Training or Spite

Parents are instructed by God to “train” their children. The whole process of child discipline is the same process as child training. Discipline and training are so intertwined that you cannot have one without the other.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Getting in Your Own Way

Some parental discipline is hardly training, but much more like anger, frustration and even spite toward the child. What is happening is that parents are getting in their own way. Instead of training their child the parent’s feelings and frustrations become more important than the good of the child. That’s when parents move from Training their child to Penalising the child for annoying the parent.

Here are some tell-tale statements from parents that let you know the parent is not thinking about “training” the child, but venting their own frustrations…….

“Get out of here. You make me sick.” “I’m sick of hearing your whining voice.” “I’ve had just about enough of you for one day.” “One more noise out of you and I’ll let you have it.” “Make yourself scarce!” “You just SO annoy me!” “Get to your room. I don’t want to see you.” “Get out of my way.” “I ought to give you a whipping.” “I’m going to feel so much better when I’ve given you a thrashing.” “You’ve pushed me too far this time!”

Train the Child

Godly discipline is for the good of the child. It is not to make the parent feel better. When parents deal with their child based on what will placate the parent’s upset state, those parents are not training their child, but taking out their frustrations on the child.

So let’s remind ourselves that Biblical discipline has the good of the child in mind at all times. The Rod and Reproof give wisdom. The Rod of Correction drives foolishness from the child’s heart. That’s why godly discipline, including smacking a child with a rod, is an expression of love to the child. Those who will not smack their child with a rod are described in the Bible as hating their child.

Godly discipline gives wisdom, removes foolishness and affirms the parent’s love to the child. It is all for the good of the child.

Correction not Anger

The Rod of Correction is not the Rod of Anger. The two are completely opposed. The rod of Correction drives foolishness from the child, but the rod of Anger simply does not work.

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15

“He that sows iniquity will reap vanity: and the rod of his anger will fail.” Proverbs 22:8

The Rod of Correction is for the Good of the Child, which trains the child’s heart and directs the child’s life. The Rod of Anger is used by parents for the good of the parent, venting anger, frustration, resentment and spite.


I have seen parents act in cruel spite toward their children. Such parents usually choose to banish their child, rather than smack the child. They also speak horrible words of rejection and cursing over the child. They make threats, lash out, bring fear into the heart of the child and leave emotional scars.

A planned discipline regime, using the rod of correction, where you smack the child, give explanation and give plenty of affirmation, is much better than the banishment which some parents think is more humane. Children feel secure when they know the parents will not lash out or respond in anger. They also feel loved when they are not rejected and sent away.

I encourage all parents to look to the Biblical pattern of child training and to clear their own hearts of things that lead to anger and spite.

Missing Ingredients

Effective Parenting requires that you use the right ingredients. If something is missing then the recipe will not turn out right. Many parents lament they have not been as effective as they hoped and wanted to be. If you are in that category I trust this look at the Missing Ingredients proves helpful.

No Water

Some years ago we bought a bread-maker and made many successful loaves. We finally gave up, probably because the yummy bread was eaten in no time and bread making became a bit of a burden.

One memorable loaf which we baked overnight really disappointed us in the morning. The aroma of the hot grain could be smelled as usual, but when we opened the machine and looked inside there was simply a pile of dry ingredients in the base of the tin.

We forgot to add water. So the machine went through the whole process of mixing and heating and so on, but to no avail. A vital ingredient was missing and the machine just could not produce the usual delicious loaf.

We never forgot the water again.

Incomplete Recipe


In the same way parents can leave out something very important to the life of their child. If they do then some or all of the effort they put in will be wasted. If the recipe is incomplete then what is created won’t be what is expected.

That’s how many parents find it. What they get from their child is different to what they expected. So this lesson points you to two Biblical ingredients which every parent needs to put into the life of their child.

Rod and Reproof

People have different opinions about discipline and child training. Some are brainwashed to be negative about any form of punishment. Others believe if you spare the rod you spoil the child. Some believe that by being kind and patient the youngster will turn out right in the end.

