(Image courtesy of https://www.hss.edu.)
Growing up as the oldest of four children, I became the unofficial "guinea pig" in our family.  There is definitely a thing or two to be said about birth order and this is one of those things: the oldest child generally is the one the parents practice on in order to parent more effectively in the future.  Partly for this reason, and partly for the fact that I have a very strong and stubborn will, I received the just punishment for my actions more frequently than any of my other siblings (maybe even combined!).  There is an unequivocal fact that children are different from each other, not only in personality, but a number of ways.  They not only like different things, have various personalities, and possess differing talents (gifts), but they also behave differently.

One fact remains the same, though: "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23) and "all are sinners from birth" (Psalm 51:5).

My sin-nature was on display for all to see as a child.  If my heart was rebellious, my actions showed it.  If I didn't get my way, my actions showed my displeasure (a nice way of saying rebellion).  To this day, I show very freely what I am feeling.  I simply don't know any other way to live life.  While this has its negative aspects, it is also a positive quality that God uses for good.  For instance, my personality to "wear" my thoughts and feelings "on my sleeve" has allowed me to be a catalyst for vulnerability that otherwise probably would not have taken place.

On the contrary, some children do not as freely display their heart rebellion by their actions, words, or cries as I did.  Some children will, with a happy and compliant countenance, appear to obey quite willingly and submissively; internally, however, they are a seething pot of rebellion.  To the outside, their rebellion is not even guessed at.  But the child feels the guilt and hypocrisy of his ways, and if left un-dealt with can lead to a lifetime of guilt and shame.

My wife was such a child as this.  Outwardly, she complied and freely submitted her will to her parents and other forms of authority.  But inwardly, as she would later disclose outwardly, she rebelled.  To her surprise, this internal rebellion that was not put down surfaced later in life, and she grew to hate herself for her hypocrisy.  By God's grace, she was freed from such self-hate.

Lest the reader think I am wise enough to discover these truths for myself, allow me to explain.

A mother of four children recently shared with a group (which my wife and I were a part of) about her dealings with her daughter and her three sons.  Her sons (as often is the case) make their rebellion known outwardly - and without question.  This outward rebellion is so visible and in-your-face that it requires immediate action to silence the rebellion, the mother explained.  So, indeed, the boys' inward rebellion is dealt with even as the outward rebellion is dealt with.  Sins are paid for and relationships are restored in the end without feelings of hypocrisy.

However, the daughter (as often is the case) is very compliant, the mother continued.  "Daughter, I need you to watch your brothers."  "Yes, mother."  But inwardly, the daughter was on strike.  She hated it when her mother asked her to do things like this.  Why did she have to have so many brothers?  And why were they so loud and rebellious all the time?  She had better things to do anyway.  "Daughter, how is it going?"  "It's going well, mother."

But the wise mother knew what was going on.  Although there were no outward signs of rebellion, the mother knew the truth of God regarding sin and the rebellious nature of each human.  She had a conversation with her daughter and said, "Outwardly, you usually obey me, but inwardly you sometimes grumble against me.  It is because of sin that you do not want to obey me."  The daughter's face revealed her surprise and shock.  "How did you know?" her daughter's face screamed.  As a result of this mother's discernment, her daughter will not know hypocrisy or guilt from sin unaccounted for.

As our daughter grows, and as we have hopes of stewarding more children in the future, my wife and I want to hold this lesson close to us as we train our children.  We are not merely training outward behaviors; we are training hearts.  We are speaking the Gospel to our children when we speak of their sin and rebellion toward us and toward God.  We are speaking the Gospel when we discipline them for their rebellion - both outwardly and inwardly - and they are restored to us in right-relationship.

Parents: be encouraged!  By God's grace, you can train your child's heart in the power of the Gospel!  (Lest I be called a heretic, perhaps I should more rightly say: God will use your training to mold your child's heart according the power of the Gospel.)

For further reading, check out this article by Jason DeRouchie entitled "Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go."

“Every youth’s future is filled with possibility. Parents have an opportunity to direct a child’s path toward God" (Jason DeRouchie).