6 Discipline Mistakes Parents Make

Let’s talk about some mistakes that parents might make when they’re trying to cultivate a habit of obedience.

Sonya: Today, we welcome back Ginger Hubbard and Katy Morgan to talk about another parenting issue. Often when we are trying to lay down the guide rails of discipline, specifically in the habit of obedience, sometimes we slip off into some less-than-beneficial practices that just don’t align with our purposes and our real goals as parents. So, let’s talk about what some of those mistakes are and how we can get out of those pitfalls, as it were. First, I would love to talk a little bit about when we say discipline, too often we have a very narrow view of discipline at large. So let’s clarify what we’re talking about.

Ginger: As far as Biblical discipline, I think it’s wise first to maybe state what it’s not. It’s not a formal, strict, or legalistic way of teaching, and it’s not just a method we use to try to get our children to outwardly comply. The purpose of Biblical discipline is to help our children realize that the sin, the behavior sin, stems from what is going on in the heart and to help them recognize their need for Jesus. Jesus is the only cure for sin. Also, Biblical discipline is for the purpose of driving the foolishness out of the hearts of our kids and replacing that foolishness with wisdom, because when disobedience is met with discipline, our children learn the law of the harvest. They learn that God has built the principle of sowing and reaping into their worlds, and with that lesson comes wisdom, wisdom to make good choices. That is a lesson that we want to teach, not avoid. I would say also that Biblical discipline is not pleasant, let’s just say that. Nobody ever wants to discipline their kids. So it’s not a pleasant thing, but it is the means that brings righteousness and peace to our kids, because we’re told in Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” So I would say, in a nutshell, those are the purposes of Biblical discipline.

Nobody ever wants to discipline their kids. So it’s not a pleasant thing, but it is the means that brings righteousness and peace to our kids.

Sonya: Too often in our heads, we equate discipline with punishment or correction, and that’s all we think of it as, that very narrow perspective. But in my mind I always think of it as an umbrella: discipline is the umbrella, and it includes teaching, training/practicing, and correcting as needed. But all of those are part of laying down those guide rails to help our children align their hearts with God’s heart and follow His Word. I love how you said that it’s not just limited to a certain time or formal thing.

It reminds me of a quote from Charlotte. In Parents and Children, she talks about the wrong perspective that a lot of people have and how she defines discipline. She said, “This thought of discipline, for example, is one of the large comprehensive ideas which must inform and direct the life, rather than be gathered up into a rule, easy to remember and easy to apply, now and then. If Tommy is naughty, whip him and send him to bed—is a ready-reckoner kind of rule, handy to have about one, and is the sort of thing which many people mean by discipline” (p. 170). And then later she gives her definition of discipline: “Not mere spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant watchfulness and endeavour which go to the forming and preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by discipline” (p. 173).

I love that: watchfulness and endeavor, incessant watchfulness and endeavor.

Katy: Discipline is discipleship of our children and should be approached as such. We always go into discipleship with prayer with our children and should before we go into discipline as well, any form of discipline.

Ginger: Consequences have their place, but they’re not a substitute for training and instructing. The Scripture says that we’re to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:16). That is an ongoing, every day, all-the-time process. It’s not an overnight thing that we do with our kids and then we expect them to automatically have it. Biblical discipline is something that they have to practice just like so many things take practice.

Sometimes I’ll give the example that when I was a little girl, I would put on a pair of roller skates, and I stood up and then I immediately fell. But after maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes of practicing, I could roll several feet before falling. And then by the time I was 12 years old, I could actually roller skate with no more effort than it took for me to walk. Now, skating does not come naturally, but through the discipline of practicing over and over and over, it became more like second nature to me, and although that is a physical illustration it’s the same spiritually. When we have our children exercise spiritual wisdom over and over and over, it’s going to become more like second nature to them.

When we have our children exercise spiritual wisdom over and over and over, it’s going to become more like second nature to them.

Sonya: It’s the same principle: you practice it until it becomes a habit.

Ginger: You’ve got to, that’s right. We can’t expect to teach our children a Biblical principle and expect them to automatically have it. It takes practice.

Sonya: It’s the same for us. It takes time for us to learn things.

Ginger: In all things, yes.

Sonya: In that context, that broad context of discipline, what makes these practices that we’re going to talk about a mistake?

Ginger: I refer to some of these mistakes that we’re going to talk about as deceptive philosophies, because they may actually manipulate the child’s behavior to some extent.

Sonya: There’s the key word: manipulate.

