“Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
There is a distinct difference between training our children and controlling them. It's easy to slip into control-mode when we believe we have the power to choose our child’s destiny for them. But this approach turns parenting into a joyless, frustrating experience and turns our kid's childhood into a prison of confusion and sadness. As a parent who doesn't always get it right, I am thankful to have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us wise intruction in his word.
God teaches parents to “train” (Prov. 22:6), “discipline” (Eph. 6:4; Prov. 22:15), diligently “teach” (Deut. 6:6-7) and lead their children by example. Children are a blessing from God (Psa. 137:3-5) meant to be trained up in the home and sent out into the world to be a blessing to others. How, then, can we “train” our children in the way they should go? Here a few suggestions we can learn from Scripture:
Pray for your child – We should begin praying for our children while they are still in the womb. We should thank God for them when they are born and continue to pray for them as they grow and mature. Parents ought never to stop praying for their children (1 Sam. 1-2).
Create a godly atmosphere at home – As Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates, faith must be woven into the fabric of our very lives. The home should be an environment of spiritual growth and safety for our child. Children should feel comfortable bringing their questions, experiences, triumphs and defeats home to discuss and process as a family using God's wisdom.
Intentionally lead your child – When family decisions are made with consistency of purpose the family is moving in a direction. It’s not going nowhere. Joshua could not force his children to follow the Lord but he could lead with purpose, sincerity and consistency (Josh. 24:15).
Instill faith in your child – Honesty is always the best policy (Eph. 4:15, 25), no matter the relationship, but especially with children and especially with issues regarding faith. A child’s questions should never be dismissed. Like math class, parents should “show their work" by telling their children what they believe and showing them why they believe it with Scripture. Explaining the faith in an age-appropriate way is not easy but it is necessary. When parents give a one word answer or dismiss their child’s question while expecting them to "just believe" they are indoctrinating and brainwashing their child not instilling faith.
Set boundaries for your child – Warnings are just as instructive as encouragements. Both the victories and the failures are invaluable moments of instruction that condition and strengthen our children to take on responsibility, develop personal accountability and cultivate wisdom. Outlining the Do’s and the Don’ts and enforcing them with discipline will help our children enter into the promises of God later for themselves.
Correctively discipline your child – Discipline is vital in the formation of godly character and habits (Prov. 22:15; 23:13). However hard it might be, we must remember that appropriate discipline is a sign of love (Heb. 12:4-11). Not only should the punishment always be swift and fit the crime but children must know exactly why they are being disciplined if they are to learn the proper lessons from it. This requires having pointed discussions before the punishment is administered.
Reward your child – When children do the right thing, they should be rewarded. It may just be a smile, an encouraging word or a special treat. This can be done without turning them into little Pharisees. Tell your kid you noticed the kind action or word and explain the significance of “walking in truth” and the joy it brings you as a parent (3 Jn. 1:4). It is easy, perhaps especially for fathers, to discourage and provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4). Being quick to give compliments and rewards to our children goes a long way in instilling them with confidence.
Establish a pattern of devotion – Daily worship and Bible study with our children creates an expectation and perception of what is “normal.” When true worship becomes the standard at home then what is done collectively within the congregation is helpful reinforcement. Set aside some time each day to sing, pray, read and talk to your child about the Lord (Deut. 6).
Be on the same page as your spouse – A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25). Children are skilled in playing divided parents against one another if it suits their purpose. But when there is consistency of leadership and Mom’s answer is the same as Dad’s answer then children will quickly learn who is really in charge… not them.
There is so much more to be said on the issue of parenting but we will conclude with one more piece of advice: Listen to older parents. Fountains of wisdom and experience are all around us in the church (Titus 2:3-5). Take advantage of the godly examples around you. Also, to the older Christian parents, if you notice younger parents doing something right, tell them!