Whatever your preferred ideas I want you to be Biblical first of all. Man’s ideas seem right but lead to destruction. We must put our own ideas aside and pay close attention to what the Bible teaches, since it is God’s Word to us.

So notice the Bible’s joint emphasis on two key ingredients: rod and reproof.

The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” Proverbs 29:15

Give Attention


Before we look at “rod and reproof” please notice that they both represent giving special attention to the child. The opposite of those things is to have a child who is “left to himself”.

So it is important for parents, both dad and mum, to share life with the child and to give the child attention. If the child is left to himself or herself and allowed to do as he or she pleases without guidance and correction, the result will be shameful.

Children are not designed to find their own way and to determine what is right or best for them. They are designed to be guided, corrected, brought to account, instructed and led into the right things. That’s the role of parents.

So please give good, Biblical attention to your child, and especially give them both the rod and reproof.

The Rod

The Bible teaches that children are blessed when they are punished for their wrong behaviour. Godly punishment involves physical pain, such as a smack on the bottom. It teaches the child but it also enables the child to feel whole and resolved on the inside.

By being punished when they know they have done wrong a child achieves the lovely sense of being made right. They feel absolved and don’t live with unresolved guilt or fear of being found out.

Parents know that effective physical punishment administered appropriately leaves children happy and feeling clean on the inside.

Therefore the use of physical punishment is for the good of the child. If a parent smacks their child out of anger or to vent the parent’s frustration then the action ceases to be godly discipline and becomes self-serving and abusive.


The Rod does not work so well on its own. The Bible tells us that the Rod and Reproof work in tandem to create wisdom in a child.

Reproof involves speaking to the child and speaking into the child’s life. It involves explanation, instruction, correction, godly counsel, affirmation and direction for future behaviour.

When reproof is employed along with use of the rod the results are far better than if either one is used on its own.

Words of Reproof

To help those who may not find the right words easily, here is an example of a reproof that could be given to a naughty child.

“You know what you did is wrong, don’t you? You disobeyed mummy and that’s a bad thing to do. God wants you to always do what mummy tells you to do. Now, you are a very special good boy that God gave to us so we can train you to be a mighty man for God. That’s why it is so important that we smack you when you do wrong things, so you will learn to do what God wants and you’ll become the man that God wants you to be.”

“Now I’m going to give you one smack for saying ‘No’ to mummy. Then you are going to ask mummy to forgive you and I’ll lead you in a prayer to ask God to forgive you too. And if you say ‘No’ to mummy again, I’ll have to give you two smacks, because one wasn’t enough to help you learn to do the right thing. Do you want me to give you two smacks? I didn’t think so. So, all you have to do is make sure you don’t say ‘No’ to mummy again and do just what she tells you do.”



Effective parents know that they have to deal with things as they come up. They can’t neglect the child’s training. They also know the child needs their love and affirmation and that firm discipline is an expression of love to the child. They also know a child is unsettled and agitated if they cannot resolve wrongs in their heart. Godly discipline clears away the messy feelings they carry around with them when they have done wrong.

Clear explanation, loving affirmation and practical engagement in the right behaviours, such as saying “Sorry”, lead the child to put godly character and good behaviour into their lives.

Being clear about the punishment, why it is given and how it will be increased in the future if correct behaviour is not evident, helps the child feel secure and clear about what to expect.

I hope that helps you refine something of what you do to bless your children.

Your Secret Signals as a Parent

Whether you like it or not you are sending negative signals to your children. And most likely they are Secret Signals – not because others don’t know what you are doing, but because YOU don’t know what signals you are sending out. When I teach on Communication Skills I point out that everyone is “broadcasting” all the time. As parents we are broadcasting signals to our children that we are not aware of. That’s why I call them your “Secret Signals”.

So I’m here to rattle your cage about the Parenting Messages you are sending to your kids. It’s about time you became aware of what you are saying to them, even though you don’t know you are saying it to them!

Know Thyself

The ancient adage “Know Thyself” challenges us to move away from self-absorption, to self-awareness. Being aware of ourselves is not the same as being ‘self-conscious’. We can have feelings of self consciousness which make us uncomfortably sensitive to what others might think about us, but still actually be quite unaware of significant things about who and what we are.