Ginger: They definitely fail to reach the heart. I have found that so many parents today focus only on that outward behavior of their kids. They’ve developed this philosophy that if they can get their children to act right, to behave, to speak respectfully, that they’re raising them in the right way, but there is far more to parenting than getting our children to act right. We want to get them to think right and to be motivated out of a love of virtue, a love for what is right, a love for God, rather than a fear of punishment. We do that by really learning how to reach past that outward behavior and pull out what is going on in the heart and then address it from a Biblical perspective.

Mistake #1: Bribing

Sonya: Great. Let’s go through your six mistakes that you’ve seen, well, probably all of us have seen. We know this from experience probably. The first one is bribing. Talk a little bit about bribing and how that’s a mistake.

Ginger: Bribing may sound something like, “Honey, if you obey mom in the store today, I’ll give you some candy.”

I observed a mom in Walmart years ago telling her son, he was maybe two and a half, three years old tops, to come to her, and he stubbornly just took off running in the other direction. In desperation, this mom yells across Walmart, “Come to mommy and I’ll give you sucker.” Immediately the child goes from hearing impaired to exceptional hearing and comes very quickly to mom’s side. But the problem with that is, that is not training the child in obedience. That is actually rewarding the child for his stubbornness, giving him a reward in order to get him to obey. That encourages him in selfishness, because the motive for obeying is “Okay, yeah, sure, I can obey for what I can get out of it,” and that’s a selfish reason. Children should be taught to obey because it’s right and because it pleases God, not to get a reward. So that’s the first one.

Mistake #2: Threatening

Sonya: Okay, second mistake: threatening.

Ginger: This one usually comes after we have repeated our instruction several times to no avail and so we pull out the big guns, something like, “If you don’t start sharing your toys right now, I’m going to send them all off to kids who will share.” I mean, let’s get real. This teaches them that mommy doesn’t mean what she says.

How many of our parents, in an attempt to get us to appreciate our toys, talked about the kids on the other side of the world who don’t have any toys? But how many of our parents actually followed through with that threat and gathered up, boxed up, taped up all of our toys and shipped them off to Timbuktu? Probably not too many. So we need to avoid saying things that we don’t mean.

Let me just say this, because even though I teach on these principles of what not to do, I’ve fallen into every single one of these that I’m going to share at one time or another. I remember one time falling into this trap of threatening my kids. I homeschooled my kids all the way through. We had finished school for the day, and I’d been telling them for about two hours that they needed to get their rooms cleaned up. And they were procrastinating; they were not obeying or doing what I was telling them to do. So what do I do? I pull out the big guns. I threw out a threat and I said “If you guys don’t hurry up and get these rooms cleaned up, you are not spending the night with Nana and Papa tonight.”

Katy: That’s punishment for you.

Ginger: Right! I knew good and well I was not going to forfeit my night alone with no kids in order to follow through with that threat, and I didn’t. I threw out a threat and I did not follow through with it, because I wanted my night. So all that to say in the book of Matthew, it says, let your yes be yes and your no be no (see Matthew 5:37), and it also says in Proverbs that we are to weigh our answers (see Proverbs 15:28). That means that we are to think before we speak. So we need to try not to say yes or no to something, or to administer that command or that warning, unless we’re really willing to follow through. Because if we don’t, that’s going to cause our kids to question our word. It is going to create some confusion and even some insecurities in their hearts.

Katy: And they can see right through empty threats. They’re really good at that.

Ginger: So if you throw it out there, be willing to pack up those toys and ship them off to Timbuktu, so that they know that. Let your yes be yes and no be no; that means that we say what we mean and we mean what we say.

Mistake #3: Repeating Yourself

Sonya: Mistake number three that we’re going to talk about is repeating yourself. We talk about this a lot for the habit of attention and for the habit of obedience, the two go together. So talk a little bit about that.

Ginger: Repeating instructions over and over, in the context that I’m talking about, kind of goes along the same lines as threatening. My oldest stepson, Hudson, he is a total history buff and he loves war stuff, so he has taught me a whole lot about battle strategies and military strategies. And one thing that I have learned is that all of the great admirable, successful generals of our time had one thing in common: they were certain of their commands before they issued them. That goes right in line with what the Scriptures say: If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound who will prepare for battle? (see 1 Corinthians 14:8) Soldiers don’t respond well to an uncertain or an inconsistent leader. They’re going to respond well to one who is certain of the command and issues it with confidence, and that gives them confidence. We want to be careful that we are confident in what we’re saying, because if we’re not, that’s going to cause our children to question their position in the family, because they don’t really know when they need to obey and when they don’t need to obey. So we need to clearly instruct and then expect for them to follow through in the context of obeying.

