All of us have come in contact with children at some time or another, and we know that a child is a most valuable possession.
If a group of people are out in a wooded area exploring its beauty, and a child strays from the party of people and gets lost, immediately they spread out over the hillside and search every spot hoping to find the child. The beauty of the woods doesn’t seem so impressive any more. All attention now is focused on the search for a blue-eyed little girl—maybe less than two years old, and perhaps weighing less than thirty pounds. But even though she is young, and still only very small—she is much more precious than all the vast bulk of mountain that was being admired only a few minutes before. The little girl is a human being. She can love and laugh and cry. She can sing and speak and pray. The mountain can’t do those things. The child is a living soul, and therefore is a very precious possession.
Good homes don’t just happen. They are the result of some careful planning and thought and discipline and prayer. It doesn’t matter whether our house is a cabin on a hill, a cottage by the roadside, a farmhouse in the middle of an open field, or a mansion on the boulevard—it can either be a bit of heaven on earth or a bit of hell within four walls. It all depends on how faithfully we discharge our obligations.
The Christian home is intended to be far more than a boarding house with a lunch counter. It is to be more than a place to eat, sleep, and grumble, and take a bath a couple times a week. It is more than a filling station for the day and a parking place for the night. Your home is intended to become headquarters for the spiritual training of your children.
There are at least three elements involved in the training of children, and the first of these is the need for diligent teaching.
1. Diligent Teaching
The families of Israel were commanded to teach the Word of God daily in their homes. The Bible says, “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). This teaching is not to be an occasional or a sporadic thing. It is something to which we must give constant attention. There are many concepts related to diligent teaching.
a) Start very early.
Half of all growth in human intelligence takes place between the ages of one and four. During these early years, habits are formed and basic rules of life are learned. If you can’t make a five-year-old pick up his toys, you probably will not be able to control him when he is fifteen. There is a critical period during the first five or six years of a child’s life, when he can be taught proper attitudes, and if you miss the opportunity of those years, his openness to receiving instruction will likely never return. While there may be hope for a straying teenager through much persistence and prayer, it is much better to instill proper values into children at an early age.
b) Teach with love.
The instruction of the Bible is, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). This is an admonition against constantly nagging. Parents must discipline children, but parents must guard against nagging at children continually, lest they be made to feel they can’t ever do anything right. The duty of the parent is not only to discipline, but also to bring encouragement. It is helpful to praise the child for a task well done whenever you can. Commend your daughter by saying, “You did a good job cleaning your room this morning.” Or, say to your schoolage son, “Your handwriting on that language paper was really well done.” Most of us will bend over backwards to please someone who praises our efforts; we feel defeated in the presence of those who are frequently critical of us.
Another way to show children that we love them is to spend time with them. Don’t merely do things for your children; do things with them. One father said, after spending an evening playing softball with his children and with a few of the neighbor children (his muscles were aching and his back was sore), “I would sooner have a backache tonight than a heartache later on.” That man was a wise father. Thousands of children get everything they want except their parents’ time and attention. Don’t pity the child who doesn’t have a new bicycle, or whose parents cannot afford an encyclopedia. Rather, pity the child whose parents don’t take time for a family picnic, or a walk in the woods, or a day at the zoo.
Parents should have a regular play-time and a story-time with their children. Cultivate the art of spending time with your family.
c) Teach a knowledge of the Bible.
Training in the home is constantly taking place. Informally, everything we say, and how we say it; everything we do; everything we leave undone—all these things are teaching our children. Formally, one of the ways to teach our children in a planned and structured way, is to conduct brief regular daily family worship periods. Some of the most cherished memories of my childhood are the memories of those times when my parents would call us children together, and my father would get his Bible and read from its pages, and then we would kneel together for a brief period of prayer. This little worship period only lasted five or six minutes, but it was diligently observed every day.
In too many homes, the things of the Lord are almost completely ignored during the week, even though the family may faithfully attend church services every Sunday. Parents must take time in the home to memorize Scriptures together, and to read good books to the children—and in this way plant a knowledge of the Bible (and of other wholesome literature) in the minds of children.
We found that memorizing Scriptures was made easier by choosing verses that begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet. For example, for the letter “a” one can use Proverbs 15:1 (“A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger”), and for the letter “b” you can choose to memorize Ephesians 4:32, (“Be ye kind one to another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”), etc. Write the verses on a large piece of cardboard and go over the verses while gathered around the table for the evening meal. Place them on small 3×5 cards and let each child have his own collection of memorized Bible verses. Small children like to collect stones and bugs and leaves; why not encourage them to have their own collection of memorized Bible verses?
d) Teach children immediate obedience.
