(some practical biblical advice on training young children)
How does one train his child to be well-behaved? Certainly there are different temperaments that we have to deal with when raising children, but the bible gives us plenty of instruction as to how to normally raise a child. In this article, I want to offer some practical advice concerning training a child to obey.
Genesis 8:21 teaches us that the imagination of a child’s heart is evil. Proverbs 22:15 teaches us that foolishness is bound in his heart. Children are naturally inclined to disobey their parents. God has given parents the responsibility to save their children from destroying themselves in sin. The method that God has given us is discipline. (Prov 22:15)
It is important that parents realize that their responsibility to lovingly discipline their children begins when they are born and ends when they leave home. For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on the early years.
Our children are conceived in sin and have a natural disposition to lie, disobey and rebel. (Psa. 51:5) Babies are born in sin and immediately are inclined to begin ordering their lives around themselves. It is the responsibility of the parents to train their children that there is a certain time to eat and a certain time to sleep. Good parenting involves quickly establishing as consistent of a routine as possible for their new baby. From birth to departure from the home, children need guidelines. These must always be administered with grace, but they must be firmly held to in love. It is the responsibility of the godly parent to begin teaching their children early that the life of the family is centered on Christ.
It is time consuming and exhausting to properly raise children. One the most important lessons that children must be taught is that they must obey. The only way that children learn to obey is if the parent teaches the child discipline and if failure to obey is rewarded with correction. The biblical means of correction begins with spanking, or to use biblical terms beating them with a rod. Of course, this does not mean beating as you would beat a wild donkey. Spankings are to be given with discretion and in love. But they are to be given firmly and consistently. The amount of correction needed depends on the offense.
In the early months of child-rearing, all of the discipline involves routine, including feeding, changing, playing and putting to bed. The parents must be consistent if they are to expect the child to ultimately learn that there are guidelines and rules in the home. Within 6 months of the child being born (some will naturally disagree here), the child will need to begin to understand more punitive types of correction. This will involve mainly a touch and a firm tone in response to negative behavior. Most mothers who breast-feed are keenly aware of the need for this when the child around this age or even earlier get their first teeth. Beards are also a good way to begin training children. When the child is old enough to understand the touch and negative tone, they should be trained to obey. Some gentlemen think it is great to have their beards pulled upon, but when the child gets a little older it is not so funny. (Ok, I am joshing a little here.) The point is that we must take our parenting seriously. Parenting is so much more than discipline, but without discipline our jobs will eventually become almost impossible.
The next stage of correction comes as the child begins to get around a little. This will be between the ages of 6 months to a year. By one year they should be getting around very well and if you haven’t begun to discipline them, parenting will begin to get much more frustrating. Parenting is teamwork and the father should ensure that when he is home, he is actively involved in raising the children. He should help in maintaining a loving atmosphere and a firm hand in correction.
When the child begins to do something that is not permissible, like grab a table lamp or stick their fingers in a light socket, it behooves the parent to maintain a consistent method of correction. Remind them of their former training with a firm touch and a firm tone, saying “NO”! Yelling will never do in the home and should not be permitted. (I only wish I had always kept this rule.) The tongue is a world of iniquity and must be kept in submission to the spirit of God. If the child repeats the negative behavior a firm swat should quickly ensue. Be very careful of using your hand to do this. First of all the Bible does always mention using a rod. (Proverbs 23:13,14) I have investigated this word on a number of occasions and am persuaded that the closest we can get to the instrument in mind is a small wooden instrument. We used a small wooden spoon. A small dowel rod between ¼ and ½ inch and no longer than one foot long would be appropriate in my opinion at this age. A small branch off of a bush with the rough places smoothed off would seem to fit here biblically also.
Normally this will be enough of a deterrent at first even through diapers, but before long the child will catch on that there isn’t much pain associated with diaper protection and will not take it seriously and may in fact take it as a kind of a game. I think the best course here is to remove the diaper and give a swat. I know that most parents will think this is too much trouble. I understand that, but we are required to be good stewards with these children that the Lord has given us and inconsistency will not do. It may be appropriate to swat the back of side of the thigh, but I am afraid that normally we should see that there is a place that the Lord made to be swatted.
The next stage we can guide our children is in remaining still and quiet for a period of time. Around one year old, I would begin having my children start learning to sit still during devotions. I would always have my bible on my lap on one side and the child on the other. My goal was to be able to read a certain portion of scripture with them sitting still. They were not allowed to squirm, get down or cry out. For any of these actions, I would give them a firm “NO” and the second instance would always be followed with a “NO” and a swat on the side of the thigh. This is normally all it took in order to read the few verses I had selected. If it continued, they would receive the same verbal command followed by a swat. After a couple days of being consistent, they would only need rare reminders.
Recently one of the young Christian mothers of our church told me about how she has “blanket time” with her baby. This means that the child is put on a blanket for a certain period of time, just a couple of minutes and they were not allowed to get off of the blanket, throw things or cry out. Each time the child would disobey there would be a swat and the time was gradually lengthened. I heartily commend this mother for her consistency.
That is what it is all about parents. Consistency. If you are not consistent and firm in your discipline, it will not work and will not be a blessing to your child. Laziness is not excuse. Fathers should take the lead in this matter of discipline and help the mother when they are in the house. Fathers are to take the lead in spiritual matters and in matters of discipline. Normally when there are discipline issues in the home it is because of the passivity of the father. Mothers likewise are required to be consistent. The child needs to know clear guidelines as to what is acceptable behavior.
When going to church, we always left our children in the churches nursery until such a time as I thought it was fair to require them to sit still for the required amount of time. This was up to my discretion as I got to know the temperament of the child, but it was normally around the age of two. This was a new experience to them so I prayed for those around me to have patience as I trained them. When I was in the pulpit, I allowed my wife to make her own decision about what she thought she was able to handle. The added benefit to having me in the pulpit of the small churches I was normally Pastor of at those ages was that I could look at the child and sometimes I would even give a verbal command while I was preaching. (the tone was such that they knew they were in trouble after church.)
But there never was a time in church, in our home, during devotions, at the dinner table or otherwise that our children were not clear on acceptable behavior. We had those riotous moments at young ages when one child would throw something from his high-chair across the table, but if this action was repeated it quickly became an action that we did not tolerate. In fact, the only time I remember our children being unhappy at the dinner table was when I was sinfully responding to some issue and would bring it to the table. I can’t tell you how deeply I regret those sinful times.
It is important to teach children how to behave properly. We could go to someone’s home for a visit and the children would remain seated in their places while we talked and visited. Before the age of two, guests would have to be patient, especially if we were the quests, while we trained our children to be quiet and to sit still. There were times when a limit was obviously reached and we would have to retreat to a separate room where the child usually came back from quietly sobbing. When this was in restaurants it was always encouraging when coming back from the rest-room or car to get stares from those in the restaurant who did not believe in discipline and would frown, while others may knowingly nod their approval. But we are required to be consistent and the place where we are should matter little. Our children profited from correction and began enjoying gathering with others. In fact, at early ages, they learned that there would come appropriate times when they could actually engage in the conversation and be a part of the community. Engaging socially was something that was first learned in our home and around quests. The only way that this is accomplished is through consistent discipline.
Perhaps next time I will cover later ages or answer questions some people have.