Katy: That requires slowing ourselves down enough, and slowing them down enough, to make sure we have their full attention before we give a command. A lot of times it’ll be off the cuff and “We’re not doing this anymore” all of a sudden, or they’re off playing and they’re not really hearing me. Then we kind of fall into this tricky spot where it’s like, “Well, I didn’t hear you, mom.” It’s really difficult as a parent to discipline something I wasn’t sure they heard to begin with. It’s making sure that I’m slowing my mind down enough and really getting their full attention.

Ginger: [To Katy] I’ve heard you say that with yours, you will go and you will [lays her hand on Katy’s shoulder] and make eye-to-eye contact. Then you know they’ve heard the instruction, and they’ve responded to the instruction.

Katy: And they’ll repeat it.

Ginger: That’s right, have them repeat it, and then there’s no gray area. They have a choice. They can either choose to obey or choose to disobey, but it makes it a cut-and-dry issue and then we know what we’re dealing with.

Katy: We remove the gray area.

Sonya: That was one reason that I never wanted to yell across the house. It’s so easy to do that, you know?

Ginger: And it’s so easy for other people to be like “I didn’t hear you.”

Sonya: I didn’t want my home atmosphere to be one of yelling voices all over the place and you’re never sure who heard it or what they heard. So it’s like you said, slow yourself down. Take the time to walk over there, get eye-to-eye contact, and say your directive, rather than just pitching it out there and hoping somebody maybe might hear it and respond to it.

Katy: You’re kinder than I am. I say, “Come to me and look in my eyes.” You go to them.

Sonya: Well, because if I say, “Come to me,” and they don’t, I’ve got another obedience issue before I even issue this command.

Ginger: So you’re eliminating the power struggle.

Sonya: I just try to make it as smooth as possible.

Ginger: Let’s deal with one thing at a time.

Sonya: That’s right. Now you mentioned a very key word at the beginning, when you said that a lot of these practices are manipulation, a type of trying to manipulate your child’s behavior and we’ve talked in past episodes about how that is not respecting the child as a person, and that true authority is not about manipulation.

Mistake #4: Appealing to Emotions

Sonya: The next mistake that you’ve mentioned really plays into that, and that is trying to appeal to emotions, and manipulate their emotions is what you’re doing. Give an example of that.

Ginger: I can say this because I am a mom. One of the common ways that we might try to manipulate their emotions is by making them feel guilty. That “after all I do for you, this is how you repay me” sort of thing, but really, that is going to encourage them to be people-pleasers, and that’s not a healthy way to live. We want our children to obey and to do what’s right because it pleases God, and also we don’t want them to obey and do what’s right out of a parent-inflicted guilt trip. It needs to be for the right reasons, because in Colossians it says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). That is what we want their motivation to come from, not from us because we have swindled them into feeling guilty.

Sonya: Because then when they grow up or whenever they’re out of sight of the parents, you’re not going to have that lasting heart-motivated behavior of obedience. It will be, “What can I get away with when she’s not looking?”

Ginger: Even when they get older. So many adult kids today are bitter toward their parents, because the parents manipulated them so much into doing the right thing. So it’s not about manipulation. It’s about what is best for them, and also in the Bible it says that when children respect their parents and honor their parents, it will go well with them (see Deuteronomy 5:16). It’s for God’s glory, but it’s also to their benefit: when children honor the Lord by honoring and respecting their parents, it’s going to go well with them. So that’s a promise that we have in the Scripture, and so that’s something else that we want to point out to them: we want things to go well with them. We want them to obey the Lord, because then they’re going to be acting in accordance with God’s will.

Katy: This is a universal temptation. I once saw an embroidered pillow that said, “My mom is a travel agent for guilt trips.” Which, I mean, I wouldn’t give that as a gift ever. That’s not a good idea, but a lot of moms in particular struggle because we do so much for our children and we sacrifice so much for our children, but allowing ourselves to let them feel guilty about that is really counterintuitive and goes against our purposes for teaching them in righteousness.

Ginger: And because we sacrifice so much for our children, we all do, we kind of get this mentality of they owe us obedience: “You owe me obedience because of all these things I do for you,” but that’s very selfish on our part. Again, we want to teach our children to obey and to do what’s right because it pleases God, not because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Sonya: Or look better to other people. So often that is the motivation of our sinful hearts: “Don’t embarrass me, kid. I’ve done all this so I look like a good mom. So don’t embarrass me.”

Katy: And that’s our fear of man.

Ginger: It is, and it’s also finding our identity instead of in Christ, finding it in the behavior and the performance of our kids, and what a heavy weight!

Katy: No pressure, kids. [laughs]

Ginger: Yeah, that’s right. So we don’t want to look to our kids to be our identity and their behavior to be a reflection on who we are as parents. Our job is to honor God and to train our children up in the way they should go (see Proverbs 22:6) and teach them what’s right and teach them to honor God, and the reason we do it is for the glory of God, not for our own.

