Children still need grace

Published 5:08 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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By Nathan Rice

They were all in their bunks after a fun but long day at the campground. The lights were out, and they were all supposed to be quiet. Soon, however, the room began to stir as one of the boys started naming numerous Mexican food items and giving orders to invisible cooks and wait staff. The kids in the room were convinced he was talking in his sleep, but it didn’t seem legitimate to me. I’ve heard many talking in their sleep, and this didn’t seem the same.

Nevertheless, his antics had the room full of elementary-age boys rolling in laughter. “He thinks he owns a Mexican restaurant,” they said, and they laughed every time he said, “Quesadilla.” Sleep wasn’t going to come for a little bit longer.

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I spoke to the one who was talking in his sleep gently in case my judgment was wrong, but I also let him know I wasn’t fooled. Eventually, he calmed down, and the room became quiet.

Soon, however, I heard my name being called by the one who appeared to love Mexican food. I went to his bunk, and he said, “I’m sorry.” He confessed that he wasn’t talking in his sleep and that the laughter of his newfound friends fueled the continuation of his act. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got a lot of laughs, so I kept going. I’m sorry.” The confession and apology were unprompted. It seemed his conscience wasn’t letting him go to sleep before he shared the truth.

I had to decide quickly if he would face consequences for his actions that disrupted the evening and ignored my call to stop. I thought about how he was polite and well-behaved throughout the day and how he was spending a night away from home with people he just met. I knew he must be tired from the fun activities of the day. “Thank you for telling me,” I said. “I forgive you, and I’m glad you’re here. Now, go to sleep and dream of quesadillas.” He smiled and rolled over.

In my last column, I wrote how children still need discipline, but there are times they need grace. There will be times when discipline is necessary and is the proper response, but there will be times when grace is the better answer.

It seems we often go too far to one side or the other. Many parents and children’s workers rule with an iron fist, coming down firm, hard and quick on any slight infraction. They don’t look at the situation around the child’s action or consider what things may have led to the child’s behavior.

Other parents and children’s workers go to the other side, always coming up with excuses for children’s poor behavior. The child is always innocent, and when a guilty act cannot be denied, they refuse discipline in the name of grace.

Neither of these all-in approaches is correct. Discipline is needed, but so is grace. Discipline and grace are not contradictory; they are complimentary. As we work to raise children, we must realize there is a time for punishment, and there is a time for grace. Both are needed.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at