Biblical Principles for Parenting
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The Bible has a lot to say about families, parenting, and raising children. If you want to raise children who honor the Lord, then it’s important to pay attention to the biblical principles for parenting that are contained in God’s Word.
Many of these principles are modeled by God the Father in how He has interacted with His people throughout history. Many are drawn from direct instruction on living righteously. And most also fall into the category we would call “common sense.”
The six biblical principles for parenting discussed here lay a strong foundation for becoming a great parent.
Biblical Principle #1: Be What You Want Your Child to Become
This biblical principle for parenting is also known as modeling. For Christian parents, the best model we have is God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, this principle of modeling is so important, that God Himself encourages modeling and its counterpart, imitation.
In Matthew 5:48, Jesus teaches that we are to be “perfect.” And why is that? Because “your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Peter echoes this instruction in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
Paul picks up the same theme and applies it to himself in 1 Corinthians 1:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Finally, the author of Hebrews exhorts us to look to the examples of both Jesus and other believers in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…”
Clearly, the Lord understands the power of being a good model and a good example to follow. While He is perfect and holy and no one will ever imitate Him as they should, you can still learn from His example in two ways.
First, you are to imitate the Lord. This, above and before anything else will help you to be a good parent. The common question, “What would Jesus do?” should run through your mind whenever you are making decisions – about parenting or anything else.
Second, you are to be a good model for your children. No one had a perfect model to follow as a child. Some people had great parents. Some people had abusive parents. Some had parents who abandoned them.
But the clear instruction of Scripture is that you are to do better. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it when you see the fruit in your child’s life.
Ask yourself, every time you’re about to do something questionable, “Do I want my child to grow up and do this?” If the answer is “No” then stop doing it – even if they would never have known.
Biblical Principle #2: Love Unconditionally but Don’t Accept Everything Unconditionally
Once again, God the Father provides a clear biblical principle for parenting. God loves us unconditionally. John 3:16 states this clearly, along with many other verses (Eph. 2:4; 1 Jn. 4:9-10, 19). But He never excuses sin because of His love. Instead, His love is always pursuing what is best for those He loves. And what is best is to not leave us as we are – but to transform us into a new creation (1 Cor. 3:18; 5:7).
In the same way, you are to love your children unconditionally. That means no exceptions. Your love is for life and for all circumstances. Your child needs to know you love him, no matter what.
But, loving like God loves means that you cannot accept sinful behavior from them. Hebrews 12 reminds us that loving our children means recognizing that they are not perfect and often need instruction and discipline (12:6-11).
This often seems to need no explanation when children are young. They can break a plate, talk back, throw a temper trantrum, or refuse to do their chores. You love them but you also correct them. And you make sure to tell them that you are disciplining them because of your love.
But it often becomes more complicated when children become adults. How do you apply this principle when your son lives with his girlfriend or your daughter has a drug problem? Every situation is unique and every family is different, so there will never be a formula to follow.
However, at the very least, you need to be clear in stating that you love your child but do not believe he is making biblically wise decisions. It may mean your son doesn’t visit unless he and his girlfriend agree to sleep in different bedrooms. It could mean your daughter is no longer allowed to live at home.
Tough love is tough to give but it is still love. In fact, tough love is a characteristic of God’s love. Because the entire reason you pursue tough love is because your love demands that you seek what is best for the children you love. And that often means calling out sin and not enabling destructive behaviors. Which is always hard because your love is so deep.
If you have to endure such a situation, loving your child with the same type of love that God has for His people, just know that He understands so completely. And He sees your pain and is brokenhearted for you. He understands better than you ever will the cost of sin. Living by biblical principles of parenting is always good but not always easy.
Biblical Principle #3: Have Rules and Enforce Them
The love you have for your child requires that you have rules. Only an unloving person would let a 3-year-old wander alone in a public park. Only an unloving person would allow a 12-year-old to decide if or when she wants to go to school, church, or bed.
Love requires rules. Again, God modeled this for us by giving the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the extensive instruction in the epistles.
But just as He started small (Cain and Abel were only required to bring a sacrifice) and expectations grew as revelation increased (“be holy, for I am holy”), so it is with children.
Your rules should start small: no hitting, bedtime at bedtime, don’t bite, and take turns with toys. But as your children grow and can understand more about the world, the rules extend further: no phones at the table or in the bedroom; homework before screens; no sleepovers unless a parent you trust is there, and group dates only until age 16.
These rules are, of course, only examples. It is the principle that matters: you must have rules. For more on making rules, read about why boundaries (another word for rules) matter.
Along with rules, don’t forget the consequences. You may have heard that rules without consequences are just suggestions. It’s true. If your kids learn they can break the rules and never suffer for it, they’ll break the rules.
God knew this, which is why He always had consequences. From Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) to believers being treated as unbelievers (Mt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:9-12). Of course, the greatest consequence, death, was borne by Jesus for all who believe (Romans 3:22-25).
Biblical Principle #4: Routines and Traditions are Important
I’ve listed routines and traditions together because both are things you do repeatedly. Routines tend to be daily things, like washing your face or loading the dishwasher. Traditions tend to be yearly things, like cutting down a Christmas tree or watching fireworks on July 4th. Both are important because both provide a sense of stability and security for children.
