Although children may not seem significant, and training them may seem like just another detail in life, the topic of training children is one of the very most important. How effectively children are trained and disciplined will make or break entire nations. It is indeed the discipline of parents that is by far the most effective means of building character in children.
It is sad to see how little thought is often put into training one’s children. There is an increasing trend to send children to daycare, so that both parents can enter the workforce. For most of the day the child is left with no one that truly loves them in a close parental way, rather someone who is hired to entertain them, and cannot give the true love and real discipline the child needs. Meanwhile both parents are busy as priests of mammon, for whom they will not only work, but also sacrifice their children. Daycare may be the easy way, but there is a direct link between the hours a child spends in it and assertive, disobedient, and aggressive behaviour among them.
Another large problem that can occur, but with the stay-at-home parents, is where they think they can simply punish their child when he does wrong, and that if they do this he will grow up with good character. The punishment will help, but this is only one piece of training a child up correctly. What often happens is that as a child is punished consistently for their wrong behaviour, if this is the extent of the discipline, you will have a child that learns to obey simply because he is forced to, though he internally will often internally harbour rebellious attitudes towards parents that externally explode in teen years.
The solution is a holistic and intensive approach to training children in which the parent will not be satisfied until the child has his internal heart-attitudes conformed to the manner of Christ. There is a difference between behaviour and heart attitudes. While punishing a child for misbehaviour will greatly help them in behaving rightly, punishment alone can never change a child’s heart attitudes, and this is why so many seemingly well-behaving kids fall away from Christ and good morals as teens and young adults. Because once they are free from the threat of punishment, they have nothing restraining them from expressing the desires of their still-corrupt and self-seeking heart attitudes. So parents first of all must commit to more than creating well-behaving children. The true success is where you gradually train a child to the point in which he behaves with good morals and wisdom out of his own nature, rather than out of fear of punishment.
II. Differing Personalities.
Part of God’s interesting design in humans is that we each have different personality types that we are born with. The problem is that since the fall of man, every personality became distorted in many ways. There are two main characteristics that come since birth in all personalities. They are selfishness and living by purely fleshly desires. These are the general aspects of the sinful nature common to all from birth. There are more specialized aspects of the sinful nature that come far stronger against each specific personality type though. Intellectuals often inherit pride and selfish-ambition, aggressive/zesty types inherit rebellion and anger, extra sociable persons inherit laziness and compromise, etc. so it goes with each unique personality type that they not only gain unique good traits and good abilities, but they also grow up with unique aspects and parts of the sinful nature which will hinder them greatly if not dealt with. It therefore is necessary that parents identify which aspects of the sinful nature their child was born with, and ruthlessly root it out of their personality before they reach their teen years where they will greatly manifest whichever sinful traits they still carry.
As one roots out the sinful tendencies ingrained in the child, they must take care not to remove the wheat with the tares. One example of this is in the aggressive personality. A major corrupted aspect of their personality is the sin “rebellion,” so the parents can expect the child to gain great pleasure from simply disobeying, regardless of the command. If you tell them to stay away from broccoli and not to touch it, they would gain pleasure from disobeying and eating the broccoli, regardless of whether they actually like the taste or not. It is the simple act of disobedience that thrills them. The correct way to deal with this type, is to first of all, not tolerate any rebellion against the parents whatsoever. They must not be allowed any rebellious behaviour whatsoever, and it must be disciplined immediately. They will have to learn to express their aggressive personality in a controlled and positive way, rather than in rebellion and anger. Rather than try to make him passive and docile, the parents need to help them by assisting them in finding positive ways of using their aggression. Sports and exercise are one possibility for this, not only providing enjoyment, but also building health in the child also. Even within each main personality type, each child is different, and will have slightly different enjoyments and bents, so only the parents themselves can fully get a feel for what works best for their child.
