Bear is a pretty good sleeper. He likes to lay down at night and roll onto his tummy, bury his head down like a hedgehog and snuggle with his pacifier and a small, soft blanket. He prefers to lay in the bed instead of being rocked to sleep. Add a little white noise, and he’s out.
Unless it is two a.m. Then he wants his pacifier, blankie, and his mama. In the rocker, please.
After months of this two a.m. snuggle time, Mama had enough. I thought about his bedtime routine and what I could do to give him more independence with it at two a.m. Then it hit me—a night light! One would think this is a given in any child’s room, but I somehow neglected to think of it when setting up his nursery. I blame it on my third child brain; it’s a little slow at times.
I plugged in a dollar store night light. I threw an extra pacifier in the bed with him. The first night with his new night light, everything started the same. He cried for a few minutes. This time, though, he found his pacifier (thank you, night light!), and my Baby Bear resumed his nightly hibernation.
The heart of a child is much like Baby Bear’s dark room. They are born into sin and darkness. This isn’t your first thought when you see a sweet, squishy baby. They seem so innocent. About a year later, you begin to see their sin nature reveal itself. Before you know it, you have a sassy ten-year-old on your hands, and you know without a doubt that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15).
Jesus pointed this out as he met with Nicodemus in the dark of night.
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3:19–21, NIV).
One of my duties as a parent is to provide a night light for my child’s dark heart. That is an overwhelming responsibility. I struggle to live this truth out, to guide my children’s heart from darkness into light. Honestly, most days I feel like a complete failure.
There is a truth in the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus that translates into parenting. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was an expert at following the rules. His behavior was right. Yet, he was not righteous. He needed a heart change. His spirit needed to be born again (John 3:3).
The aim of discipline is not to force a change in behavior, but to encourage a heart change. Changed behavior is a costume, a facade. It does not last and is only skin deep. A changed heart is eternal. It brings your child into the Light. That Light becomes the Truth by which they live.
Guiding Your Child’s Heart From Darkness Into Light
- Remove and Review. Take your child to a quiet, private place if possible. The point is not to shame them but teach them. Remove distractions. Remove the temptation for either of you to put on a show. Review the broken rule and the consequence for breaking that rule. This is a black and white issue; there is no room for argument or justification. Connect that broken rule back to scripture. Which one of God’s rules was broken?
- Turn on the Light. Ask questions to shed light on why they did what they did. Was it selfishness that caused them to jerk a toy away from their brother? Have they made an idol of themselves and, therefore, chosen to do what they wanted instead of what you asked? Are they afraid of going unnoticed or feeling insecure about themselves? It may take several questions to reveal the darkness in their heart. Keep probing until you find the source of the sin.
- Relate to Their Battle with sin through a personal story or a story from God’s Word. The story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery could be an effective example of sibling tension (Gen. 37:12–38). A personal example: I sometimes struggle to put my iPhone down so I can do what I am supposed to do. Find a way to communicate to your child, “I know the conflict you feel is real and hard.”
- Go to God Together. Conclude your talk with prayer. Pray for your child to see his or her heart in the light of God’s Word. Together, ask God to change your child’s heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for yourself if you have a similar struggle. Ask God for the wisdom needed to guide your child’s heart as they grow.
- Carry Out the Consequence. After the “amen” and the hug, it is time for the consequence. Timing is crucial; we want the punishment to connect to the crime. Prayerfully, a light will come on in their little hearts as they experience the discomfort of sin.
Lord, grant us wisdom to draw our children into your light. Help us to stay consistent and humble with our children so that they might see your light in our lives. Reveal your truths to us so that we can teach our children. Thank you for the privilege of parenting.