The Bible clearly encourages routines, just read Leviticus if you’re unsure of that. Keeping the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8; Mk. 1:21; Ac. 15:21) is one of the most obvious routines in Scripture.
Additionally, traditions are throughout the history of Israel and the church. Celebrating Passover (Num. 9:1-5; 2 Ki. 23:21-23), the various feasts (Lev. 23:9-25, 33-44), and the day of atonement (Lev. 23:26-32) were all important traditions as well as commands for Israel.
The Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21) was adopted by the church and became part of the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar, although not widely used by evangelicals, developed as a means of remembering the story of God throughout the year. It is a church tradition that has lasted for thousands of years.
Why routines and traditions matter, in practical terms, are discussed below.
As any good teacher will tell you, rules are important, but routines are what make the day (or home) run smoothly. You have routines in your life that are so ingrained you probably aren’t aware of them a lot of the time. Think about driving to work – and then remembering nothing about the drive. That’s an ingrained routine.
But children, because they are children, have no ingrained routines. They need to be told what needs to be done and when. Things like brushing their teeth twice a day, putting the laundry in the hamper, and always praying before bed are all routines they need to be taught.
The list of routines – or you could call them habits – that your children need to have and stick to until they’re ingrained is long. But, as with rules, you start small and build from there. Start the brush-your-teeth routine before age 1. It’ll be ingrained by the time he’s in school.
As you build routines, continually ask yourself, “Is this routine helping my child grow into a responsible, faithful adult?” If not, maybe it needs to become a treat instead of a routine. Things like watching TV every morning or always having a cookie before bed would fall into this category.
You probably have lots of traditions already. Traditions you grew up with. traditions your husband grew up with. New traditions you’ve started. One thing that makes traditions so great is how they connect you to previous generations.
But simply carrying old traditions forward isn’t always the best idea. For one thing, when you marry, you’ll need to work together to make new traditions by keeping some of yours and some of his, then adding new ones.
Sometimes old traditions are rooted in unhealthy patterns, unhealthy relationships, or are simply no longer necessary. For example, a tradition of always having a holiday meal at a certain person’s home, even though that home is busting at the seams when everyone is there, may need to be changed. Or a tradition of giving dozens of gifts to every child at Christmas may have started innocently enough but has now created greedy, entitled children so it may need to be changed.
The point is, don’t cling to traditions just because they’re traditions. Make sure those traditions are serving your family well.
With that said, traditions matter because they connect generations, help build relationships, can foster gratitude, and provide multiple opportunities for fun and making great memories. For more on why traditions matter, as well as some great new traditions to try, check out this article.
Biblical Principle #5: Remember You’re Raising Adults, Not Children
This biblical principle for parenting can be challenging when you’re holding a newborn, watching your 5-year-p;d struggle with learning to read, or comforting your tween daughter because of the mean girls at school. But remembering your goal is to release your children into the world as independent, competent, and faithful adults is something your need to always keep in mind.
Maybe when you read that heading, you thought of Galatians 4 where Paul explained that God’s ways of dealing with His people moved from treating them as children under the law to free sons and daughters under grace (4:1-7).
It is the same with your children. First, you treat them as practically ‘slaves’ in that they need to be told everything they need to do. Infants know nothing and can do very little. But gradually, as they grow, they become more mature, more independent, and more “free sons and daughters.”
The relationship between parent and child was never designed to end, but it was always meant to change simply because the child will not always be a child.
It can be hard to remind yourself that your precious toddler will one day be an adult making a life separate from you. But that is the goal of good parenting. You aren’t just trying to have good children; you are hoping to build strong, independent, productive, and faithful adults.
When you recognize that your job as a parent is to no longer be needed (although, hopefully, always wanted), you’ll make wiser decisions. This long-term view becomes practical in two key ways: teaching life skills and learning to let go.
Teach Life Skills
Working to survive was assumed more than taught in Scripture. Proverbs encourages hard work and discourages sloth or laziness (Pr. 12:11, 14; 16:26; 18:9; 19:20; 21:25; 31:13). In the New Testament, Paul was direct in commanding that anyone who doesn’t work should eat (2 Th. 3:10) and in condemning anyone who doesn’t take care of their family (1 Tim. 5:8).
These Biblical instructions uphold the principle that everyone needs to work. Sometimes this is for a salary and sometimes it isn’t but that doesn’t matter. Doing the work that needs to be done is what matters. And your children need to know how to do the work that needs to be done.
You could, theoretically, still be doing laundry for your son when he’s 50 – but it would be far better if he was doing it himself. And not just by age 50 but by age 15. It’s a life skill he needs and will always need.
The same could be said about so many life skills that we, as adults, take for granted. Here are just a few life skills your child needs to be taught before she leaves home:
- Doing laundry – including sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away
- Cleaning a toilet
- Sweeping and mopping
- Car maintenance – either done or paid on a regular schedule
- Lawn maintenance
- Managing money
- Tidying up and putting things away
- Doing dishes and wiping counters (yes, they are one job!)
