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Stop Telling Your Child to Behave!

Yes, you read that title correctly, you need to stop telling your child to behave!


Because you’re missing the point. Life isn’t just about good behavior, it’s about having a heart that’s right with God.

When all we do is tell our children how to behave we forget that all behavior is a symptom, the problem lies much deeper in the heart of the child.

This past Sunday I taught the first Sunday School lesson of the school year to the children in our church. I told them the story of Rahab and the spies and how Rahab was saved.

I didn’t tell them how they should behave but rather I focused on what God did for Rahab and what he can do for us!

Alright I admit, sometimes we do need to tell our children to behave, especially when they are little. However, I’m convinced that often as parents we default to telling our kids what to do rather than focusing on changing their hearts by introducing them to Jesus Christ.

In order to train your child up in the Lord you must find ways to teach your child that don’t include instructions on behavior. It’s vital that our children understand the core concepts of who God is, who man is, the problem of sin and the solution for sin.

Here are 5 methods you can use to teach your children these core Biblical concepts.

Use life situations to explain theological truths

There are more learning moments in life that we realize, that’s why Moses exhorted the people to teach their children,

as you sit in your house, and as you walk in the way, and as you are lying down, and as you are rising up. Deu 6:7

Use regular moments throughout your day to impress your child’s heart with God’s goodness, the seriousness of sin and the hope we have in Jesus.

Exemplify salvation truths like grace and mercy in your relationship with your child

I didn’t know how hard this was until my kids got old enough to notice and comment on my bad example. Children will see through your hypocrisy before anyone else.  Sometimes we can teach our kids about the need for mercy and forgiveness when we ask them to forgive us.

Your child doesn’t need to think that you’re perfect, in fact he needs to know the opposite, he needs to know that you are imperfect, yet forgiven and growing!

Point out who God is through natural revelation

God has placed around us endless signs that point to his greatness, majesty and beauty. Don’t fail to use the sky, trees, ocean and all of creation as a never-ending object lesson on God’s nature!

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2

Emphasize the importance of a right heart over right action

I’ve noticed that often I want my child to behave because of the benefit I receive. When my children do what I ask them to do the house is quieter, cleaner and I’m not as distracted. That’s nice but the point of parenting isn’t really to make my life easier!

The point of parenting is to instill God’s Word so deep into the life of my child through my actions and my words that one day my child will take his own step of faith and give his heart over to Jesus.

You and I must communicate to our children that behavior is always secondary to the condition of the heart. A heart that has been brought into submission to God’s will through repentance and faith doesn’t need to be forced to perform righteous acts.

Read and discuss the Bible stories together

I love reading Bible stories with my kids but sometimes we have a hard time getting through the whole story because we stop so often to discuss the “why” of what is happening in the story.  It’s not enough to simply read the Bible with our children, we must help them make the connection between the text of the Bible and their lives today.

Question: What other methods do you use to teach your children Biblical truth?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children!

My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • Actions definitely speak louder than words. It dawned on me as I was reading your post how we all were trained to follow the rules, but missed the lessons of the heart, which is why the church is filled with such legalism. I like your point and lesson. Well taken. Wish I would have read twenty years ago!

    • Floyd, you’re right about our actions speaking louder than words. I’ve been caught many times by my kids when they saw something I did and asked why. That can be good and sometimes not so good:)

  • Great post, Caleb. I completely agree. Threats, and telling our kids to “just behave” doesn’t really work – especially in the long-run. Because we live in a performance-driven world, it’s so easy to fall into this. My wife and I try to be very intentional with our 3 year old, teaching him grace, the importance of making good decisions, etc. Thanks for this great reminder!

    • Dave, I’ve got a 3 yr old running around the house right now. It’s a fun age and it’s also an age where they are learning super fast! Blessings to your family!

  • Nothing to add here Caleb (except American translation to the video and song). Well said in this blog. (I could understand that!) LOL

    • Good point Bill, I’ll see if I can get a quick translation done on the song at least, you actually can’t hear too much of what I was saying in that video. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • It’s funny, on Tuesday I was at Madison House with my daughter and there was a children’s Bible study. I observed. There was one kid who was not behaving and none of the adults corrected him, but just continued with the Bible study. I wanted to tell the kid to act right. But in the end, it was the misbehaving kid who had the best answers when asked about God and prayer.

    • That is ironic Dan! Sometimes I wonder about how I behaved growing up in Sunday School. I know I wasn’t always the perfect kid but thankfully God got a hold of my heart and he used people along the way who loved me and spoke truth into my life in a way that was understandable.

  • DS

    What a tremendous way to serve young parents. We still have a lot to learn, and seasoned parents have a huge opportunity to help. Not everyone has “model” parents which can lead to some major parenting mistakes. Thanks for the thoughts – and great images on positively shaping tomorrow with good work done today.

    • Hey, are you calling me a “seasoned parent”? I’m not sure I’m ready for that title! Anyway, I know for sure I’m not a “model” parent but with God’s grace my kids just might turn out ok.

      Thanks for your thoughts David!

      • DS

        While you may not be a perfect parent – you’ve certainly been able to learn, and have been through a season or two that parents of young children are about to go through. To me it’s our duty to help the generation that follows us. If you’ve finished college why not share your experience with those about to enter into college. If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, and a person is about to graduate from college, why not help them learn, if you’ve been through the “terrible 2’s” why not share what you learned? You can apply it in so many different ways – life as a missionary, life as a preacher, life as a business owner, etc. Thanks for sharing some of your learning’s in the post!

        • Thanks for the encouragement David. You’re right there is a responsiblity that we each have to share our experience with others in order to help them get through similar situations.

  • Hazel Moon

    I come over from Rick’s Shortcuts.
    Beautiful behavior comes first by knowing Jesus. I sure missed it when my kids were little. I counted to 10 with a threat and my count ot three usually quieted them down. 🙂

    • I think I’ve done the count down a few times too, so you’re not alone, however, the important thing is to pay attention to our child’s heart, not just his behavior. Thanks for coming over Hazel!

  • Great points, Caleb.

    I’ve learned our example (What we say and do) teaches children a lot. Living a Goldy life is so essential.

    • Right on Dan, kids watch how we live more than we’d like to admit!

  • I have a toddler. This post resonates with me as my husband and I pray over how to show our son God’s love and tell Him about who God is.

    One thing we tell our son is that Jesus is right here with him- example: if he’s scared.

    We also point out pretty flowers or other things and tell him that Jesus made those for us to enjoy.

    • TC, when your kids are little I think it’s very important to point them towards creation and let them know who created it. When small children look at the world around them they are filled with awe and if we can translate that of creation into an awe for the creator then we have done a very right thing!

      • We woke up to rain today. I talked to my son about how God is watering the plants, trees, grass and so on. He said, “because they are thirsty.”
        We talked about how God knows all the things we need.
        It’s an amazing feeling to know that I am getting to instill such wonderful lessons in my sons life. I feel very blessed to be a stay at home mom.

  • The way I think of it is pretty much straight from Shepherding a Child’s Heart – which is a great book. It’s all about the heart, but part of what I want to show them is the importance of authority. When they understand that they need to obey mommy and daddy, it translates over to them obeying God. Surely, this is a process – and this is just what we’re focusing on in this early stage (5 years old and 3 years old).

    • Yes, that is a great book! I think you’ll find that the older your kids get the more important it is to deal more with heart issues and less with behavioral instruction. Those are fun ages!