Another common personality is the sociable people-person child. Most people with this personality are born strongly with the “worldliness/compromise” and “laziness” aspects of sinful nature. The parent must make special effort to train them in standing up for what in right, and not following a crowd since this will be the downfall in their teen years if their fear to stand up for their beliefs is not dealt with. They will be the ones that tend to go to all the drinking parties (or bring the party to their own house when parents are gone!), because they feel compelled to appease their friends. Much of the problem can be solved by the parents simply showing love and affirmation to their child, so that she does not become deluded into thinking that acceptance only comes from peers. She will then be able to enjoy friendship with many people, but not become dependant on them for affirmation and self-worth. She will then be able to refuse sinful activities with her friends because she is not chained to them for her identity and self-worth.
It would take far to long to examine each of the personality types, and the specific aspect of the sinful nature they were corrupted with, however the parent should be able to know which problems their child is likely to have, by recalling their life experiences with those of similar personality and their problems they struggle with. Parents must take note of which sinful attitudes their child struggles with most (pride, fear, anger, unforgiveness etc.), and persistently and consistently work at removing the sinful attitude, and replacing it with the opposite attitude. Persistent prayer is essential in this, since it is God who imparts the fruits of the Spirit to us, and it is He who works on the heart.
III. Ages 1 - 5, and the unique training they need.
Though it might not seem very significant, the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative of all.These years are where the child learns the most basic rudiments of obedience, and it is usually confined to carrot-and-stick principle, and only the most basic of teaching. The parent must realize that children do not start out perfect and then “become” corrupted by the world, but rather they are all, each and every one, born automatically carrying a great deal of corruption.
In the first year, most of the training a child can get is confined to simply being shown love and attention by the parent. Early on when a child disobeys something the parents tell him to do, he will not have done it for the sake of rebellion, but rather simply because he knows no reality other than his own selfish interests. Saying “No!” in a firm voice is the best you can do at this age. Sometime between the age of one and two though, he will begin to gain pleasure from the simple act of disobedience. This sinful attribute is only heightened in children with the aggressive/independent personality. The point at which this rebellious attitude emerges of gaining pleasure from the act of disobedience itself is the point at which corporal punishment should be applied. You will be able to see the transition by watching the attitude of the child as he disobeys. There will be a rebellious smirk on his face that cannot be hidden (they cannot hide their emotions when this young). The sooner this attitude can be caught and punished the better it will be for the child. One must never find this rebellious misbehaviour humorous, even if it is in a very insignificant matter he is disobeying in. If the child is found in the cookie jar, even if it is humorous to the parent, they must keep that humour to themselves and behave with complete firmness, or they will only be encouraging the child’s disobedience.
There is no excuse for being slack at training one’s children in these early stages of their life. These years are the best opportunity to pluck out the seeds of rebellion before they begin to take root and become part of the child’s permanent character. The parents must ensure that they are not simply disciplining the child only when he disobeys enough to aggravate them, but that rather they are disciplining him each and every time they see him disobey. Of course parents must also be careful especially at the first few years that they only give the child commands that are really necessary, and do not overload him with trivial details like a Pharisee.
Not only in this early age excellent for disciplining the rebellion out of the child, it is also crucial for developing attributes such as intelligence, social skill, and self-assuredness. In the first two years of a child’s life, the amount of neural connections their brain develops can increase or decrease by a factor of up to 25%, simply by the environment the parents provide their children with. If these neural connections are not developed in these first two years, there is never another opportunity to develop these skills and attributes in such a powerful manner. Of course the rest of his life the child will be able to improve somewhat, but if the early growth period is missed the opportunity for it will never come again. It is therefore essential that parents provide their children with an environment where they first and foremost show love and attention to the child. This love and acceptance will be permanently imprinted on their soul for the rest of their life, and they will have far less of a chance of struggling with social acceptance and peer-pressure as they mature. Another thing to know is that neurons that represent the sounds to make words are hard-wired into a child by the age of one. The more words a child is exposed to in his first two years determines the capacity for vocabulary the child will be able to hold as they mature.
So it must be remembered that the goal of training children extends beyond making them obedient, and even beyond giving them good morals. It also includes giving them good skills, and putting them in an environment in which they are able to develop their natural abilities to the fullest.