Obedience is the cornerstone of a child’s future character. When you ask that something be done, there should be no questioning, no disputing, no answering back, no delays. When you give a command, let your children plainly see that it is going to be done—and if it is not done there will be immediate punishment. When mother and dad say something, that is the way it is going to be. Or, do your children know that you will repeat the command several times more if they don’t respond? It is just as easy to teach a very young child to obey the first time as it is to get him to obey when told the ninth time—but you have to punish immediately, every time, if a child disobeys.
Some years ago one mother told her pastor this story, and all the while she seemed amused about the whole thing. She said, “Preacher, I have a six-year-old son, and you know, a funny thing happened the other day. He was out in the yard playing. I had his lunch ready; I had it nice and warm; and then I went out and called him and told him to come on in and eat his lunch.”
“But,” she said, “He never paid a bit of attention to me. I had to heat his lunch all over again. I warmed it a second time, and I called him again. I had to warm his lunch three times before he finally came in to eat.”
The preacher said, “Lady, it doesn’t take long to diagnose your case; you warmed the wrong thing. If you had warmed the right thing it would not have taken long for that boy and his lunch to get together.”
One of the reasons why children should not be rotated from one baby-sitter to another, is because there is usually no consistency with the discipline. Mothers of small children should be at home and constantly be on the alert to see that the child obeys immediately.
e) Teach children habits of work.
Every child needs a planned routine of play and rest and work. They need jobs that are suited according to their ages and abilities. Girls should be taught household duties and there are plenty of chores that boys can do. From an early age, children can be taught to “make their own beds,” and sweep up crumbs after a meal. There is nothing that challenges a young person more than to be given a responsibility. Assigned duties teaches children that they are expected to take a job and to do it well.
To fail to teach our children the necessity of working, and to fail to assign them appropriate duties, is cruelty and not affection. Teach your children to work and let them know that money is not something that can be had for nothing.
Training children then involves diligent teaching. Begin early, do it with love, teach obedience, teach the Bible, teach habits of work.
2. Good Example
Another element involved in the proper training of children is good example. Instruction and teaching will not profit much unless it is backed up by the good example of our own lives. Titus 2:7 says that we should in all things show ourselves “a pattern of good works.” A “pattern” is a model or guide for making things. We must live so that we can without embarrassment ask our children to follow in the same path.
If a parent consistently drives an automobile over the speed limit, it is going to be hard to teach a child to respect the authorities of the government. Parents who divorce and remarry are going to have a hard time persuading a child “not to break his word.” A man who takes God’s name in vain is going to have a difficult time convincing his son not to swear. Parents are going to have to live it if they expect their children to live it. Our children see our ways and they observe our behavior, and what they see has a much stronger affect on their minds than what they are told. They know whether or not we are phonies. They are better observers of human behavior than we think they are.
If you pray often you will soon find your child imitating your prayers. If you attend church services on a regular basis, and without always being critical of the church, you can expect your children to follow in attending church. If you gossip, your children will likely gossip too. When your child grows up, he is going to be pretty much like you. Children are great imitators. That is why English children have an English accent, and Scottish children have a Scottish accent, and in the United States, southern children have a southern accent.
Children learn from listening to their mothers and dads, and they try to imitate them. Most children would like to be the man or the woman their father and mother are.
There are little eyes upon you,
And they’re watching night and day;
There are little ears that quickly
Take in every word you say.
You’re the little fellow’s idol,
You’re the wisest of the wise;
In his little mind—about you
No suspicions ever rise.
You are setting an example,
Every day, in all that you do,
To the little boy who is waiting
To grow up and become like you.
The task of training children involves not only teaching and instruction, but also the setting of a good example.
3. Consistent Discipline
A third element of training children involves consistent discipline. Teaching and example are not enough. There must be punishment for wrongdoing.
The child is born with a sinful nature. Every child is prone to evil and almost constantly stands in need of teaching and correction. There is no one method of punishment that is always the best method. The natures of children are so different that what might be a punishment for one, turns out to be no punishment at all for another. But we must certainly disagree with the modern notion that no child ought ever be spanked. Some parents use bodily correction far too often, and far too viciously—but a good spanking not done in heated anger is still the best way to clear up a bitter attitude on the part of a rebellious child.
The Bible advocates firm discipline, and certainly the instruction is proper in Proverbs 19:18, when it says, “Chasten thy son while there is hope (while he is small), and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” And we are instructed further in Proverbs 13:24 with the words, “He that spares the rod hates his son, but he that loves him chastens him betimes (often).” A child who learns respect for authority in the home will more quickly learn to respect the authority of God, and will more likely have proper respect for the authority of the state.
One teacher, teaching in a midwestern town, had two brilliant but unruly young fellows in her school classroom. The one was the son of a coal miner; the other, the son of a local politician. She took as much as she could from the unruly pair of boys, but one day she gave them both a good paddling. She says, “The coal miner father sent me a note the next day saying that I had done a good thing.” She continues, “The other boy boasted that his dad would see to it that I didn’t come back again the next year.” The teacher had taught in the school system for twelve years, but the next year her contract was not renewed. She says, to make a long story short, “The coal miner’s son later became a Senator in his home state; the politician’s son (at the time of her writing) was serving a life-term in a federal penitentiary.” The Bible says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).
A child should not be given a spanking for everything. For example, if Walter is acting silly in the kitchen and he breaks an expensive dish, or he lets his dad’s best saw out in the rain—this is often childish irresponsibility and it should be handled as such. Children don’t act and think like adults. Children at different age levels have differing characteristics. The Apostle Paul says, “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11). There are childish ways of thinking, speaking, and reasoning—and parents must recognize this. Depending on his age and maturity, perhaps Walter should be made to pay for the loss, but a spanking should be reserved for these times when the child defiantly says, “No I won’t” or “You keep quiet” or when he deliberately does something that he has been clearly told not to do.
If you have spanked in heated anger, or if you acted far too quickly, the best thing to do is to go to the child and apologize. Children will respect the authority of parents who are willing to admit that they have made mistakes.
There are several facts about using the paddle that need to be said. 1) God has an ideal place prepared for spanking children. If they are spanked on the bottom, there is not much danger of permanent damage. For example, it is a real mistake to slap a child around the head. 2) It is a mistake to punish a child if he does not know why he is being punished, or if he has not been warned in advance that certain actions will cause him to be spanked. 3) Never threaten a child with a spanking unless you mean it and fully intend to give him that spanking if he goes ahead and disobeys. (Children will usually test you out; they want to trust you; but if you make threats and then don’t carry them out, they are confused.) And please remember that Biblical spanking is not the same as social child abuse. Biblical spanking is done with firmness, but always with careful moderation. The parent who disciplines a child the Biblical way will never injure or cause permanent damage to the child.
Some parents say that their children are so stubborn that it just doesn’t do any good to spank them. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there is a boy or girl anywhere that cannot be influenced by a good sound spanking—if the parents begin early enough, if they are reasonable with their demands, and if mother and dad stand together and agree that the punishment should be given. If you never punish your children you are doing them a grievous wrong. Good, firm, consistent discipline in your home will help your child repent sooner, behave better, live happier, and perhaps be delivered from Hell forever.
When a little child puts his small hand into yours—it might be smeared with chocolate ice cream; it might be grimy from petting a dog; the finger might be wrapped with a band aid. But the most important thing about those little hands is that they are the hands of the future. Those hands will someday either hold a Bible or else a deadly weapon. Those hands will either lead in church singing or spin a gambling wheel. Those hands will either dress a wound as a nurse in a hospital, or tremble because they are controlled by an alcoholic mind. Thinking of a little child in these terms should challenge Christian parents to be as completely dedicated as possible to the task of training their children for God’s glory. No sincere father or mother can look upon a child with all of his potential for sin and for going astray, and not tremble at the great responsibility.
There is a little prayer that should express the sincere desire of every true parent’s heart. It says, “Oh God, great Father, Lord and King, our children unto Thee we bring; guide their feet in holy ways; shine on them through darkest days. Uphold them until life be past, and bring them safely into Heaven at last.”
If you are a younger person who has read this article, and you have never without reservation turned over your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and have never set out to live by the standards of God’s Word—you need to be reminded that the greatest thing in life that any young person can do is to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. Give your heart to Jesus, while you are tender in years, before the winter of life sets in and your heart becomes cold and unproductive. Don’t go out into life alone. Take Jesus Christ with you. You will need Him as you face the trials of life.