As parents, we often view ourselves on a different plane than our children. And in fact, we are in some ways. There is a degree of order to the family, an authority structure. The father is the head, the mother his support and second-in-command, and the children subordinate to those authorities. There must be mutual respect between family members along with a recognition of this structure.
However, we must recognize also that in some ways we are entirely equal. We have to remember that children have the same spiritual struggles that we do, just on a different scale. They, too, are humans created from the dust of the ground. Where we may struggle with envy of someone else's house, car, etc., they struggle with coveting their friend's toys or bike. These are the same struggles, at their heart, yet we tend to either minimize those struggles in our children and treat them as though they are lesser evils, or chastise and punish them out of an arrogant, domineering spirit instead of with a humble, relating heart.
Those who minimize their children's sin may think that there is some difference between covetousness in the heart of an adult and covetousness in the heart of a child. But in reality, these minor sins of childhood represent major heart issues that if left unchallenged, will someday become even more obvious, perhaps even criminal. Is there a murderer in the world who was not first a child filled with hate for others? Is there a bank robber anywhere that was not first a little one stealing gum or candy from the store? These are major sins, also, because they magnify what is in the heart. "For out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23).
Those who magnify their children's sin tend to be prideful of their spirituality and family position. They forget that they, too, struggle; that they, too, have hearts that are just as sinful. They are so focused on their children's sinfulness that they forget to look inward.
Both these attitudes -- minimizing and magnifying -- emerge when we forget that we are spiritual equals. We must remember that while we may be father and mother physically, we are spiritually brothers and sisters in Christ! We must come alongside our children in humility and help them in those same struggles that we ourselves may bear, recognizing the fact that all sin represents a heart that is out of order. And yet, we must also not take advantage of our God-ordained authority by acting in a spiritually superior manner. We need to get the "mote" out of our own eye first!
Sin is sin. We are all guilty before God and this should give us both the freedom and humility to gently lead our children "in paths of righteousness for his name's sake," just as our Heavenly Father leads us (Ps. 23:3).