Oh dear... this is a tough question already. We live in a society that wants nothing to do with the word "sin" much less think about what it means. Its a tough one for us parents to tackle too, because it is our heart's desire to build up our children... make them feel good about themselves, and encourage their self esteem. How we fear that telling our children that they are sinners may somehow ruin their delicate psyche!
Take heart dear parents.... this isn't as impossible as it seems. In fact, it is a wonderful opportunity. It is our JOB to raise our kids... which means teaching them about pretty much everything, including themselves. If they don't know themselves, how can they know how to conduct themselves in a fallen world?
My greatest desire is to live forever with my King in heaven alongside my precious children. This means that they need to know that they are sinners. They need to know it, so that they will know their need for a Saviour.
Why am I saying that this is easier than it seems? Because children are not as sensitive as we adults are. They expect to be disciplined when they have done something wrong. And they expect boundaries and limitations and for you to be a parent.
"Sin" in its simplest definition is the act of not doing what God wants. A child can understand this. And it gives us the perfect basis for constructive discipline. Here is how it works:
EXAMPLE 1: My 4 year old son spills his milk on the floor for the UMPTEENTH time today and I have to clean it (and him) up again.
Is this sin? No. Was my child doing what God wants? Not applicable... this had nothing to do with rebellion and everything to do with immaturity and clumsiness. Best solution: bite my tongue, clean it up, and provide more instruction for my little man.
EXAMPLE 2: My 4 year old son wants a toy that my 2 year old has just received from Grandma, so he proceeds to forcibly remove the toy from the toddler and whack him on the head with it.
Is this sin? Yes. Is my child doing what God wants? NO.
So what do I do? Get excited now... HERE COMES THE OPPORTUNITY PART! There will be consequences to my child's actions - let's say its a time out. I go to my little guy's room after he's done his "time" and I talk to him. The conversation will go something like this:
First we will go over what happened, and then :
me: the bible says to be happy with what you have (Hebrew 13:5) and to love your brother (1 John :11) ((and I will show him these verses in a child's version bible (like CEV or NIRV)))
me: when we don't do what God wants, its called sin. can you say sin?
me: God says that because we sin, we have to be punished and that punishment is to die. Isn't that awful?
him: Yes. :( (Its ok for my child to be sad at this point. I want him to be brokenhearted over sin.)
me: But God decided to take our sin away by giving it to Jesus, and Jesus died instead of us. Now, if we tell God we are sorry for our sins and believe in Jesus, we don't have to die. We can go to heaven, the most wonderful place ever. Isn't that great?
him: yes! :D
me: So lets pray together and you can tell God you are sorry and we can say thank You to God and Jesus. :-)
And we'll do that. And we will continue to do that over and over and over, because they will continue to sin (a.k.a. drive you crazy) for what seems like forever, just as we do. When my boys are throwing tantrums, I often wonder if that is what I look like to God??? Probably... oh dear. LOL.
Anyway, pretty soon my son is answering the questions for me and telling me the plan of salvation. And learning to recognize and confess sin. Yay! It only takes a minute, and you can also help them more by telling them what behaviours God would have liked instead, and be truly thankful to our merciful and great God!
Children need limits and boundaries to feel secure in themselves and their world... and by doing this, you are providing the ultimate security... leading them to the God who can and will hold them safely forever.
I'm praising God right now for being so merciful to me. :-)