5 Steps to Helping Your Kids Prevent Their Own Sinful Behavior

5 Steps to Helping Your Kids Prevent Their Own Sinful Behavior | Christian Mom ThoughtsI think I spend about 85% of my waking hours asking my kids to stay in their seats at meal time. OK, that’s obviously not possible, but it accurately reflects the disproportionate annoyance I feel in dealing with the matter.

I recently reminded Alexa to stay seated, and told her that if she got up again, I was going to strap her into her booster seat. She gained the freedom of sitting in her seat without the straps recently, so losing that freedom is now a very dire consequence.

I left the dining room to prepare the rest of lunch. When I returned, Alexa had strapped herself into her seat.

“Alexa! You don’t have to strap yourself in. I was just saying that if you get down again, mommy will have to do that.”

She explained, “I strapped myself in because I wanted to get down again.”

What an insight from a two-year-old! She recognized she still had the desire to do something bad, so she took steps to prevent herself from the behavior. If only we all had such foresight!

We spend an enormous amount of time working to shape our kids’ hearts to desire a Christ-like life. But our Godly desires will never be perfected because we are sinful by nature. Alexa’s statement was a reminder to me that shaping our desires is only half of the battle. We also need to take precautions against behavior that comes from the sinful desires that inevitably remain in our heart.

We need to teach our kids that we will never be perfect, but that we can have a plan for managing our imperfections. I’ve been very intentional in working with Kenna on the issue of managing her frustration-induced anger lately. We’ve made a lot of progress in a short time! Here are five steps that have been working for us.

1. Get your child’s permission to address the issue together.

For this to be effective, your child has to agree that the issue is 1) indeed a problem, 2) something they want to change, and 3) something they want your help on. Be sure to have the conversation when you’re not in the middle of dealing with the issue.

Here’s roughly what I said to Kenna: “Honey, it seems you’ve been getting very frustrated lately, and then you end up so mad you’re screaming. Do you think that is how God wants us to act?” She said no. I asked her, “Do you want mommy to help you work on not doing that anymore?” She said yes.

Of course my job as a parent is to help her whether she agrees to it or not. But explicitly asking for permission takes away defensiveness and creates a feeling we are working together.


2.    Work with your child to identify triggers of the sinful behavior.

Help your child make a list of the situations – “triggers” – that most frequently lead to the behavior.

For Kenna, a major trigger is when she is unable to do something by herself. When she gets to a point where she realizes she’ll have to have help, she literally screams in anger because she desires independence so strongly.


3.    Eliminate the triggers or make an action plan.

Some triggers can be eliminated completely. Kenna has a couple of toys that are triggers. We agreed to put those toys away for a few weeks. Other triggers – like not being able to do things entirely by herself – are just part of life. For those, you need an action plan: what will you do when the situation arises but before you behave sinfully?

We discussed several things that will always require an adult’s help right now – for example, writing and brushing her teeth. We agreed that she will always ask for help on those things, but she can still try them on her own at first. Knowing in advance that she won’t complete these tasks on her own has made an amazing difference! She tries for a while and then simply asks for help.


4.    Explain your planned involvement.

Once you have your action plan, tell your child specifically how you will be helping when you see the situation arise. I told Kenna that I would remind her of what we talked about if I saw her frustration level rising too quickly before asking for help.


5.    Debrief.

Whether your action plan worked or didn’t work, have a talk after the trigger next arises. Kenna’s been asking for help much more quickly and nicely, and I always acknowledge that in light of our “plan.” The times when she ended up yelling, we talked about why and what we can do better next time…together.

What do you think of getting your child’s “permission” to help them? Have you tried to work with your kids on identifying triggers of sinful behavior before? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

12 thoughts on “5 Steps to Helping Your Kids Prevent Their Own Sinful Behavior”

  1. I understand that a parent’s job is to help their kids learn whether the kids agree or not. As you said, though, it goes a lot more easily if the child agrees to work together. My seven-year-old is overall a good girl, but she does have very strong ideas of what she likes and doesn’t like, what she wants to do and what she doesn’t want to do. Trying to enforce my will in a heavy-handed way doesn’t work. She is thoughtful enough to be able to come up with some solutions on her own / with me rather than waiting for me to TELL her what we will do. I like your five steps and will have to try them out.

    1. Hi Julie, She sounds a lot like my daughter! Have you heard of or read “The Strong Willed Child” by James Dobson? It was an interesting read about kids like ours. It’s all about how we can shape the will without crushing it. It’s pretty easy to just crush it when things get hard. 🙂 I’d love to know how the steps work out for you! Thanks for the comment!

  2. WOW … I just ‘stumbled’ upon this article (no coincidence there … it’s exactly what i needed to read) THANK YOU! I’ve been struggling with the interactions between my daughters (ages 10 & 7) and the little girl I babysit (also age 7) … I will defintely be using this information to help each of them recognize their triggers and try to work with them on how to stop before they do or say something that would hurt the other person. Thank you, God, for leading me to this blog!! (and God bless you, for your wisdom!)

  3. I find it interesting that you mentioned asking permission to help them. My husband parents that way with our daughters and I’ve always been somewhat taken back when I witness him say “would that be okay with you?” It’s the control freak in me! I literally have had to bite my tongue when he talks to them that way because I have felt like that isn’t teaching them he’s the parent…he’s in charge. BUT – they do respond to him much differently when upset or frustrated. He is able to quickly calm them down and move forward to more productive behaviors. With me, their fit of rage lasts longer and becomes more of a battle for control between us. One thing I’ve been trying to remind myself of is that we all have free will, and I need to show love and trust to my girls by giving them some say in the matter. It’s not vital or good for their long term well being for me to win every battle. Basically I need to take a chill pill. LOL!

    1. Hi Rosann, To be sure, I rarely ask the kids for permission on things. 🙂 Like you, I’m a major control freak and believe in strong parental authority. BUT this is specific to handling an individual problem, and I feel that in this context it is highly beneficial. The whole attitude shifts when they feel they are in control of their own self development. I experience exactly what you do with the battles lasting longer because we’re fighting over control. I always want to win by nature. I’m working on that. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. Kellie Titchnell

    Awesome!!! My daughter can melt down with the best of them. And sometimes I am just not in the mood to discuss anything with her — I just want her to get it together! LOL 🙂 She has been making an effort to curb some of the outbursts although she still has her moments. I think part of the reason is because I stopped over reacting to her strong emotions. But I love your suggestions on how I can help her reflect on her behavior and teach her how to recognize the onset and see her way out of it. This is so great!! I am excited to talk this over with her and see what she has to say. You are a blessing!!

    1. Hi Kellie, I totally understand! Trust me, I’m certainly not perfect in this approach – many times I do NOT want to discuss a thing, and I have said what you said verbatim: “GET IT TOGETHER!” 🙂 What you said is key…when we over react to strong emotions, it only serves to heighten them further. Thank you so much, as always, for the blessing of your encouragement!

  5. Definately, working with children is the way forward. They are not machines that parents need to program, they are people in their own right, with their own ideas, thoughts and beliefs.
    Lovely article

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