Written by Bridgette Booth

A child’s repeated misbehaviour can be frustrating to parents, but Ali Dent found a way to turn her child’s wrongdoing into positive learning experiences. First, Ali measures her children’s view of right and wrong. If her son Jonathan takes something from his brother, she pulls Jonathan aside.

“If Jonathan has based his thinking on fairness, I ask how he determines what is and is not fair. Then I might say, ‘So let’s pretend you have three toys and James has one. By your rules, he could take one of yours.’ ” Her extension of his logic helps him rethink his definition of what is fair.

In the same way, she monitors his respect when addressing adults and helps him recognise that the tone of his voice matters as much as his words. Or when he struggles with a negative attitude, she helps him understand his need for hope.

Ali doesn’t stop the conversation there. Next, she helps him examine God’s standards by asking, “What commandment are you breaking?”

After the toy-swiping incident, Jonathan admitted he broke the commandment against stealing, so Ali encouraged him to correct his behaviour. The result was that her son admitted his error and also saw his need to ask for his brother’s and God’s forgiveness.

“I always point to our need for God and His grace,” Ali says.

When her son repeats the offense on another day, it’s easier for him to think through his motivation, the rule he has broken and what his response should be. Ali trains her children through repetition, but she is quick to point out that the Spirit (in His perfect timing) is the One who opens her children’s eyes so they understand.

Ali says the long process is worth it when that aha moment happens in the lives of her children. She says, “When a heart changes, behaviour follows.” 

From Focus on Your Child’s Discovery Years, May 2008. Published by Focus on the Family*. © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.