Five Things You Can Do When Your Child Messes Up

It is inevitable, you know.  Those precious babies melt your heart and then… one day, they break it.

DISCLAIMER:  I am an empty-nester, and I was by no means a perfect parent. This isn’t a blog about one of my children or grandchildren.  It is a reflection on the times that my perfectly imperfect children messed up, and the conclusions I have come to as I look back on my years of parenting.

I have four children.  Two boys and two girls, each one very different from the other.  Same DNA from their parents, no drastic differences in their adolescent years, yet distinctively different in personality and perspective of our family unit.  While birth order and gender differences account for some of the distinctions, they also account for some of the shared similarities. (i.e. common memories, shared experiences and even family jokes that only we would understand!)

Two siblings (one boy and one girl) tend to be analytical and often see the world as black and white.  You would think, as is often the case, that they would be the “rule-keepers”.  While this is true for the most part, it wasn’t a standard that either could live up to, and as a result, we tended to have high expectations.  They taught me to be realistic and to be careful about setting reasonable goals for all of my children.

Often it is the oldest child that is the rule keeper, while the middle child often gets tagged as the precocious one.  My middle daughter is what I would call “spunky”, but truth be told, every child will try to bend and break the rules at some point along the way.  It became obvious–long before they were teenagers–that every single one of them would make detrimental decisions–some that they clearly thought through and others, well, not so much.  Learning to be patient and to not over-react when a child makes a bad choice, I saw the benefit of staying calm and loving, yet firm.  Let me note here that as a general rule, modeling self-control goes a long way in resolving a conflict.

I happened to be intuitive enough to know that it was futile for me to pray that my children would not mess up.  It doesn’t take long to discover that you don’t have to teach a 2-year-old to climb too high, touch something off-limits, or even kick the dog.  I decided early on that I would not allow this futility to frustrate me, so

I prayed–not that they wouldn’t make a mistake, but that they would get caught when they did!

That was one prayer they didn’t like so much.  I wasn’t just praying for them to get caught so I could punish them, of course.  I believe strongly that children need to be disciplined, and that part of our God-given responsibility as parents is to train them to make choices that are good and right.

There is no joy in seeing your child fall–or in having to decide what type of discipline would most benefit in a particular situation.  The desire of a parent’s heart should be to help them to see the consequences of their mistake–and most of all, that they would learn from it.  The joy does come!  It comes when they look you in the eye and say, “I’m sorry, mommy”, or when you see them responding in a way that shows true repentance.  Watching them humbly make restitution to a sibling that they have wronged will melt your heart.

While in my mind I am hearing a hearty “amen” from those of you who tried to keep this perspective about discipline, I am sure that there are some of you out there that seem to be baffled at the idea that I would pray the way that I did.  Sometimes I think we struggle to see ourselves clearly, so trying to figure out our own children–and how to handle their behavior–well, lets just say, it can be overwhelming!

Despite the differences in each of our children, I believe these five principles can apply to any child of any age whenever they make a mistake:

1. STOP AND PRAY.  While a toddler might need immediate intervention for his/her own safety, what I’m referring to here is when you discover a discretion and realize that you have to correct it.  It might only be a prayer quickly breathed before you have to jump into action, or it could be that you need time on your knees to get God’s perspective and wisdom.  I’ve done both.  The important thing is that you respond–not react. 

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”  James 1:5

2.TAKE ACTION.  After you decide the appropriate way to handle the situation, be clear, be consistent, and be kind.  While there may be feelings of anger, be sure to keep them under control and focused on the action–not the child.

 “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”  Proverbs 15:1

3. FORGIVE.  There is no greater demonstration of a parent’s love for their child than when they forgive an offense.  Especially if the child has harmed you personally by insult or assumption.  We demonstrate our Heavenly Father’s agape love most vividly when we take them in our arms and reassure them of our love for them.

 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”  Colossians 3:12-13

4. FORGET.  I know.  You can’t remove the memories of the past, but you can LET.THEM.GO.  Don’t remind them of past mistakes.  Don’t use idle threats of “If you ever do this again…”  Every offense has its own consequence.  Don’t let the consequence be that you will bring it up time and time again and remind them of their failures constantly.  Aren’t you glad God isn’t like that?

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”  Psalm 103:11-13

5. Refocus.  One of the best ways to get past the pain of an indiscretion is to focus on something positive.  It is said that the ratio of positive comments to negative should be 5:1.  In other words, let your negative words be few and be sure to reaffirm them with positive alternatives.  When you choose to focus on the good and the right, you give them the tools they need to make better decisions in the future.

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

Being a parent is the most difficult and the most rewarding responsibility on the planet.  While every child is different, and even the circumstances surrounding their choices can influence the decisions that they make, we have an obligation to do our part in being prepared for those moments that we know are coming.  When your adorable little Timmy or sweet little Tammy suddenly turn into a Rebellious Robbie, you had better be on your knees asking God for wisdom and direction.  Not every child will respond the way you want, and often you won’t see immediate results of your laborious attempt to plant and water and prune seeds of righteousness, but I can assure you that standing on the principles of God’s Word you will see fruit in due season.

My babies are having babies now and I can honestly tell you that they are great parents.  I can only pray that they learned from what I did right–and what I did wrong.  With confidence I can say that I tried.  I begged God for wisdom before they were ever born, and trusted Him to guide them, convict them and correct them–and to show me what my part was in all of it.

You cannot be your child’s Holy Spirit, but you can be their prayer warrior.

Be encouraged today.  You are not alone.  You are not perfect and neither is your child.  That’s why we need the Lord.  He is the ultimate authority on parenting, and He loves them even more than you do!

7 replies »

  1. Thank you for these wise words! We frequently struggle with some of our children’s choices and feel like we are banging our head against a brick wall for all the good our words are doing in the moment. We pray each night for wisdom in raising them but I’m going to add praying in the moment as well. Thank you again!


  2. “You cannot be your child’s Holy Spirit, but you can be their prayer warrior.” These words are so true, and your post reflects your loving, nurturing spirit. Showing our children, and grandchildren, that they are forever, unconditionally loved is one of the ways we help them to know and understand our Heavenly Father’s loving grace and mercy. Thanks, Vickie!


  3. Amazing post! ❤ From a mom of 2 little boys, 2 and 5, that are always testing boundaries and bending the rules, these are definitely things I will practice next time one of them messes up. I specifically LOVE this: "I prayed–not that they wouldn’t make a mistake, but that they would get caught when they did!" LOVE that and will definitely be praying for that with mine as well! I'm going to share this on my blog page as well! ❤


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.