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How To Raise Children (more or less)

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It is not unusual for readers to ask me to write on certain topics. If the suggestions seem suitable, and they resonate with my spirit, I will do the writing. In this case, I am aware that I will be writing on a ‘hot’ topic, because, almost without exception, even Christian parents become very agitated to think someone else is trying to tell them how to raise their children! Well, listen to God instead.

It seems Christians think anything they do ‘must’ be right, and criticism or alternatives are ‘meddling’. They argue that what goes on in their marriage is ‘personal’, and how they raise their children is nobody else’s business. For this reason there are so many divorces amongst Christians, and so many rebellious children who drive their parents (and family and others) to distraction! Are these areas of concern nothing to do with fellow believers? Of course they are!

One thing you can be sure of – if children of Christian parents are not controlled and often go haywire, do you really think no-one else notices? Do you really think the behaviour of your children does not affect everyone else? Do you really think others don’t come to conclusions about the way children are raised, and about the way they are so disruptive? Do you really think fellow Christians don’t talk about your children and talk amongst themselves about how your children should be raised? Try listening to advice, and spread the burden of difficulties.

Children need a steady environment, full of love and yet full of discipline. I do not mean slapping them into submission; I mean parental correction and careful guidance. Children also need firm boundaries. Without them, youngsters become nervous and afraid, but they do not have the understanding to recognise it. So, they run riot, or disobey, or do whatever they wish – after all, they have nothing else to show them the way.

One day, when my eldest was about six or seven, I took him to school. For a reason I can no longer recall, he did not want to go, and as we walked he became quite agitated about going and began shouting angrily. Now, when a child behaves like that you can be sure he is burdened by something, and it comes out as anger and waywardness. As we passed a bus stop, I grabbed hold of him, sat him on my lap, and put my arms around him, holding him tight. I kept him in a bear-hug and he began crying and struggling. So I kept holding him tightly until he relaxed and stopped crying. He did not tell me what was really wrong, but after his enforced bear-hug he was calmer and in a much better mood. So I took him to school and gave him a quick kiss... you know, the kind of thing that makes a child feel embarrassed! But, he knew I loved him and all was well. At the same time he knew he had crossed a boundary and I would not tolerate it. Possibly he was being bullied, or something intolerable to his young mind drove him to be afraid. By hugging him tightly, and by him trying to escape, I showed him firm resolve – that whatever I said was the way to go; I was the boss! Until and when he was able to verbalise his fears, I could only show him proper discipline.

Fortunately, my wife and I always sang from the same hymn-sheet when bringing up the children. There was no favouritism and neither of us yielded to emotional appeals or a sneaky request already declined by one of us! What we said was the path to take, whether or not the children agreed. And whatever we demanded was always (we hoped) reasonable, allowing the boys a bit of space within which to have their own opinions and ways of doing things. As they grew older, so we gave them greater responsibility – but we were always the bosses, though we showed them the way to live with reasoning and biblical truth.

Every child is different with different needs and ways of living. Yet, every child also needs firmness and loving correction, where discipline is essential. This discipline arises from love and care, and is not a way for parents to put pressure on the child, or to be unreasonable, or to be angry. On many occasions I have seen ‘discipline’ as a thin disguise for hitting out verbally. A child needs a firm hand, plus a way of living that oozes love for their welfare.

The Start

The start of a child’s life is not when he is born, or even when he is conceived. It starts with the future parents loving each other. The husband loves his wife and protects her. And the wife loves her husband and looks after him. One of my favourite bits of advice is – always treat the other person as more important than yourself. When a couple sees each other in this way, there is the core of a strong marriage. And when the husband and wife are Christians, real believers who put God first, all is well for the present and the future. Without this oneness there will be discord somewhere along the line. And this discord, spoken or not, will affect any children who come along.

Having a child is not a ‘right’. A child is God’s gift to parents, to be treated with respect, love, and devotion. It is to be brought up in the right way, not as a family accessory. Even before a child is conceived, the couple must be in total agreement on the foundations and desires necessary to have a child. These basics will move forward when a child is conceived, and as it grows in the womb.

A child is a beautiful gift to have and should be a focus of loving attention from BOTH parents. The father cannot take a back seat. Yet, how many couples marry and try to live individual lives, though now married? How many spouses will do and say things because they feel like it, regardless of the needs of the other person? This flies in the face of God’s word in Genesis.

While it is now very hard to just live, and many women have to go out to work, this should not be the main thing to do. If a woman can remain at home to take care of the children, then that is her role, given by God, and it is the foundation for an excellent motherhood. But, how many young women see motherhood as ‘dragging them down’? How many think their own workplace success is paramount, when they have small children? How many think staying at home is somehow a lesser evil, rather than as a tremendous privilege given by God? How many feel angry because they are ‘tied down’, when, in reality, it is God’s will for a mother?

