Distinguishing between disobedience and accident in our children

One of the difficulties of parenting is the art of discernment. We need to distinguish between acts of disobedience and accident. Our failure to do so may crush our children’s spirit. Accidents are not reasons for discipline, they are opportunities for productive conversations. In most cases, it will require a simple word to train them to avoid such accidents. “Son, we are not mad that you broke that glass, but let daddy show you how to properly place it on the table.”

When a child spills his water before supper or breaks a glass rarely is it related to an act of willful disobedience. In fact, children and accidents are almost synonymous. We should expect them to happen and in turn, prepare to deal with them rightly. I confess this is no easy task, but one we should be aware and prepared. Confusing accidents with disobedience can crush their day-to-day experience and joy. Further, they can begin to hide accidents for fear that they may be interpreted as sinful actions. We all need grace to see practice this distinction and act biblically. Remember that this day.


A follow-up question from Sarah Joy Albrecht: Would you kindly take a moment to share your thoughts on habits of negligence/apathy/selfishness that lead to accidents? Any thoughts on ways to help children see the connection between this sort of attitude/behavior that leads to accidents?

Answer:  I don’t know if I have an exact science to this question. It can vary immensely. Perhaps other parents can chime in. We have one child that is prone to more accidents than the other four. His accidents frustrate him and we have noticed they have decreased over the last few months. Our temptation is always to scold the child for his carelessness, but in most cases, we try to establish an environment where accidents are treated as such and conversations about accidents are also quite natural. We generally ask questions to get to the heart: “Son, did this happen because you were in a hurry? because you wanted to finish first? because you were trying to be competitive? and the list goes on. I try to focus on these questions after the event when the environment is less stressful (usually before bed). Generally, I find, we, parents, establish the environment for stress in the children which naturally lead to more accidents: “Why did you do that?” “Hurry up to the table!” “I can’t believe you did that.” So, I’d ask two questions: Are parents establishing an environment for more frequent accidents and are we using such opportunities to minimize such accidents by asking honest and simple questions about their actions. At least I think that is a start to a better answer from someone else. Excellent questions, btw.