IV. Ages 6 - 9, and the unique training they need.
Once the child reaches the age of six, he makes the transition to becoming a school child. This bring large changes and challenges to parenting. First of all, this is the age where the child first learns to truly socialize. The problem with this is that just as he tripped and fell countless times while learning to walk, he will also trip and hurt himself many times while learning to socialize. Most of the bullying in schools also occurs in the early grades since almost all the children are still quite selfish and socially inept.
Part of the training for this stage of the child’s development is to prepare him before it happens. The child should be exposed to regular socialization outside of the family especially in the ages of four and five, so it will not be so much of a shock once he hits school age. This is especially important with shy kids and introverted children that are born with less desire to socialize.
Parents can greatly help their children in learning Christlikeness, by teaching them practical kindness to others. One way to do this is to teach them about how it is better to do good things for others, than to get good things for yourself. The child should then be required to think of three kind actions to do to either a parent or sibling. Once the child does these the parent should praise him for it, and say “didn’t it feel good to make them happy?” and be rewarded and encouraged in it. Parents should tell the child that he will be rewarded if they see him make a pattern of kindness to others. Eventually after much prayer and practical training such as this the child should have a much better and less selfish heart.
It is not only intentional disobedience that must be punished (though that is most important) it is also unintentional or forgetful disobedience. An example of this would be if a child forgets to do their chores. They may not have been trying to wilfully disobey, however this is no excuse. By leaving unintentional disobedience unpunished, attitudes of laziness and carelessness will be bred. Therefore it is necessary that as they improve in their capacity to handle tasks effectively, they should be held to greater account. Means other than spanking should be sought to punish unintentional disobedience, unless in becomes a recurring pattern in which case spanking will prove most effective.
One major problem in modern times is the gross overuse of television by children. Unlike other forms of recreation, when children watch television they use no skill and gain no skill. When children see all of the exiting and fast-paced things on television it makes real life seem very boring to them. They will also get frustrated attitudes. There is also a direct link between childhood television viewing to attention deficit disorder. As a result it is wise to either do away with television altogether, or else severely restrict the hours and channels allowed them.
As the child goes through the school stage of life, the child will learn much from just talking with their parents about life. The school-aged child is much more developed in ability to converse, and so the parents should take advantage of this, and make sure to have conversation with their kids not only when telling them what to do, and day-to-day things, but also about their desires, grievances, and what’s on their mind. Not only can they then impart wisdom to the child, it also shows the child that they really are interested in his life, and not just in making him obey.
Perhaps the most important part of this season is the way the parents present God to the children. The way a father behaves to his child will pattern that child’s mind towards how he thinks about God. If the father is never home, the child will grow up seeing God as distant and afar off. If the child grows up in a permissive home, he will usually have very little reverence for God. So a large part of the spiritual training of a child is to simply be a godly man. In terms of the other aspect of training, a child should be introduced to words for God when he is still in his crib. This means that parents would do well to hold devotions in the same room the crib is in, thus not only introducing God to the child’s vocabulary, but also into the child’s subconscious mind. A child will be able to know a few things about God before they are six, but this is the age where the parents can begin to go deeper and teach more and more simple items of belief to their child. It is easy to train the child in this way. Just asking questions like “do you know who made the whole world?” seeing his curiosity and then telling the genesis story to the child. He may need to hear repeats of the same story before he remembers in permanently, but it is well worth it. In the biblical days, God specifically commanded monuments, feasts, and various other cultural items to be established, so that when the children asked the reason for it, the parents could tell them about God. So we should also take this as a divine mandate to teach our kids in the faith early on, taking advantage of every question the child asks.
As can be seen, training a child is a far more complicated subject than simply spanking him when he disobeys. There are the unique needs of each different personality type that must be taken into account. There is the necessity of not just making a child behave well externally, but rather transforming a child’s core heart attitudes to be as Christ-like as possible before they reach the teen years, thus impacting their external behaviour as a result. Besides this, there is the unique needs and challenges that children bring at the different age groups also. All in all, it is a very complicated and diverse subject, but it does not need to be confusing. By making family a priority, parents can easily train any child to be Christ-like and not rebellious. And much of doing this is by the parents modeling it themselves.