A child is born without malice and evil attitudes. Babies are just adorable! But, never forget one important fact – though a lovely little bundle deserving of love and attention, the child is ‘conceived in sin’ and this inner sin will affect the child throughout its life. So, in spite of great attention and love, it might still grow up and make its parent’s feel deeply distressed. In fact, no matter how much the child is loved, he might still grow into what some might call a ‘monster’. No doubt Hitler was once a lovely little bundle! But, read about his life from birth and you will begin to see how he could possibly have ‘gone wrong’. Yes, each of us is responsible for our own sins, but parents have the very real opportunity to guide a tiny child in the way of the Lord, even before, and if, they become saved.

Sin Starts Early

With a baby, and through childhood, the human being you take care of must be taught what to do. This is a full-time job, every hour of every day and night. It is a huge privilege to bring up a child to its adulthood. Tears and frustrations might come along of course, but the parents must not waver. Nor must they give in to emotional blackmail, or to nasty traits, or, sadly, when there is ungodliness.

A child who appears not to respond to good parenting can usually be changed. In my view, if necessary, a child must be conditioned to do what is good and right, even if it might decide to take another (wayward) path. If distraction does not work, then try the ‘naughty stair’ idea (or any similar action). That is, when the child misbehaves, take him by the hand, or carry him, to the bottom of the stairs. Tell him that this is where he must sit until he acts properly. When he is ready to act properly he must first come to the parent/s and apologise for being naughty. Most children will respond to this conditioning and will calm down and behave. This is no different from taking a child back to his own bed if he tries to snuggle in with you... you keep on taking him back until he is too sleepy to do it again. Of course, he will be kissed and cuddled on the way – but the action must be firm, unwavering, and done for as long as is needed.

Another method is to refrain from giving him what he sees as a ‘given’. For example, watching a children’s programme, colouring his books, or even smoothing a kitten. He must be told that he cannot have these things he loves until and unless he apologises and stops his bad behaviour. The parents must not be angry or nasty, just straightforward and matter-of-fact. BOTH parents. So, every bout of screaming, shouting, or other bad behaviour – take him to the naughty stair (or other suitable place). Or, deprive him of his favoured special treat. Each time be consistent; both must do the same things, and the disciplinary measure must always be the same.

NEVER give anything nice to stop a child from misbehaving! This would be a reward for being sinful! Never shout and scream at a child for not doing as he is told, or for misbehaving, because he will see shouting and anger as the right thing to do to others, or even to the parents. As much as I can remember I never had to shout at my children. Rather, because we were both responding to what our children did or said in the same way, we never felt compelled to slap or shout. This was just a continuation of our resolve to always show a calm face and a reasoned response. We taught this to the children from the time they could understand, and so their way of life was almost a mirror of our own. There will always be odd moments of silliness and naughtiness, but naughtiness must NEVER be laughed at or thought of as ‘cute’. What is ‘cute’ in a toddler will be infuriating and cause of anger in a teenager!

This is why any bad behaviour MUST be nipped in the bud from the start. Remember that what you might call ‘cute’ is actually sinful and will hit you as hard as a brick as the child grows older. School behaviour will change, too, and the child’s attitude to his future will be determined not by parents but by his peers. This is why parental Christian resolve is a necessity, from even before a child is conceived.

This resolve covers all of upbringing. Our sons were never treated to a restaurant, because we were very poor. They were both teenagers when we took them to their first restaurant (and ours!) - a pizza place. Their behaviour was impeccable, because they had to behave at home, too. There is nothing worse than parents taking their children to visit someone, and then allowing them to do what they like. So, those they visit have to grin and gear it, secretly hoping their visitors would leave soon, and their kids do not break anything! Not good at all, and a terrible Christian testimony. Children MUST be told off swiftly, so that bad behaviour does not become a habit.

On the other hand, children must not be put into straight-jackets, to be slapped down for every youthful action or word. I know of one family where the children were so burdened by over-the-top discipline, they ‘went off the rails’ when they became teenagers, with disastrous results. There is a difference between applying genuine godly discipline and kicking children into submission with harshness.

More Can be Said

There is a lot more to say about child-rearing. This paper is just a brief encounter with parenthood... more-or-less. Just remember the ‘naughty stair’ or similar place. And do not allow the child back into your company unless he apologises and stops his bad behaviour. Of course, there are many other paths to take when bringing up a child. The observant and loving parent will learn what to do, and apply a strategy that matches the individual child.

As any older person knows, parenthood is for life. Your baby is STILL your ‘baby’ even when he or she reaches middle age and beyond! And that’s why discipline is needed, for all your sakes. A disciplined child is a happy child. And this we find in scripture. Discipline can also include a strict response, and if it is needed it must be used. It is not love to let a child carry on being sinful. Remember, too, that whether or not you like it, everyone around you will come to their own conclusions on your parenting skills, or lack of them. And everyone will murmur about a child’s continual misbehaviour, though they will not say it to your face! Unless, of course, it is me. As a pastor it is just one of those things I must make comment on, even if my remarks are not wanted or liked, and even when I am loathe to put my head into the lion’s mouth!