Sonya: So manipulating by trying to appeal to emotions, off the table.

Mistake #5: Allowing Delayed Obedience

Sonya: The next mistake we want to talk about is one that you wrote a whole book on, Don’t Make Me Count to Three.

Ginger: Yep, that’s actually my favorite mistake.

Sonya: Oh, we heard it just last week. We were at a friend’s house out on the back deck, and somebody next door was out on their back deck with little kids. They told the little boy to do something, and you knew he wasn’t doing it because next I heard, “One, Two,….” I remember years ago when I read your book, Don’t Make Me Count to Three, I was thinking it just logically doesn’t make sense. What you’re doing is training your child not to obey until you get to three.

Katy: To delay.

Sonya: Or until you raise your voice.

Katy: You’re teaching them fractions, though, really, because you’re like “Two and a half.”

Ginger: “Two and three-quarters.”

Sonya: [laughs] Oh, I’ve heard that before, yes. Talk a little bit about that mistake.

Ginger: Well, when we count to three, we are teaching our kids delayed obedience, and we want them to obey the first time really. We see those parents all around us where they say, “One, two, two and a half, two and three quarters,” but teaching kids to quickly obey ought to be the standard. And we’re again teaching them delayed obedience when we do that, and if my young child is about to step off the curb into a busy street, I don’t want to have to count to three before he obeys. Teaching kids to obey needs to be the standard, and we need to be aware of things like repeating our instructions two or three times, raising our voices, threatening, bribing, and counting to three, because those things draw us away from teaching our children to instantly and completely obey in a way that pleases God.

Mistake #6: Trying to Reason with Small Children

Sonya: Now the last mistake that we wanted to discuss is another big one and that’s when I see parents trying to reason with their toddlers.

It’s like, “Honey, this toddler doesn’t know how to reason yet. They don’t have the capability to step outside themselves and look at themselves and say, ‘Why did I do that?'” Or it’s just not developmentally appropriate for the young child. Talk a little bit about that.

Ginger: Let’s just give an example so they know exactly what we mean, and we’re not talking about older kids where it’s okay to have some dialogue, respectful dialogue and explanations. We’re talking about the really young child.

So say that mom asks her six-year-old, “Honey, don’t you want to come and eat lunch now?”

“Mm, no thanks, Mom, I’m playing with my cars.”

“But sweetie, your hot dog’s going to get cold if you don’t come and eat it now.”

“That’s okay, Mom, I think I’d rather play with my cars.”

“Well, honey, I thought if you would come on and eat lunch right now, we might have time to go to the park after.”

“Okay, Mom, I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

Instead of just simply telling her son what she expected and then requiring that obedience, this mom is actually trying to talk her child into obeying; but parents who try to reason with young kids usually end up frustrated and a lot of times out-witted, and then a lot of times they’ll wind up resorting to a bribe in order to get the response they’re after. Reasoning with small children in an attempt to get them to obey, like you said, really causes confusion because it places that child in a position that they are not mature or responsible enough to handle. It erases that line of authority that God has placed between the parent and the child, and it brings that child up to a peer level with a parent, and that causes confusion about what the positions in the family are, and it can create insecurities in the heart. So they need to know who is the parent, who is the child, and that they need to obey what mom and dad say.

Sonya: We have the experience and the wisdom to make those, what could be, hard judgment calls or the necessary judgment calls that are best for them. We’re not putting that pressure on them to make the choice, to make the decision for themselves.

Ginger: That’s too much for them when they’re little. That’s why God put us as an authority over our kids.

Katy: From a worldly perspective this seems unkind to require obedience and a lot of people will make comments here and there. I’ve seen online “This is just too authoritative,” but it’s not kind to leave our kids confused about what the rules of our home are and not prepare them for having to submit to any authority. It’s problematic for us to not raise our kids, but we can do this in a very respectful and loving and gentle manner. That’s the difference. It’s not, “You need to obey right now.” It is, “These are the rules,” and just to say it very matter of fact and very kindly.

It’s not kind to leave our kids confused about what the rules of our home are and not prepare them for having to submit to any authority. It’s problematic for us to not raise our kids, but we can do this in a very respectful and loving and gentle manner.

Sonya: We can be firm yet kind. You don’t have to be harsh.

Ginger: Also, don’t be wishy-washy with things, because that causes confusion with our kids too. Like one day maybe the child dragged all the Tupperware out of the kitchen cabinet, but then the next day he’s disciplined for it. Well, that’s confusing and exasperating, and the child’s going to be walking on eggshells because he never knows when you might strike. Again, it’s consistency in setting the boundaries. Kids thrive when there are boundaries.

Sonya: They feel secure. They know where those boundaries are. That’s why so many of them will push against it. It’s like “Is this really going to hold? Is this strong enough to hold me?”

Ginger: Right. But it’s a security thing when they have those boundaries and they know that there’s going to be consequences when they overstep those boundaries. It gives them comfort to know that with boundaries come freedom, because when they understand those boundaries and they stay within those boundaries, then they are choosing what is right and then we start giving them more freedom as they get older.

Sonya: And we can widen the boundaries as they get older and older.

Ginger: That’s where we fail a lot of times as parents, we start out giving them free rein to do whatever they want to do, and then they get into these teenager years where they should be getting more freedoms because they’ve earned more freedoms, they’ve earned our trust, they’ve been respectful, but instead they become teenagers and they start going wild and then we start trying to take all these freedoms away from them. It should be the total opposite of that as they grow. My kids, by the time they were teenagers, they had earned so much more freedom than a lot of other kids had because they, for the most part, not always, were making wise choices.

I don’t know if I should say this or not, but my kids really didn’t even have a curfew, because they were respectful, I knew where they were, I knew what they were doing, as long as it was like, “We’re watching this movie over at the friend’s house” or whatever. I gave them a lot more freedoms because they were responsible to do all of these things and I trusted them. Really as they grow into their teen years, we want to give them more freedoms as they earn them. When we do the hard work when they’re younger, then they’re earning those freedoms and they get to experience those as they get older, instead of doing it the opposite way.

Katy: Well, I think if done the right way . . . when they are quite young, they still very much want to please mom and dad, and so you’re giving them that ability to choose the right thing and to praise when they do. And then as they mature, hopefully, and Lord willing, they do make right decisions, out of respect for mom and dad and respect for the Lord as well.

Sonya: Our pastor always talked about when they’re little, they need to stay within the box [of rules and boundaries], but as they get older, you want the box to be in their heart. I think that’s a good picture of it too.

Why We Make These Mistakes

Sonya: Now, there are so many wonderful benefits to parenting the right way, as we’ve been trying to talk about. Why is it so easy to slip off and practice these things? I’m raising my hand, I’ve done it before.

Ginger: Sure, me too.

Sonya: Absolutely, it just seems so simple to slide into one of these practices. Why do you suppose that is?

Ginger: One of the reasons is because we see it all around us. In a sense, it’s peer pressure. This is how the world tells us to parent. The things that we just talked about—the counting to three, bribing, threatening—we see them all around us, and because that is pretty much the way that the world tells us to parent. Colossians 2:8 warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.” You guys know as well as I do, we live in an age that defies God at every point, including child training, but the Bible says there is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to destruction (see Proverbs 14:12). These are all around us, and the world is putting all of these experts saying, “Don’t discipline your kids, you’re going to mess up their psyche,” and all of these things, “and mess up their self-esteem, and their confidence” and all that, but that’s just not true. That’s how the world is telling us to parent. Where 1 Corinthians 3:19 says “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

Our primary resource for parenting our kids is the Bible. God’s Word is wisdom. God’s Word is truth. So we need to make sure that if we are reading parenting books and we are listening to other people talk about parenting, we need to make sure that those people are drawing from the truth of God’s Word and not the way that the world tells us to parent. They’re pointing us to the Scripture and what God’s Word has to say about these things, because that is when true, genuine change is going to take place for the right reason. It’s going to be heart-oriented change.

If we are reading parenting books and we are listening to other people talk about parenting, we need to make sure that those people are drawing from the truth of God’s Word and not the way that the world tells us to parent.

Katy: In my own heart, when I fall into one side or the other of the ditch of not parenting the way I ought, it has to do with my own sinful heart. So it has very little to do with the way my children are behaving. It has everything to do with how I’m perceiving myself or what others are seeing around me in that moment. So I think keeping my heart right and staying in God’s Word and reminding myself of what God’s Word says about how we discipline our children makes more of a difference than anything. I’m not going to fall into some of these habits if I’m remaining in God’s Word.

Ginger: That’s right, but like Sonya said, we’re all going to fall into it sometimes. There were many times that I found myself, even though I totally knew better, in ruts of letting my kids be disobedient and letting them be disrespectful. I think the reason was because I would be so consistent and so diligent, and they would do well for so long, and there was so much peace, then all of a sudden, I started letting these little acts of disrespect go and these little acts of disobedience go. I think it’s because we’d been doing well for so long and I was enjoying that, and so all of a sudden I realized that my relationship was not as good with my kids. This tension and frustration started creeping in and it would always be my fault because I was not being consistent in teaching, correcting, and training them in righteousness. I can remember several times, when my kids were little, all of a sudden realizing that I was in this rut, and I would just sit them down and say, “You know what? I need to ask you to forgive me, because it is my responsibility to train you in wisdom and I have been allowing you to behave foolishly. Please forgive me for that, because I love you too much to allow you to disobey and to live foolishly.” We would just go back over the standard. We would go back over what’s expected. God’s mercies are new every morning.