To know ourself we need to be attentive, observant and reflective. We need to tune in to our own broadcasts and check what secret signals we are sending to others. We need to get past our self-justification, rationalisation and intention, and see how our messages impact the hearer, despite what we might intend as a sender.

Taking responsibility for our communications means we take responsibility for what the hearer receives, not just for what we broadcast. To take responsibility we need to become much more aware of what is going on and who and what we are. We must recognise our secret signals.

Tune In To The Family

I have heard many accounts of people who failed to tune in to others. They keep insisting that things be perceived their way, without taking the time to understand what others perceive, need or struggle with.

On a camping holiday, many years ago, I led my infant son out of our tent into the darkness, on our way to the shower block. We both had torches and the ground was gutted by recent storms. I told my tiny son, “Shine your torch where you are going.” Within a few steps he fell over and I scolded him for not being careful. Again I told him “Shine your torch where you are going”.

A few paces later the lad stumbled again, crying from hurting himself. I was impatient and exasperated. I scolded him firmly. “I told you to shine your torch where you are going!” With tears he replied, “I did! I was pointing it at the shower block.”

My boy was doing exactly as I instructed, but not as I intended. I had not tuned in to his interpretation, so I had not helped him walk safely. I felt ashamed of myself, especially since I teach Communication Skills and had failed to communicate effectively with my son.

Parenting Messages

Parents send value statements to their children all the time. When a parent continually becomes distressed about the smallest things, that sends a message. When a parent is always exasperated with their spouse, that sends a message. When a parent doesn’t care what their children do, that sends a message.

These messages from the parents can often be quite different to what the parents think they are teaching their children. They are secret signals, which may contradict the intended messages sent at other times.

When a parent tells their children to have faith in God, but ignores God except on Sundays, the children learn that religion is a game of pretend.

When a parent insists that money should be spent wisely, but continues to blow cash on impulse purchases, the children learn to be careless in their spending.

Copying Mr Grumpy

Your attitude says much more than you might think. If you are given to anger, grumpy responses, impatience, hasty reactions, or the like, you may be sending unwanted signals to your children.

A serious problem in the home is that our wrong behaviour is learned by our children.

King Solomon warns us to avoid bad company, because we learn to act like those bad examples. We are told to keep clear of those who have an anger problem or we will learn to be angry and that will bring damage to our whole life.

“Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go: Lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul.” Proverbs 22:24,25

If you are impatient, grumpy, disparaging, cynical, aggressive, intolerant, touchy, selfish, irresponsible, or any such thing, your children will copy you, to their own hurt. This is most tragic in the situations where the parents are simply not aware of what they are doing and modelling for their children.

Let me reiterate that you need to be aware of what you are broadcasting as an example to your family.


There is a very powerful process which parents set up in their home that impacts their children, for good or bad. I promote this process as a way to powerfully impact your children for good. Sadly, it is mostly used, unconsciously, as a means of teaching children bad behaviour.

I call this process “Normalising” because it makes certain things “normal” for he child.

What ever the parents do in the home becomes “normal” for a child. If a husband beats his wife then wife-beating becomes ‘normal’ to some degree in the family. If a parent lies, steals and cheats, they make that behaviour normal. If they get drunk, show anger, falsely accuse others, or engage in any other wrong behaviour it becomes normal to some degree in the home.

People who regularly eat spicy food think it is normal, while other families find it very strange. People who go on exotic holidays several times each year think it is normal to do so. People who go through divorce and family break-up tend to think it is not such a strange experience.

Parents who pray with their children and engage them in real worship make those things normal. Parents who share their faith make that normal. Parents who show compassion to unlovely people, give sacrificially, go on mission trips, take active roles in church or lead home study groups make those things normal to their children.

So, your regular “broadcasts” to your children make whatever you broadcast ‘normal’ to your family.

My Family Broadcasts

When my older sons reached adult years they got around to letting me know some of the secret signals I consistently broadcast to them. I was not happy to hear their report.