Addendum November 2016

Question posted on comments section: Pastor, if parents are new converts to Christ, and their children are rebellious & undisciplined, should the "rod of correction" (Prov. 23:13-14, 29:15) be used to guide a stubborn child. What is the significance of (Prov.13:24) in relationship to this question. Should parents use the rod to correct or as I have heard a popular minister state that the rod spoken here is as the rod in (Psl 23, vs 4) " your rod and your staff they comfort me"...getting spanked in my understand is no comfort...

In answer to the first part – if children are rebellious and the parents are newly saved, often the rebellion is a direct result of faulty, or even sinful, upbringing. That is, the children are merely a reflection of the former values of the parents. In such a case it would be unwise and very foolish to just ‘clamp down’ on the children suddenly and perhaps as an opposite reaction. Such would only drive them to even worse things because, until that time, they have been doing the same things without proper instruction or genuine discipline.

In this case, applying discipline has to be ‘stepped’, so that the new change in parental attitude is clearly shown and understood.

Otherwise, any change will only look like adult fickleness. Children often learn their attitudes and behaviours from observing their parents, but they also learn from their peers – so the challenge is two-fold. There is also the third angle – the children’s own sinful natures.

What is this ‘rod of correction’? (Proverbs). Bear in mind that it is preceded by our own listening to instruction and discipline. This is then passed on by the ‘rod of correction’. Correction means ‘instruction’ in this case and we must not withhold it from the child... who, in the text, can be any age from a babe to a young man (gets complicated, eh?). To ‘beat’ means what it says – to strike, and a ‘rod’ is anything from a stick to a shaft or club, including an ‘official’ rod (today – police action).

In the same time in history, older boys who continued to be rebellious could be taken outside the city and stoned to death! (Note the many vile and violent youth in society today). So, ‘instruction’ is a very serious part of family life.

The idea seems to be to beat a boy as a punishment and as a deterrent, so that he will stop his activities or strong words and become compliant. But not with hate or spite or retaliation. This would then hopefully stop him from leaving this world by death and entering hell. The similar teaching in chapter 29 is about not bringing shame to a family name, by encouraging wisdom.

Now to bring all this up to date. Scripture does not change but we must also live by the law of the land when it does not oppose God’s word. Today we cannot just beat a child. Indeed, I find such a situation repellant. Even so, God’s word remains true. Today, many children are rebellious and refuse to be corrected. This often leads them into crime and violence, and the law is involved.

So, what is the answer? It depends on the age of the child. If the child is a teenager, it might be prudent to advise a social worker, or even the police, if this is warranted. To beat such an older child is to be arrested by police, or even to invite return-violence! But, for Christians there are other ways.

As I have said, parents who have only just been saved, and their children are already growing as the parents allowed, must be ready for a ‘long job’. Let me give a rough ‘time-line’...

Christian parents who have children should bring their children up wisely. Any rebellion must be ‘trained out’ of them with kind, loving but firm words. Even from babyhood. Naughtiness is not ‘cute’ – it is sin. Every sinful attribute of the child MUST be instructed against. A small child who tries to put his hand into a fire must be tapped on the back of the legs, together with a stern ‘No!’ and a turning away from the fire. Hopefully, he will then link a warning with the slight sting of a minor slap given in love. Thus he will not go near an open fire again.
Same goes for almost all childish sins. But, as the child grows up so parents must stop small slaps, and instead start explaining WHY instruction is needed.

In my own life I did this with my boys from the time they could understand speech. I always instructed them in why it was good to do what parents request of them, and why it was also good for their own wellbeing. Beating was not necessary! The minister who said the ‘rod’ is a somehow nice approach is mistaken. The rod means just that in Hebrew! But, it was also an Hebrew teaching, at a time when father’s applied physical rebuke. Today, the law prevents this, so minor taps on the leg or hand are as far as we may go. For myself, if a father beats a child, I would question his motives and heart. Is the beating done in anger – I think so! A child brought up in a loving, balanced, thoughtful and yet strict environment will usually respond properly, if his own views are not ignored out of hand.

The Jesuits, the propagandists of Rome, knew that if they had a child before age seven, they could train his mind to do whatever they are told to do, and such attitudes would remain for life. They were right. That is why sin must be ‘trained out’ of children as it arises, so that every sin is nipped in the bud. It won’t save them, but it will cause them to be wise and circumspect, and not to act badly whether on their own, with friends, or at home.

Yelling is not a good idea either. It displays the anger and frustration of the parent, and can easily escalate an already flammable situation. Keep calm, speak rationally, listen to what the child says. Discuss any consequences while inviting questions and comments. Show the godly way to talk, think and act, and seek cooperation, and ALWAYS disapprove of sin. To alter a child after some years of not being trained in godly ways is a process that can take time; it is not the fault of the child. But, it can be done with patience and a loving heart. There is much more to say, but that is the gist.

© October 2016

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom