Child Rearing: Building the Right Foundation
Countless books have been written offering advice on child rearing. Bookstore shelves are full of them. Some approaches to rearing children are at opposite ends of the spectrum and give conflicting and contradictory advice. Where can we find sure, sound information to guide us in this crucial responsibility?
The Bible has much to say about this all-important subject, and parents should look to its pages for guidance. What should be our fundamental approach?
Our attitude toward our children is perhaps the single most important consideration in proper child rearing. Do we really love our children? Do our words and actions show our children we love them? Will we, and do we, sacrifice for them? Do we make time to show we care for them?
There is no substitute for time spent with our children. Our time is our life. To our children, our time with them is life.
A parent who provides his children with plenty of material possessions but little personal time is missing a vital point. Children do not equate the parent's time on the job working to provide for the family with love for them. They think it means Dad doesn't like to spend time with them. Our time is the most valuable gift we can give to our children, especially quality time interacting and conversing with them.
Without a foundational approach of love, little that we can do in rearing our children will produce the favorable results we want to see: mature, responsible and caring young men and women.
Words and actions leave lasting impressions
All parents at times become frustrated with their children's behavior. It is easy for a father or mother to convey the impression that he or she doesn't love the child. Some parents, by means of angry, frustrated reactions and comments, make their children feel they are worthless or that their parents despise them.
Parents must carefully consider the impression their words and actions make on their children. They may be upset about only one negative trait or action, but make the child feel as if he is an altogether bad person. It is essential that parents control their anger when correcting a child and that they make the specific behavior, action or attitude for which the child is being punished perfectly clear.
The apostle Paul offers this instruction to parents: "Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger—do not exasperate them to resentment—but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, Amplified Bible).
In other words, parents should be sure their children know, even when they are being disciplined and corrected, that they are loved. This is not to say parents should never display anger, but that it must be obviously directed toward the child's misbehavior. It should always be controlled and brief. God Himself becomes angry at times, but He doesn't lose His temper, and He always has a righteous purpose for His indignation and resulting actions.
When children know they are deeply cared for and that correction from their father or mother grows out of concern and is in their best interest, such discipline will not provoke them to anger and rebellion.
On the other hand, statements that a child perceives as painting him and his character and attitude as worthless makes him feel rejected and can eventually lead to rebellious behavior, damaging activities and even running away from home.
If a parent tells his child he's no good, the child soon will start believing it and living up to that reputation. To show active rather than passive love for our kids, we must extend sincere compliments and praise when they're due. This reassures our children they are loved and appreciated.
Parents' responsibility to teach
Another essential ingredient in proper child rearing is actively teaching right values and behavior. God emphasizes this parental responsibility: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
This does not mean just formal, classroom-style teaching, although such teaching is appropriate. The instruction God gives inspires practical, down-to-earth learning and application of God's way of life while we go about our daily activities.
This kind of teaching requires much more than a once-a-week session at church services. It must be a regular practice, all week long. Such teaching should become a way of life.
Children, of course, quickly perceive whether their parents practice what they teach. Therefore, the parents' example may be the most important teacher of all. Parents must do the things they teach. Nothing is more ineffective than for a parent who uses foul language to correct his child for using similar language. How can a parent teach responsibility if his own actions are irresponsible, if they bring needless hardship on the family?
Our example greatly influences our children. They are quick to pick up on inconsistencies. They consider how fair we are, how much information we seek before making a decision, how we treat their friends, how courteously and respectfully we deal with other family members and all those with whom we come into contact. They especially watch whether we live up to what we say—particularly if we are judgmental of other people on those same issues.
The need for discipline
An important part of teaching is discipline, which can involve punishment. This is a controversial subject in many societies, with strong opinions on many sides of the issue. Some parents believe in corporal punishment; others are dead set against it. Governments, too, enter the picture, with some countries going so far as to outlaw spanking or paddling. The educational system is a major additional factor in this ongoing debate. Corporal punishment has virtually disappeared from many public schools.
Keep in mind, however, the various ways to punish or administer discipline. Verbal correction, removal of privileges, restricting freedoms and adding extra chores are a few. Sometimes such methods work well, and some may be more effective with one child than another. Some children are more sensitive and respond to scolding. Others require bolder steps to teach the lesson. The result is the important thing. A godly principle is to use only as much punishment as is required to achieve the desired result.
Taking a cue from God's discipline
Consider that God chastises Christians out of love for them. Notice Hebrews 12:5-11: "And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—'My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.'
"Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
"For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11, NRSV).
The preceding passage from Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3:11-12, comparing God's correction of us as His children to human parents disciplining their children out of love and concern for them.
These verses teach us several vital principles regarding discipline. From them we learn: (1) God disciplines in love, (2) discipline is not rejection but part of our maturing and growth, (3) discipline produces respect, and (4) discipline produces good fruit and righteousness.
The Greek word for "discipline" in the passage in Hebrews includes the concepts of education and training, corrective guidance and corrective punishment. Proper child rearing involves all these elements of training.
Another biblical principle that parents should consider when evaluating discipline appropriate for their children is expressed by the apostle Paul. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:1-2).
Parents should understand that some disciplinary practices recommended in Scriptures may be restricted by local, state or national laws.
Two aspects of proper training
Another verse we should consider in dealing with our children is Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." We can draw an obvious, direct conclusion from this observation, that proper training will pay off in the long run.
It is normal for most children to grow up with, and ultimately adopt, values and standards similar to their parents'—that is, if the parents do a reasonable job of bringing them up. Sometimes, especially when their children are teenagers, parents feel as if they're not getting through. They may wonder whether all their efforts are wasted. But experience shows that if they stick with a good game plan they will eventually realize the desired results.
Some Bible scholars offer an alternate explanation for the intent of this verse, that "the way he should go" refers to each child's ability and potential. The root word for "way," they note, also has to do with the inclination of a tree, which can break if one tries to rebend it. They also note that the original Hebrew wording refers to "his way"—the child's way—rather than "the way."
With this in mind some would translate the verse, "Train up a child according to his bent, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." In other words, wise parents should recognize the aptitudes and interests of each child and train him to best use his abilities to reach his potential.
Whether this is the intended meaning, it represents another valid approach. Parents should enable their children to develop their natural talents and abilities. Too often a father or mother will attempt to force children to do the same things they do or to be what they are. Sometimes parents want to live vicariously through their children as they push them to achieve what they wanted to do but couldn't. We need to recognize our children's distinct God-given abilities, then work to help them fulfill their potential.
A blessing and responsibility
God's Word tells us children are a gift, a blessing from Him. Being a parent is perhaps the greatest responsibility we can have in this life, and it can bring the greatest rewards.
We can teach our sons and daughters many things, but we can also learn much from them about life and relationships. If we are effective in parenting, they can even surpass us and achieve more than we. That is truly an honor to any parent and a worthy goal for which we should strive.
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