our children are not able to handle emotion the way we do, so we need to give them TONS of grace. 

This means getting down on their level, holding them close, looking them in the eyes, and compassionately saying, “I know how you feel. I also feel that way sometimes. But we can both choose a better way of showing it.” 

This kind of interaction single-handedly removes most of the fear, shame, or guilt children naturally feel on their journey of being imperfectly loved and imperfectly loving others. This step reinforces the reality that they are loved no matter what they do, good or bad, and we will never leave them or give up on them. 

And this gives them confidence to try again, but not from a place of fear (I have to work harder or I’ll get in trouble) or pride (I have to do better because I am better than this), rather from a place of belovedness (I want to do better because the relationship means more to me than getting my way)

Paul said it this way, in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus.” John reminded us that “Perfect love casts out all fear…” (1 John 4:18). 

Fear, shame, guilt, or pride are terrible motivators because they just reproduce more of the same feelings the moment we mess up again. That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14:15). Love is truly the greatest motivator for obedience because it always calls us back to our true identity as beloved in spite of the unloving things we do. 


The last step is to embrace your child and reaffirm your love for them, wiping the slate clean and treating them as if it never happened or giving them another chance to do better. Paul reminds us “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:1). 

Now, let’s be real. I don’t always carry out the plan the way I want to, with the right attitude or in the right order. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I inadvertently put the burden of fear, shame, or guilt on my child while trying to correct their behavior. It happens way more than I am comfortable with. 

What do you do when you have messed up Steps 1-5? Here is a crucial sixth step…

Bonus Step: REPAIR

Remember, you are not only a parent, you are a human learning to love people better, too. But because you are a parent, your children are naturally going to imitate you, for better or worse. 

One of the most powerful things we can model for our children is simply apologizing when we’ve made a mistake. Not only do you restore trust with your child, you are modeling self-confidence in your own sense of belovedness and showing them relationships are more important to you than being right or getting your way…the very posture you want them to take in life! 

Make no mistake, being a parent is an enormous sacrifice that will demand everything we have to give. But the vision of launching loving, creative, and compassionate humans into the world who are capable of spreading that love to others is worth it. And that path begins in these little moments – numerous and exhausting as they are – of discipline and training your children. 


Reflection Questions: 

  1. Are you up for the challenge and sacrifice of developing your children into loving people rather than just happy, smart, or successful people? 
  2. Are you willing to confront your own identity issues in the process so you can effectively relate to and lead your children? 
  3. Which of these steps is most natural or least natural to you and why? 
  4. What is one step you can take to balance or enhance your approach to disciplining your children



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