It seems I consistently told them two things I did not realise. I told them these things by my reactions. My responses to them over the years confirmed to them that one of my strong parenting messages was, “Don’t disturb me!”

Oh dear! That was just so true! Whenever I settled down to anything, I wanted the luxury of being able to give it my attention. Even if I was simply sipping a cup of tea and looking out the window, I wanted to be able to do it with peace and quiet. Sadly I unwittingly told my children they were not always welcome in my personal space.

The other message I did a good job projecting to my family was, “Don’t cost me any money!” If one of the boys damaged something I would be quick to say with exasperation, “Now I have to go and buy a new one!” I was always reluctant to spend unless it was a purchase I took interest in. I unconsciously saw all other purchases as an imposition and inconvenience. I wanted to spend as an act of delight, not as a chore.

Your Epitaph

I don’t want to be remembered as the man who said, “Don’t disturb me and don’t cost me any money!” So, what do you want to be remembered for?

What would your children say was your regular Parenting Message to them? Would it be flattering to you?

Would they say, “She’s always in a bad mood”? Do they hear from you, “I’m busy!”? Or do you send off the signal, “I have more interesting things to do than pay attention to you”? Is your message, “I can’t cope!”? Or is it, “I don’t like you”? Maybe your signal says, “It’s all about me! Not you!”

If your Parenting Message was defined, would it look good as an epitaph on your tombstone? What do you expect your family to be getting as a signal from you? Is that really the signal they are getting? Is there a secret signal you are sending, but have not realised?

New Program

Tune in to your own broadcasts. Decode the secret signals you are sending. If they are not what you want then be ready to change.

It may be important for you to start broadcasting a brand new program to your family. You may need to take your existing program off the air immediately. Stop broadcasting negative, selfish, unholy messages to your family. Start broadcasting love, peace, faithfulness, patience, compassion, care, interest, holiness, faith in God and other positive messages through your home.

However, you need a new Program Manager in order to do that. Your own intentions won’t be enough. Romans 8:13 points out that the way to get rid of our bad human stuff is “through the Spirit”, not through human effort.

So, take time today to prayerfully ask God to tune you in, show you the errors of your secret signals, set you free from weaknesses and lead you into God’s highway of holiness. Then the Holy Spirit can become the program manager who implements the new programming you broadcast to your family.

Sibling Rivalry Strife and Spite

A few years ago I visited a family to talk with their teenage son about downloading things from the internet. He was very able at the process and I had never done it before. While I was in the home an exchange took place between the young man and his youngest sister, who was probably about five years younger than him. She had been using his computer, which she was allowed to do, but had gone about five minutes over the allocated time. The boy, in his later years of high school, shouted at his sister and hit her, demanding that she get off his computer.

Several things about this exchange were troubling. The level of spite and violence was shocking. The fact that he did not even ask his sister to leave his computer, but immediately began abusing her was also out of place. The response from the family indicated that this was something they had all become accustomed to. When the mother tried to call her son to account for his actions he justified himself by pointing out that the sister had gone over her allocated time. The mother accepted that, rather than challenging the spite and violence of the son’s actions. No-one seemed embarrassed or uncomfortable that this was played out with me watching.

Siblings in the Bible

Having grown up with four brothers and then raised five sons I was personally distressed to see the bitter attitude so evident between these siblings. I had never experienced anything like it in my youth or as a parent. I took it for granted that siblings get along happily and resolve their upsets in positive and constructive ways.

So I reflected on what I had seen, seeking some wisdom. We know that it is possible for siblings to dwell together happily and that God blesses them when they are in unity (Psalm 133). We also know that it is possible for sin to tempt siblings to be violent to each other, as was the case with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). We also know that siblings can offend each other, resulting in serious barriers being built up between them (Proverbs 18:19).

One older lady told me that when she was growing up each of her siblings made serious attempts to kill the others. I thought she was joking, but she explained that they would regularly throw each other down flights of stairs, hoping to do serious injury. There was deep hatred between them all.

Resolving Sibling Rivalry

What should we do in a case where siblings have developed ill-will toward each other?

