Creative discipline

Our parenting instincts tell us to discipline a child who is being unruly or disobedient – not a child who is hurting. Even so, a child who is in emotional pain caused by change or loss needs “discipleship discipline,” which means helping your child take their pain and worry to God in prayer. The suggestions here will help both the child who is struggling and the child who is rigidly refusing to accept change.

For a child who is fearful, worried or anxious

See the creative discipline section of the courage lesson.

For a child who refuses to cooperate

See the creative discipline section of the cooperation lesson.

For a child who needs comfort for loss or pain

Biblical basis

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Suggested disciplinary action

Read Psalm 139:9-12 in the English Standard Version or as it is paraphrased in The Message. Here’s how the verses appear in both cases:

Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV) “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”

Psalm 139:7-12 (The Message) “Is there anyplace I can go to avoid Your Spirit? to be out of Your sight? If I climb to the sky, You’re there! If I go underground, You’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute – You’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, ‘Oh, He even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!’ It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to You; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to You.”

Review the discussion questions, then work with your child to re-write the truth of Psalm 139:9-12, making it applicable to the situation your child is having difficulty with. Here are two examples of how you might re-write Psalm 139:9-12:

For fear or anxiety associated with change:
If I go to another city or even to the other side of the world, You will still be with me there, holding my hand and guiding me. If I get worried and think about how much moving scares me, I can ask You to shine Your light like a great big flashlight and take my fear away.

For grief or pain:
If I run upstairs and hide in my closet, You are there with me, holding me close. If my heart feels so heavy with hurt and the darkness of my pain is closing in around me so that I cannot handle it, I know You are with me and I know You care. You can even shine Your light into the deepest and saddest parts of my heart and make them light again.

Questions for discussion
  1. Could God find you if you hid under your bed?
  2. If you dug a tunnel underground, would God see you there?
  3. Is there anywhere you can run to to get away from God? How about if we travelled all the way to the other side of the world?
  4. What if we went outside on a very dark night wearing dark clothing? Could God still see us?
  5. Have you ever been afraid of the dark?
  6. Is God scared of the dark?
  7. What does the Bible say about God and darkness?
  8. If your bad feelings are like scary darkness, which ones would you want God to take away?

Post your child’s personalized version of Psalm 139:9-12 in a visible location so you can refer to it in the future.

As often as necessary, pray with your child based on Romans 15:13 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Acknowledge that you are too weak to handle the trial you are facing on your own. Thank God that life’s difficulties remind you that you need Him. Thank Him for being a God of power and strength and courage who shares His Spirit with those who are weak.

Relevant Scripture

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For a child who is choosing to be inflexible

A child who is insisting that they know better than their parents (as to what is best for them) is also insisting that they know better than God, who gave them their parents. Their obstinacy is like that of the Israelites while on their way to the Promised Land. Explain to your child that insisting on having their own way is like insisting on living in Egypt as a slave instead of going along with God’s plan of living free in the Promised Land.

Biblical basis

Psalm 32:8-9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.”

Zechariah 7:12 “They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.”

Suggested disciplinary action

Read the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt found in Exodus 12:31-42 and Exodus 14. Then read about the Israelites’ discontent in the desert and their plea to return to Egypt. You’ll find this account in Numbers 14, or see the shorter script in the Bible story “Long ‘time out’ in the desert,” found in the Thanksgiving lesson.

Let your child know that if they are going to be stubborn about going their own way instead of the way you are asking them to go, you will have no choice but to have him or her live in “slavery.” Begin by removing all luxuries, such as treats or special privileges. Have your “slave” help with meal preparation, house cleaning, laundry and any other appropriate chores.

As soon as your child decides to accept the changes you have instituted for his or her life, they can be “set free.”


Proverbs 3:7 “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Pray together and thank God that your child is willing to do things God’s way (obeying his/her parents and following God’s plan for their life) instead of remaining in “slavery” to sin. Thank God, too, for His promise of blessing for children who obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Relevant Scripture

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

John 8:31-36 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, “You will become free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Ephesians 6:1-3 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. `Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ ”