Most of the time when we need to discipline our children, we are confronted with both an incorrect action and an incorrect attitude. Sometimes, however, we encounter a right action with a wrong attitude. For example, suppose you tell your son to apologize to his sister for calling her a name. He says “Sorry!” in a whining, insincere tone of voice. He was obedient. He said he was sorry. But did he mean it? Was his attitude right? No way. In these situations there is outward obedience or compliance but inward resentment and hostility. There is “heart rebellion.”
If discipline is ultimately about the heart, we cannot let these situations pass by. If we fail to address a problem of the heart when we see it, we are training the child to be a Pharisee. We are training them that their outward behavior is all that matters, and we don’t care about their heart or attitude.
When you have a right action, with a wrong heart – look at these situations as great parenting opportunities. These are prime moments to go directly to matters of the heart, without the complication of disciplining outward behavior. It is less a moment for discipline and more a time for discussion. You can get right to the heart question, “Tell me, why do you feel this way right now?” In our home we use Proverbs 23:26, “My son (my daughter) give me your heart!” In other words, let me in. Open your heart to me – even if there are dark and angry things in there.
There is another great danger with ignoring moments of heart rebellion. These situations, if ignored, can brew deep anger in our hearts toward our kids. Heart rebellion grates on us and interferes in our relationships with our children. If we do not address these heart issues, our irritation and anger grow. If you find that you tend to race from zero to sixty on the anger scale when your kids do something wrong, perhaps you have not been dealing with their heart rebellion along the way. I find that when I discipline with inappropriate anger, it is often because I have ignored a series of heart-rebellion issues.
So what might this look like in real life? Suppose you ask your son to clean the kitchen after dinner. He mutters, “Fine, I’ll do it.” He then proceeds to sulk and complain while he cleans. Do not miss your chance to gently say, “Hey, son, let’s take a break. Come over here on the couch with me for a minute. It’s okay. You’re not in trouble. I just want to talk with you. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to clean the kitchen, but I can see that things on the inside are not going well. Can you tell me how you are feeling? What is making you upset?” Dive right into the matter of the heart. When we see a bad attitude, we are seeing a crack open up to the child’s inner self, to his heart. Follow that anger to its source. Follow that sadness to its root. This is a critical skill of wise discipleship.
Discipline is all about discipleship. Learn more in our book Visionary Parenting.