How to Break Your Child’s Will but Not Their Spirit

From the time they were just a baby, one of our four children had a will that was noticeably stronger than the others. I can remember the days of them growing up and getting in trouble time and time again because of their stubbornness and unwillingness to conform.

Happy Girl Having Fun And Laughing

There’s one situation in particular that I remember quite well. Our child was about six years old at the time, and there was an instance of outright defiance and blatant rebellion. The options were laid out clearly, and either they would conform, or be disciplined until they conformed.

So the process began, and after many go-rounds, I was worn out. Neither my discipline nor their stubborn will had budged, and there was no way that I was going to lose this battle with my six year old.

So I took a break, went to the kitchen, and said these words to my wife, “How in the world do I break their will without breaking their spirit?” I was concerned that continued discipline could be unwise, but raising the white flag wasn’t an option either.

Have you ever been there as a parent?

  • You want so bad for this to be a “growth moment” for both you and your child, but they will have none of it.
  • You’re frustrated almost to the point of anger and you don’t seem to have any answers.
  • You’re adamant about breaking their will, but equally concerned about breaking their spirit.

It was a few weeks later in talking to an elderly friend that I asked him that same question – “How do I break their will without breaking their spirit?” And to my pleasure, I was given an answer that has had an ongoing impact upon my parenting. The advice I was given was this – “Discipline balanced with love always equals respect, but discipline without love always equals rebellion.”

And all of a sudden it finally clicked with me – “As long as I’m disciplining out of love, their will eventually will be broken, but their spirit will stay intact.”

Ephesians 6:4  Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

If we discipline correctly, our kids may not always obey us, but they will always know they are loved by us.

If we discipline balanced with love, they may not always agree with us, but they will still maintain respect for us.

If we discipline balanced with love, our motives will be pure, and never have to be brought into question.

Here are three ways that we have practiced disciplining out of love:

1. Talk with them.

No kid should be drug by the ears to the bedroom or smacked upside the head and told to change. Discipline in the home should happen with the same love and tenderness our Heavenly Father uses when He disciplines us as His children. He is patient, kind, yet he doesn’t budge an inch.

When our children have done wrong and are in need of discipline, our first step is to talk to them and make sure they understand why they are in trouble and what the discipline they are getting is for.

2. Pray with them.

Once the discipline has been administered, prayer is essential. Not only does it communicate your love, it communicates the love of God who is willing and waiting to forgive.

Prayer also helps them understand that their offense is not just against a person, but is ultimately against God Himself.

3. Love on them.

Once the discipline has been administered and the prayers have been prayed, it’s time to love them like they’ve never been loved before.

Squeezing your child tight for an extended period of time communicates something that words can never express – unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

I’ve seen parents over the years who send their kids to their room without doing any of the above. I’ve also seen parents who after disciplining their children, storm out of the room angry with words like, “You just sit here and think about what you’ve done before you come back out.” Do that enough times and you’ve got yourself a surefire way to break your child’s spirit.

Your kids will naturally respect you if your love is never brought into question. When they understand what they have done, who they have truly done it against, and that your love for them hasn’t changed, you have just succeeded at turning a negative into a positive.

“Discipline balanced with love always equals respect, but discipline without love always equals rebellion.”

So, the last time you had to discipline your kids, did they “feel the love”?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Pingback: How to Have a Balanced and Biblical Approach to Discipline in the Home - Andrew's Blog()

  • Needed this…

  • Benjamin Watt

    Thanks for these reminders!

    I once witnessed a father in a restaurant repeatedly slap his child’s hand because the child would not stop crying. He then looked at his wife in frustration and said – “I don’t even know why he is crying!” My heart was saddened – what if the child was crying because there was a sharp corner of the high chair sticking his leg?

    We’re probably all guilty of disciplining in frustration or anger at times. Thank you for this reminder that discipline not rooted in love breeds rebellion (and hurt) not repentance (and joy).

    Effective discipline is motivated by love, includes forgiveness, and leads to repentance and restored fellowship.

    • Thanks, Ben! So very true. Appreciate the feedback.