It’s a Serious Matter: The first things parents should do if there is evidence of sibling rivalry or spite is to take the matter seriously. This is not just a passing phase. This is not normal. This is not something to be put up with. It is completely contrary to what God wants and blesses in a family. Sin is at work. That’s what God told Cain, when God said “Sin is close at hand” (Genesis 4:7).

Seek Wisdom: Parents need godly wisdom to resolve this situation. This is not a time for hasty and impassioned words and actions. A wise, thoughtful and measured response is far better. Remember that anger from a parent is a waste of time, since Solomon teaches that the “rod of anger will fail”, Proverbs 22:8.

Find the Spiritual Roots: Outward behaviour comes from the heart of a person (Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45). Seek God to show you what is going on in the heart of your child or children that is causing them to be spiteful toward one another. The deeper issues could be jealousy (which might spring from insecurity), unforgiveness for past actions, resentment of the advantages the other child has, feelings of shame within the angry child for their own secret personal failures, despair that their hopes and dreams are amounting to nothing, and so on. Remember that hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). When a child gives themself over to sin they become a slave and may end up hating their own self because of the secret struggles they are having.

Pray with Authority: Before trying to fully resolve the matter with the children it is best to have covered the whole thing in prayer. If you can be confident in God’s blessing, wisdom and grace in your home then you will be much better able to navigate the emotional challenge of dealing with vexing issues. Pray for healing for your children. Bind the enemy’s work. Ask for grace and wisdom. Ask God to confirm the things which you are sensing as key issues (so that by the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word can be established – 2Corinthians 13:1). Resist the devil. Bind the enemy. Claim God’s salvation for your whole household. Present your family to God.

Speak with Authority: When you are properly prepared, you can speak into the situation. Remember to speak to your child’s heart – since that is the critical area where breakthrough is needed. You are looking for a change of heart, not just a change of behaviour. A good start can be to investigate the situation. Ask the child or children, either individually or in a group setting, to explain what is behind the strife that you observe. This will probably illicit the justifications and accusations, but at least you will have the child addressing the issue. You can then let them know what it is that you are sensing about the situation. You might then ask, “Do you think there is any substance to what I have just said?” You are looking for your child conceding that their behaviour has not been totally appropriate, even if it is done in response to some provocation.

Lead the Children to Humility Before God: The greatest outcome is that your children present themselves to God, in humility and conviction of sin. As they call on God for His grace they are practicing a glorious pattern which you want them to employ throughout their entire lives.

Lead them to Repent, Forgive, Renounce Evil, Resist the Devil and Live in Freedom: Your children have been brought into moral danger. When they perceive that and then find God’s deliverance they will be experienced in Christian ministry, not only for themselves but as a basis for helping others. Have them understand and work through the steps of Personal Repentance; Forgiveness of Offenders; Renouncing Evil – revoking the connection that they have established between themselves and sin – such as spite, jealousy, etc; Resisting the Devil and doing spiritual warfare to claim their victory and freedom; and then standing before God to receive grace, newness, cleansing and a whole new future of freedom.

Maintain Accountability: Don’t leave the matter to just follow its own course. Advise the children that you will be monitoring what is happening and that you will be asking them to give you an update and self-audit in some set time in the future. If the situation is very intense and change may be a struggle then you could set up a review within hours or days. If the matter is more sporadic then you might set up a review time several weeks later. Be sure to follow up and at least revisit the topic.

Throw Yourself onto God: You will already have done this, but it is important to see these emerging challenges as God’s way to call you to higher levels of commitment and wisdom in your parenting. So throw yourself at God’s feet and allow God to take you beyond where you may have wanted to go. The very area of challenge may become the platform for international ministry, a best-selling book, or a new intercession ministry. Let God be God in your life.

You may not need any of the above thoughts, but I trust they encourage you in moving forward in God’s purposes on your whole family.

The Heart of Your Child

It is vital that you train the heart of your children. However it is popular to ignore this essential process and give in to shallow alternatives. Since many young parents have not thought these issues through I am penning these notes as a guide to parents.