Sonya: Another idea that comes to my mind is it’s easy for me to slip into that mistake if I’m busy, if I’m focused more on tasks and things instead of on the people.

Ginger: You and I have talked about that. We’re prayer partners. We both struggle with this, so we actually pray a lot that we would be more people-oriented instead of task-oriented.

Sonya: It’s easy to get that view skewed when that’s your focus. But the other reason it was easy to slide into some of those mistakes is because I didn’t know what else to do. Like you said, it’s all around you. That’s what you see.

Katy: Resort to what you know.

A Better Way

Sonya: It’s easy, and you can’t pull a new idea if you have nothing to draw on. So what can we do instead?

Ginger: So I have developed this three-step plan all based on Scripture for what we can do instead of counting to three, bribing, threatening, repeating our instructions, raising our voices, and all of these things that we shouldn’t be doing. I’m like you, I think if we’ve got a plan in motion, it’s going to help us to be a little bit more easier, a little bit more consistent in training our kids the right way. I have my Wise Words for Mom’s Chart, and then I have the book, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That. The chart is like a little quick-reference flip chart that’s going to help you implement the plan that I talk about in I Can’t Believe You Just Said That. They go hand-in-hand.

We’ve been on with Sonya before and we talked about this three-step plan, but for those of you who may not have read that post, we’re going to talk about it again.

Step one is heart-probing questions, because when we ask our kids heart-probing questions they are going to get past that outward behavior and help them recognize what is going on in the heart. That’s the example that Jesus set. In so many of the stories in Scripture, when people did something wrong, Jesus wouldn’t just tell them what they did wrong and what they ought to do instead. He would ask them heart-probing questions, because he wasn’t just concerned about the outward behavior. He was a skilled heart-prober, and in order for the people to answer those questions, they would have to evaluate their own hearts. Jesus knew how to ask those questions in such a way that they would have to take their focus off of the sin in everybody else’s life and the circumstances or situation going on around them and put it on that sin in their own heart. Asking just one, two, three very simple heart-probing questions to try to get past that outward behavior, that’s step one.

In the book I’ve got parent-child dialogues, because a lot of parents are like, “I don’t know how to have these conversations naturally with my kids.” So in every single chapter I address a different tongue-related offense. Like chapter one is on whining. The next one’s on lying, and so the book addresses all these different specific tongue-related struggles that they face. I open with a very common, relatable scenario that anybody is going to be able to relate to, then I offer just two or three very simple heart-probing questions, and I do some parent-child dialogue so that parents can see how these conversations can play out very naturally with their kids.

Step two and step three are based on the Ephesians verse that says we’re to put off our old self and put on our new self (see Ephesians 4:22). I go to the Scripture and say, “What does God’s Word say about this particular behavior and what it can lead to if it’s continued?” That is what to put off, from the heart standpoint; and then what to put on, which is how to replace what is wrong with what is right. So like when they lie, I have Scripture that shows you what God’s Word says about lying and what that’s going to lead to if it’s continued. And then of course, what are they going to put on? Truthfulness. So there’s going to be a couple of verses about the importance of being truthful and being honest.

Sonya: So these are great tools that can be used with the kids. I know, Katy, you use those with your kids as well. How old are your kids now?

Katy: They are 11, 9, and 6, and a lot of times I would find myself falling into just step two, which is what to put off and admittedly not always from a Biblical perspective, you know, “Stop doing that because it’s bothering me” or whatever it was. It’s not necessarily the Scripture I’m referring to. I love the chart especially. I’ll pull that out, and it gives me that moment of pause just to refer to some heart-probing questions rather than what instinctively comes out of my mouth, which is “Why did you do that?” Because no child knows why they did that. We don’t know why we sin. It’s because our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately sick (see Jeremiah 17:9).

Ginger: But they’re not going to say that.

Katy: Well, no, they’re not going to say that, but no child can recognize that. So to be able to ask questions that they can then probe their own hearts and find out, “What was my intention for that?” If they’re too young to really do that, you can answer for them and start teaching them what it means to really identify sin in our own lives and so, as Ginger says, you don’t get into a power struggle; if they refuse to answer, you continue and you answer for them.

Ginger: And they’re still pondering. If you ask them that question and they don’t answer, they’re still pondering that answer in their hearts. So you’re still heart-probing even if you do wind up having to help. Sometimes they really don’t know the answers, so it’s a good thing. Like say that a child is tattling, I’ll share a story about my daughter, but I have full permission from my kids to share. Now that mine are grown they always go, “Mom’s talking about us again. We’re famous.”