- Dressing appropriately for every occasion
- Expressing gratitude, including writing thank you cards
- Speaking politely to everyone, even on difficult topics
- Using appropriate manners
- Driving a car
- Time management
- Doing small sewing repairs, such as hems or buttons
- Doing minor home repairs, like fixing a leaky faucet, changing a doorknob, or unclogging a toilet
- How to stay safe in many different scenarios and how to deal with emergencies such as hurricanes, home fires, or flooding
- Basic first aid
- How to read an old-fashioned, paper map
This list could be much longer, but as you can see, lots of things fall under the category of life skills. And all these items should be learned equally well by both boys and girls. Boys can and should learn to cook and do laundry and girls can and should learn to mow the lawn and replace the doorknob.
One of the easiest ways to get started on teaching life skills is to make sure your kids always have chores they are responsible to do independently. Starting as early as 2 years old, a child can learn to put his toys away, pick up dirty clothes and put them in a hamper, or find all the socks in the pile of clean laundry and match them. This list of age-appropriate chores can help you.
Learn to Let Go
Learning to let go goes hand-in-glove with teaching life skills. As your son learns to dress himself, you let go of that responsibility and it becomes his. As your daughter learns to cook, you let go of the responsibility for one meal every other week and that becomes hers.
In this manner, your children use those life skills for real life. And you get some much-needed practice on your future empty nest.
Some of these “learn to let go” moments are easier than others. Letting your 3-year-old choose her own clothes is a lot easier than letting your 16-year-old drive by himself to baseball practice for the first time. But you’ll never get to the 16-year-old driver without going through the 3-year-old fashioned challenged phase.
No one said parenting was easy. But practicing letting go in small steps helps.
Biblical Principle #6: Have Fun Regularly
I can’t find a Bible verse that says, “Have fun.” But I’m convinced having fun is a sound biblical principle for parenting. One reason for that belief is that God’s Word contains more than 400 references to joy and rejoicing. It’s probably safe to say God isn’t opposed to fun!
Another reason is that He created this beautiful world for humanity to enjoy. He created such a variety of food to taste and scents to smell, all for us to enjoy. Yes, sin marred creation and made our work become toil – but sin didn’t destroy beauty or rob humanity of the ability to enjoy life. Having fun is as important for you as much as for your kids.
It would be nice if life was simple enough that we didn’t need to be reminded to have fun, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, most of the time it isn’t. So you need to be intentional about having fun with your kids in three different ways: at home, away from home, and on longer adventures.
Having Fun at Home
Having fun isn’t always something you have to plan. Train yourself to notice what your child is doing and join him whenever possible. Do chores together and don’t be afraid to get a little silly (splashing suds in the kitchen sink is always a hit!). Always have a tickle-bug ready and be willing to use it – but learn when not to also.
These daily light-hearted moments are necessary building blocks of a healthy relationship. They also earn you the right to be heard, respected, and seen as a safe person for big feelings and big problems. Even if those big problems are “only” that the red crayon broke. Caring about what matters to your child teaches him that he matters to you.
Having Fun Away From Home
But having fun should also include planned activities. Simple at-home routines or traditions such as family game night or family movie night should be “mandatory fun” for you and your children as long as possible. And “as long as possible” should be at least up into high school.
Also plan out-of-the-home fun adventures such as picnics, hikes, and swimming. Taking time at least once a month to plan a close-to-home outing provides opportunities for bonding, teaching and learning new skills, discovering new favorites (such as a local restaurant or a new hobby), and – of course – fun.
Some of these fun adventures could involve someone else planning and you and your kids just showing up. Things like build-a-birdhouse workshops, learn-to-fish sessions, or make-a-wreath classes are often scheduled by local stores or recreation centers. Do some research and see what’s available in your area, then go have fun.
Having Fun on Longer Adventures
Finally, have fun for extended periods of time by taking road trips and going on vacation. I know money can be tight at times – and for most families “at times” means “all the time.” But budgeting for such trips is important. The memories you create when you spend all day every day with your kids for 3 days or a week are irreplaceable.
Sure, you’ll have some not-fun times on these trips. But you’ll also have lots of fun times. And you don’t have to blow your retirement on theme parks either.
- Making camping a family tradition and camp in every state park in your state or at least one state park in every state in your region.
- Take a road trip where you challenge yourself to find the cheapest, but still safe, places to sleep, eat, and do things.
- Visit any national parks within driving distance – and rent an RV for 3 days to do it.
Be creative and stay within your budget but figure out a way to make vacations happen. You’ll have as much fun as your kids do. And the memories will last a lot longer than that latest gadget you could blow a few hundred dollars on.
These 6 Biblical Principles for Parenting Lead to This Question: Now What?
How does your parenting measure up against these six biblical principles? James encourages you to learn from the Word and then to change your life because of what you’ve learned (Jas. 1:22-25).
Since no one is perfect, it’s safe to say that you need to improve in at least one of these areas. Your challenge is to decide what needs to be changed and then, by God’s grace, change it.
Be the parent you wish you had. Or if you’re extremely blessed, be the parent you’re grateful you had.