Many parents are experts at giving their children sermons – in the middle of punishment. “Joey you spilled your milk! I can’t believe you made such a mess for Mom to clean up. God doesn’t like it when you make Mom work so hard. God is angry!”
These words are usually snapped as the child cowers in the corner. The parent might think he’s teaching his child about God – and He is. He’s teaching the child that God is a threat, a weapon to use in the midst of anger. Seldom are we wise, kind, and instructive in the middle of frustration.
Part of our responsibility is to teach our children the definition of sin. But this interaction needs to come when we’re calm, not in the middle of an adult temper tantrum. We need to think about the messages we convey to our children. (By the way, occasionally spilling our milk isn’t a moral wrong , … just a kid being a kid. We spill our milk sometimes too.).
Another mistake is praying about a child’s sin in front of siblings. Dad prays at the dinner table. “Dear Lord, please help Andrew not to take any more money from my wallet, and make Jacob stop getting in trouble at school, and convict Lauren about hanging with the girl next door.” Parents might think public humiliation will help their children do right, but Dad’s only embarrassing his children and making them dislike him, God and prayer.
Sure, we should pray with our children about their choices, but the prayers should be prayed in private, not in front of family and friends. And the prayers should be prayed in love not to instill guilt.
Our desire is for children to recognize they’re sinners and as a result, to turn to God – the God of grace and forgiveness.