Katy: Infamous. [laughs]

Ginger: So Alex really struggled with tattling. Alex is my dramatic child. She’s a theater major and she’s an actress doing film now, and so she was very dramatic growing up, which is great because now she’s getting paid for all that drama, making a living at it, actually. But she was so good at it that I could always tell exactly what she was thinking just by the expression, because she’s so animated with her expressions and everything. And I remember her coming in the kitchen one time and tattling on Wes because he was in the creek. Last time we were on your show, we talked about them not being allowed to play in the creek. So they knew they weren’t allowed.

So Alex runs into the house and she says, “Mom, you said we’re not allowed to be in the creek and Wesley is down there catching tadpoles in it.” I could totally tell that she was thinking, “So what are you going to do about it, and can I watch?”

If I’m in the heat of the moment, I might just quickly say something like, “Okay, well just go tell Wesley to come here and I’ll deal with it.” But see in doing that, I’m not pulling out what’s going on in her heart and I’m not helping her understand the sin that’s going on in there. So I might probe her heart with something very simple, like “Honey, could” (because I can’t judge the motives of her heart, but I can say) “Honey, could it be that you are delighting in getting your brother in trouble?” I remember asking her that, and she looked as if she were considering it and leaning toward the yes end of it. So I reminded her, I think it’s Proverbs 17 that says he who rejoices in calamity will not go unpunished (see Proverbs 17:5). She was a little girl, and calamity’s a big word, so I might say, “Honey, if you were delighting in getting your brother in trouble, then you’re going to get in trouble, because that’s not right in your heart.” So that’s the heart-probing question and what to put off, and then as far as what to put on, I’ll say, “Honey, what could you have done to spur your brother on toward what’s right?” Because the Bible says we’re to spur one another on toward the good things (see Hebrews 10:24). So then she said, “Well, I guess I could’ve told him to get out because I don’t want him to get in trouble.” So I said, “Well, go tell him that.”

Sonya: In a kind voice.

Ginger: In a kind voice. That’s right, because when kids are always trying to get the other one in trouble, they’re not going to have a lot of unity in that relationship. That creates a sense of distrust. Now obviously, I’m not talking about if the child is endangering himself, endangering someone else, or destroying property. Then the kids need to know to go and tell someone. But little things—like they’re not supposed to jump on their bed. So Timmy’s jumping up and down in his bed, and the little sister comes and tattles. “Honey, what could you have said to spur him on? Did you try to talk to him about it before you came to me?” Because it’s okay for them to come if the child is not listening, but we want to teach. That cultivates unity in their relationship when we encourage them to encourage each other instead of getting this sick, twisted kick out of getting the other one in trouble. And so, “Well, I guess I could have said, you’re not supposed to jump on the bed because I don’t want you to get in trouble” or “You’re not supposed to jump on the bed because Dad says we might get hurt.” “Go say that to your sibling.” Then they’re encouraging one another to do what’s right instead of delighting in getting the other one in trouble. That’s just one example of how to probe the heart, how to teach them what to put off. The Bible talks about tale-bearing (see Proverbs 18:8) and delighting in someone else’s suffering (see Proverbs 24:17). So the Put On is to encourage them in what to do. So teach siblings to do that.

Katy: I think following a method, as well, has helped me in not accusing my children. One of mine especially is just very exasperated if ever I make an accusation. I found that asking questions rather than making accusations goes a long way in helping them identify sin in their own hearts, and then we can work through it together. So I’m discipling, I’m not accusing.

Ginger: It doesn’t put them on the defensive. When you ask questions, heart-probing questions, you just don’t see kids get defensive.

Sonya: If they’re worded the right way. I love how you said “Could it be?” rather than “Do you know that you are?” Totally different approach.

Katy: Which is still an accusation, it’s a question, but it’s still an accusation.

Sonya: It’s an accusing question if that’s how you word it.

Ginger: That’s what I’ve done, because if I had not thought through ahead of time how to word something, naturally I’m just not going to word it in a way that is beneficial to my kids. That is why I went ahead and did the homework. I started doing it for myself when my kids were little. They would have two or three things that they were struggling with at one time, and so in a time of non-conflict, I came up with some good questions that I knew would probe the heart without sounding accusatory. It would help them to look past the outward behavior and really figure out what was going on in their own hearts. I was leading this mom’s group and I took my little five or six behaviors that I had and they were like, “Well, what about whining?” “But what about tattling?” “What about complaining?” Then I wound up with 22 different behaviors where I basically just sat down and did all the homework. A lot of moms have it hanging up in their house and they call it their cheat sheet.

