How to disciple your children in their emotions

March 25, 2021

Does your child have big emotions? Big responses to life’s circumstances? Fear. Sadness. Anger. Disappointment. Loneliness. Just like adults, children experience difficult emotions. They feel afraid of things that may do them harm. They feel sad when they experience a loss. They feel angry when things don’t go as expected. They feel disappointed when plans change and lonely when a friend moves away. 

As Christian parents, we take seriously our God-given task to teach our children the truths of God’s Word. We know we need to disciple our children to know who God is and what he has done. But how often in our teaching do we disciple our children in their emotions?

Emotional beings

God created us to image and reflect him. One of the ways we image God is in our emotions. God feels emotions such as love, joy, peace, jealousy, anger, and sadness (see Exo. 34:14; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 5:5; John 11:35).  When we feel joy at the goodness of God, we image him. When we feel righteous anger at the effects of sin in the world, we reflect God. 

But unlike God, our emotions are not holy and perfect. The influence of our first parent’s sin is felt far and wide, affecting even our emotions. Bad things happen. People get sick and die, and we mourn their loss. People hurt us. Frightening things happen in the world around us—disasters, pandemics, violence, and more. We hurt others in our selfishness and pride. All these situations are the result of sin, and they all produce emotional responses within us. Sometimes we respond in sinful ways to the pains of life. Often, our emotions exaggerate or distort the truth.

In discipling our children, we often focus on teaching them things they need to know or do and overlook the fact that they are emotional beings and need discipleship in their emotions as well. Our children are often overwhelmed by the difficult and painful emotions of life in a fallen world. They feel big feelings and don’t know how to navigate them. They need our help to understand what they are feeling, why they feel that way, and what to do with those emotions. 

Helping our children with their emotions

As parents, we can disciple our children in their emotions. We can walk beside them in their sadness, fear, and disappointment. We can use these opportunities to teach our children about the God who made them as emotional beings. 

Here are three things to teach children about their feelings: 

1. Help them learn to identify and verbalize their emotions: Children don’t automatically know that the tightness in their belly or the pounding of the heart means they are afraid. They need the words to describe it. We can help our children gain a vocabulary for naming their emotions. We can describe our own emotions, “We are running late to our appointment, and I’m worried we will miss it.” “I am feeling frustrated because my computer isn’t working today, and I can’t get my work done.” We can also point out to them their emotional responses, “You seem worried about your spelling test today.” “I see that you are crying. Are you feeling sad because _____?” “You’ve been in your room all day. Are you feeling lonely since your friend moved away?”

2. Help your children learn that emotions aren’t bad in themselves, it’s how we respond to them that can be sinful: While emotions are not always an accurate indicator of reality, they do tell us something is wrong. They reveal something is going on in our heart that we need to pay attention to. And while they aren’t bad in and of themselves, we can respond to them in sinful ways. Feeling hurt and rejected by a friend is a normal response to the unkindness of others, but it’s not right to then turn and yell at a parent or sibling. We need to help our children understand how painful emotions originate in the Fall of man, how sin affects all that we feel. We also need to teach them godly responses to those emotions. And as they mature, we can help them learn to identify the thoughts, desires, and beliefs that influence their emotional responses.

3. Help them learn to lament to God what they feel: We all want to hide from difficult or uncomfortable emotions or simply pretend they aren’t there. As adults, we might eat a gallon of ice cream when we are stressed or upset. We might keep ourselves busy with work to distract ourselves from the things that bother us. Children might respond differently than we, but they still have a natural tendency to want to protect themselves from uncomfortable and difficult emotions. 

Our God is gracious and has provided a place for us to go with our emotions: the book of Psalms. In these words of prose, we find all the emotions of life. Specific psalms, called laments, give voice to the especially hard emotions of life. We see the godly voice all their sorrows, fears, and cares and realize we are not alone. These psalms have a particular form and structure we can follow which help us bring our own laments to God. And in teaching our children to lament, we help them learn what to do with their difficult emotions. We teach them to cry out to God and tell him how they feel. We teach them to turn to him and ask for help with their troubles. We teach them to see God as their refuge, shelter, and deliverer in all the cares and trials of life. In this way, they develop the spiritual habit of turning to the Lord with all their big emotions. 

Our children are emotional beings. They feel big things. As parents, may we disciple our children in their emotions, teaching them to tell God how they feel. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me” (Ps. 77:1).

This piece is inspired by Christina’s new book: Tell God How You Feel: Helping Kids with Hard Emotions. For a sample of the book, click here

Christina Fox

Christina Fox is a counselor, writer, retreat speaker, and author of several books including A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament, A Holy Fear, and Tell God How You Feel.  Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24