6 Best Ways to Model True Discernment for Your Kids

young boy sitting on couch reading ipad, teaching discernment to kids

The ability to discern between good and evil is something all believers should be teaching the next generation. We cannot get distracted by giving our children good things that we miss the opportunity of teaching them what is good. We want them to find the blessings that come from seeking first the kingdom of God instead of the woes that come from living a life that cannot judge between light and darkness. Isaiah 5:20 warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Fortunately, God did not leave us to instruct our children alone. Godly wisdom comes through soaking our hearts in Scripture. God’s word seasons us with the truth we need to navigate the lies.

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  • dad having a talk with his son

    1. Use discernment in your own life before trying to teach others.


    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

    A discerning individual will always be willing to judge and search their own heart for any offensive way before they seek to look at, and call out, problems with the rest of the world. We must see clearly to evaluate what is true. Only then can we invite our children into practicing a life that can critically decide between trash and treasure.

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  • mom praying with her daughter

    2. Model a life of faithful prayer.


    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

    Anyone who has lived a life of wisdom and discernment knows the importance of prayer, but because it is something often done in private we need to make sure our kids are aware of our prayer habits. When we intentionally model behavior for the benefit of our children, it is not a boastful practice to explain how spiritual disciplines are woven into the fabric of your life. When you ask God for wisdom to know what is right and what is wrong, or even what is good and what is great, invite your children into your process of deciding, including how you talk to God about the decision.

    This is one of the most important reasons we go to God in prayer, so He can give us the right understanding of what to ask for and which way to go.

    Don’t forget to ask God to give your children discernment, and teach them to ask for it themselves. If you aren’t sure where to start, Solomon’s ask of God in 1 Kings 3:9 is a great example: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” 

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    3. Show them what it means to take the narrow path.


    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

    As adults, we know the torture that can come from taking the road less traveled. The world knows how to make us feel foolish, and friends may even hinder us from following where we believe God is leading. By communicating to our kids that we know what it feels like to experience opposition or rejection when we choose the narrow path, we also model that the struggle is worth it.

    In the book All That’s Good, Hannah Anderson reminds us that we, “may not initially connect the idea of discernment with goodness. For some of us, discernment carries a defensive connotation; we see it as a protection mechanism, a shield against the threats of a dangerous world. But in a broader usage, discernment simply means developing a taste for what’s good.” If we can help our children develop a taste for the fruit growing along the narrow path, they will naturally grow in discernment.

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    4. Help them to examine the fruit of people’s lives.


    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-17)

    Lives and decisions tell stories. When you and your kids witness the bearing of good and bad fruit in people’s lives, there is value in pointing it out so that you can shape your children’s recognition of how actions have consequences. Another way we can help them exercise their discernment muscles is by letting them practice with things they already love. As they age and begin to watch more movies or television shows, ask them how characters are choosing the wide or narrow paths. We use what they know to help them identify if motivations of the characters are based in biblical truth or worldly wisdom. Is it foolishness or righteousness? Selfishness or selfless, sacrificial living?

    Young people need the opportunity to observe the fruit of others’ lives so they know who to trust. Discernment when it comes to evaluating the character of others helps our children to know who to let in close enough to influence their decisions. Many of the most devastating moments in people’s lives are when they were forced to feel the bite of betrayal from wolves that looked like sheep, and we want our children to be able to tell the difference.

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  • girl holding bible with eyes closed

    5. Teach them to live out authentic faith.


    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-22)

    There is no greater good than God, and without tvhe Spirit of God, our children will always struggle with knowing and walking in his ways. We keep a close eye on our children’s spiritual development, because we know that some children who are raised in the church can develop a shallow faith that appears righteous on the outside but is not pure at heart. This passage of Scripture can strike fear into our hearts, but if we know God, we will not follow in the ways of evildoers. So we model discernment for our children by seeking to know and love God and help them understand the differences between authentic and counterfeit faith.

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  • young woman reading bible looking peaceful and thoughtful

    6. Teach them to practice what Jesus teaches.


    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” (Matthew 7:24-26)

    We cannot overemphasize how being able to judge what is true and worthy comes from trusting and obeying the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the word of God, “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Knowing the word will also enable us to better judge between right and wrong. Jesus is clear that when we do what he says we will have ground to stand on in the storms of life, but we won’t know where that ground is if we don’t cling to his instruction.

    Choosing to follow Jesus means to choose a lifestyle of wisdom. Our children need to see us make the choice to know God’s word and run after God with all we have—the choice to live with a heart that stays so close to Jesus that it knows every decision must be made from the rock on which we stand. To model discernment, we must build our lives with it, admit when we lacked it, and seek Jesus to give us more each and every day.

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    Chara Donahue is a co-author of the Bible study 1, 2 & 3 John: Experiencing Transformation and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God's truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. She is also the host of the podcast The Bible Never Said That, which you can listen to on LifeAudio.com. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.