Sonya: And you’re talking about this? [holds up Wise Words for Moms chart]

Ginger: It’s like a cheat sheet, because all I did was sit down and I thought through some very simple heart-probing questions. Then I’ve given you Bible verses as far as what to put off and what to put on for the roots that outward behavior is pulling from.

Katy: One question I’ve heard moms ask on a few occasions, is, “Is it awkward to pull out this chart when you’re in the middle of having this discussion with your child?” And my answer is that it makes me stop and not have a knee-jerk reaction to what we’re dealing with, and it’s almost as though we’re going to God’s Word together. We’re taking this to the Lord together, and we’re going to discuss it. So I really feel the opposite, that it makes it more natural to lead into a true discussion about spiritual things and about their hearts and what God’s Word says. It feels more natural to me than just whatever.

Sonya: Whatever comes to mind, which is never a good thing.

Ginger: I’ve had so many moms frustrated because they’re like, “I can’t memorize all this.” And I’m like, “No, don’t.” That’s why I put it in here. You don’t have to memorize all of it.

Sonya: Can you open it? [laughs]

Ginger: And it’s so funny because I have moms who don’t want their kid to see it. They’ll run in the other room and they’re looking at it, like it’s a cheat sheet. And I’m like, “It’s okay.”

Katy: Like they’re cramming for a test.

Ginger: It’s okay for your kids to see that you’re wanting to look at What does God’s Word say about this?

Sonya: Remind yourself.

Katy: We’re investigating together.

Ginger: As soon as mine could read, I would have them go get the chart. I’m like, “Go get it and let’s talk about this.” Like I said, I think I mentioned this the last time we were on with you, is once kids get so familiar with the chart, it’s going to be accountability for you, because they’re going to start whipping it out on you when they see you complaining and see you whining and see you being disrespectful. But that’s a good thing. A little accountability is good.

Sonya: So are you going to create a chart or a book on the six mistakes so that we can ask the heart-probing questions of ourselves? What motivates me to threaten? What motivates me to bribe?

Katy: Get on that Ginger. [laughs]

Sonya: I’m so glad you guys joined us again today.

Ginger: Thank you.

Sonya: Tell people how they can get in touch with you.

Ginger: I have a website, gingerhubbard.com and so that’s where they can get all these resources. I would love for you to purchase them from me. I know there’s all these Amazon shoppers, and that’s great if you want to go to Amazon and get the free shipping, but I love it when people purchase right through my website, because that helps support the ministry. And then Katy and I are both very active on Instagram. I like to offer daily advice and encouragement to parents on Instagram, and so I am @ginger.hubbard, and so you can come to me for the advice and encouragement. Then Katy, my sidekick over here, is the hilarious one. She is literally my favorite person to follow on Instagram, because she’s so funny and just so down to earth.

Katy: You follow like three people though. [laughs]

Ginger: But she is, she’s a hoot. She’s @katyinacorner and that is K-A-T-Y in a corner, and so we love to do that. And then the thing that we are the most excited about, that we really are having the biggest influence as far as encouraging parents to reach the hearts of their kids, is through our podcast which we started last February. It’s called Parenting with Ginger Hubbard, and we just love being able to encourage parents about how to reach past outward behavior and pull out the issues of the heart and then address them from a Biblical perspective. We’re super excited to, from a practical standpoint, help parents to learn how to really move past the frustrations of not knowing how to handle issues like whining, tattling, lying, disrespecting, and talking back, and we cover all sorts of different topics and help them move past the frustrations of not knowing how to handle those issues and into a heart-oriented, Biblical approach to raising their kids.

Katy: And Ginger, you do answer listener questions as well, which is a huge benefit. I know a lot of people at conferences especially will pepper you with questions, but this is a great way we can answer, because we get a lot of the same questions from parents and so we’re able to address that.

Ginger: Yes, so they can actually go on my website, gingerhubbard.com, and there’s a form called Ask Ginger. So if someone is struggling with something specifically, they can go on and ask it, and then Katy and I answer those questions on the podcast.

Sonya: And they can also look at your past podcast episodes, because you answered many of them there as well. You can refer to it again and again.

Ginger: But we love it when they go on the website and ask those questions, because that really enables us to interact with our listeners and really address the needs of the people that are listening.

Sonya: Great, thanks so much.

Ginger: Thank you.


  1. I am so excited to see you all working together. I am a Charlotte Mason home educator but I have reading Ginger Hubbard since my kids were little. When she started her podcast I was so happy because it is just another level of reminding for me and I thought so often how much she and Charlotte Mason have in common. Then Katy mentioned you in a podcast and the stars have aligned ever since! Thank you, to each of you lovely women who minister to our mother hearts so diligently.

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