The Heart of the Matter

The most important part of your child’s development is the training of their heart. While we may not be aware of what is going on inside other people, including our children, the Bible tells us that God looks on the heart.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7

God’s prophet, Samuel, did what people naturally do. He looked on external things. God accurately accused men of taking notice of external things – “man looks on the outward appearance”. That is why people have to take ‘first impressions’ seriously and why image is such a big deal for worldly people. It should not be so for those who love and follow God, but sadly appearance and image is a major focus of some churches today.

Since God looks on your child’s heart it is essential that you make it a key focus on your attention.

The Heart of Your Child is Exposed by What Comes Out

Jesus had much to say about what comes out of the heart. He said that we are defiled by what comes out of us. He then listed a bunch of things that find their source in the human heart.

“The words which come out of the mouth come from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” Jesus Christ, Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus is pointing here to both the words people speak and the motivations that lead them to do evil things. So wise parents will be attentive to the spontaneous expressions from their children and also from the behaviour patterns the children display.

A winning smile on the face of a child can be deceptive. Sweet words of promise and nicety may be a cover for wrong intentions. In the same way that adults can be expert at this level of deception, some children know how to play up to their parents’ expectations.

Key Lessons For the Heart

The heart is troubled by the presence of foolishness, which Solomon warns us is bound in the heart of every child (Proverbs 22:15). So it is important for each parent to respect the particular process that God prescribes for removing that foolishness. The prescribed process is to use the rod of correction on the child.

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Solomon, Proverbs 22:15

Obedience is a key test of the child’s heart. If a child refuses to obey then they have foolishness. So getting the child to promptly obey the parent is a key heart training process. This involves them submitting to the parent’s authority. In that process they learn to fear the Lord, giving respect to God’s requirement that they obey their parents.

Games and Tricks Don’t Train the Heart

Some parents think that they are doing quite well if they get the desired action from the child. But it is not the action that is the most important. What is important, as we saw earlier, is the heart of the child. God does not look on the outward evidence but on the heart.

If you instruct a child to eat their food and the child is reluctant to obey, then a matter of the heart has been exposed. The child’s rebellious or independent attitude is a more serious matter than the nutritional value of the meal.

Many parents, however, become distracted with the external element, getting the food into the child. They can completely miss the much more serious issue of the child’s heart. Clever parents can resort to games to get the child to eat. “Let’s pretend that the spoon is a train and your mouth is a tunnel. Let the train into the tunnel.”

Such games may be fun, but they set the parent and child up for future pain. The child’s heart is left in a rebellious state, even though all the food is eaten.

The same is true when a parent tricks a child into doing the right thing, or fitting in with the parent’s plans. Games and fun, cute as they may be in the hands of clever parents, have no place in testing or training the child’s heart.

The most mature and complete heart training is evident when there is every reason to disobey or to get away with doing wrong, and yet the person insists and persists in doing what is right.

Tough Choices Make for Strong Character

When parents rescue their children from tough choices they undermine the child’s character. Tough choices make for strong character.

The child who must stand by his post, while others get to do fun things, or taunt him, or who is otherwise suffering in order to be there, will develop much stronger character than the child who is given every opportunity to cheat on their character.

False compassion can prompt some parents to remove the tough choices and hard situations from their child’s life. Such emotion is called ‘false’ compassion because it is not true love at all. It masquerades as compassion but it harms the child, so it cannot be real love.

You are Allowed to Play Games

Please note that I am not saying every moment of your child’s life should be a tough moment with tough choices. There is plenty of room for fun, games and play. You are welcome to play ‘aeroplanes’ and fly the food into your child’s mouth or to make cleaning up the room into a fun race against the clock.

The tough choices are made at strategic moments and are then built upon. But once the tough moment is past it is time for celebration and enjoyment of life. The problem will come when your child is never challenged to learn and their heart is not trained.

Insist that they Learn

Parents, be diligent to ensure that each of your children has learned to obey you, to submit to authority and to fear God. You will need to remain attentive to their heart, through what they say and how that is backed up by the attitudes and actions.

Insist that they learn the lessons. Don’t give in, just because they are crying, or complaining. There is much more at stake than their temporary responses.