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Starting Families Right | Family Commitment | Family Planning | Husband & Wife Roles | Family Health Plan | Preparations for Childbirth | Tender Newborn Care | Challenge of Child Training | Disciplining & Training Small Children | Setting up Godly Routines
The Challenge of Child Training is part #6 of Godly Beginnings for the Family series which shows the importance of training, the need of training and understanding the training of small children.
Something intrigues me about Daniel, the young Hebrew man that was taken as a captive to a distant country. He and several of his noble friends were chosen to compete with others through special training for service to the king of Babylon. By seeking to eat differently than the others,
The rest of the Book of Daniel clearly proves that he was not stupid nor a spiritual ‘loner.’ He became a wise and mighty ruler. We cannot go into the whole story here, but it brings before us a question that we do want to reflect on as parents-to-be or parents with young children.
What motivated Daniel? What made this young man so different? What choices did he make that distinguished him? We have started such a list.
Daniel rejected stooping to self-pity over the loss of his parents, country, manhood and everything familiar. Instead, he embraced the present situation as from God. He refused to be bitter over his losses and chose instead for God to be his most loyal and trustworthy friend.
Daniel refused to compromise his faith for the easy assimilation into the dominating pagan culture.
Daniel discerned the importance of spiritual purity in a very impure spiritual environment.
Daniel exercised self-control by resisting temptation to enjoy the regular royal meals in exchange for vegetarian meals. (Remember young men can really eat!)
Daniel chose to risk the emperor’s special selection by his independent spirit in order that he could remain pure before God.
Daniel resisted intimidation by foreign supervisors in order to do what he sensed was right (persisted with the overseer).
Daniel stood alone in the fear of God. Even his three friends seemed to follow Daniel rather than leading him, though they were of support to him.
When we look deeper into this one decision not to eat the king’s food, we note that there are many variously faceted values that helped shape that decision. It is this subtle but powerful uncompromising purpose of Daniel that God uses to make such an impact on our lives when we read Daniel 1.
What shaped that young man? What enabled him to resist the temptation to compromise and lose a luxuriant and famous career, at a time when he had absolutely nothing, just so he could remain faithful to God?
We might contrast this to one of the greatest fears of parents: “What will my children do when they are away from me?” Hundreds of thousands of these fears are fulfilled each year when children leave home for college or their own apartments and commit themselves to this adulterous world.
Daniel’s life shows us that it is possible to raise a different kind of young man. But we must ask a further question, “How can we raise such young men and women of faith in this adulterous generation?”
When we sometimes ask what we want our children to be, we are usually thinking of what profession or line of work we would hope for them to succeed in. But what good is it if our children gain the whole world and lose their soul? Outstanding characters like Joseph, Daniel and Jesus along with others starkly remind us that profession is a side point when it comes to the necessity of building character. Godly training is everything. Once the godly training is in place, then we can think of profession: a godly businessman, a godly repairman, a godly pastor, or a godly homemaker.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)
Such devotion and dedication does not happen by accident. There is no doubt that part of the influence in Daniel’s life was parental. Only godly parents can raise godly children. Since they were of noble families, then tutors probably also trained them. Our question then, is “How could there be good parents or a good prophet during a time in which Israel had left God?” We find a clue when Isaiah addresses King Hezekiah, the last king before the invasion.
And some of your sons who shall issue from you, whom you shall beget, shall be taken away; and they shall become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon. (Isaiah 39:7).
Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. –Jesus (Luke 21:34-36)
King Hezekiah brought renewal to the dying nation of Israel. There is no doubt that God used him and his influence to train not only his sons but perhaps a few other noblemen’s sons too. He was one of the rare kings who called upon the Lord. Perhaps Daniel and others even had chances to be instructed by Isaiah the prophet. We do not know for sure what happened, but we do know that some significant godly training took place in their young lives.
Godly men are not produced in a vacuum. Daniel was either a son of Hezekiah or a son of another nobleman. The emperor of the Babylonian empire, true to God’s prophetic Word, made these young men part of his advisory board.
So let us ask, how do we inculcate these godly perspectives and attitudes into the lives of our children? This is our holy duty before God. This is clearly the most compassionate thing we can do for our children, that they might find God’s grace. We need to train our children now so that they will be able to withstand this wicked and adulterous age.
Thought: Why would parents want their child to “believe in Jesus” while young or even be baptized but then not follow through with godly training? What will happen to a child so raised? What about all those people out there who are living lascivious lives who once confessed to being Christians when young? (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
All parents start off training in the same way. A little tiny awesome baby lies in your arms. Each is God’s special creation. Your job is to shape them into godly men and women. But because the baby has inherited the parent’s sin nature, he/she has an evil heart that makes the job much more tedious.
Part of the problem is that the foolish heart of the infant is hidden at first from the eyes and understanding of the parents.
The first week or two of the little one’s life so enamor the parents that they start dreaming of all these great things for their precious child as well as for their family. What they don’t know is that the child’s evil heart will slowly begin to reveal and express itself. As the baby grows, he is much better able to utilize sounds, gestures, words and his arms and legs to carry out the wishes of his sinful heart. We naïve parents are shocked that the child doesn’t nicely comply with our good plan.
The scriptures are so clear about the problem and how to solve it. The heart of the child is bound by foolishness. Only the rod will shake him from blindly following his heart. (Please keep in mind that the rod is not used until the child is able to understand how it is connected to his disobedience to the spoken rule.)
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).
Gifts of beauty, intellect and possessions can make training more difficult for the parents. The intellectual are craftier. They have many cute ways to manipulate. The handsome have great struggles with pride. The wealthy have a thousand more ways to get into serious sin than do their poor cousins. But all children equally suffer the same condition of an evil heart.
Godly training does not cure an evil heart, but it shapes the child so that he will be more comfortable with God and His ways. Thus he will more likely seek out God for himself. As he grows the child is aware of its sinful ways and thus knows he needs a Savior. We can see why God exhorts the fathers to be involved in their children’s lives or they will suffer greatly.
"And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
What we do as parents will greatly shape our children’s lives. If we leave them to themselves, they will live as the world. They will live by their sinful hearts and desires. If we train them in God’s way, then this will influence their lives. They will walk in that way.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
Going back to Daniel for a moment, then, how can we get involved in training that produces results like Daniel and his three friends? We have thought much about the main things that children need to learn to gain such moral resolve as Daniel. We don’t want our children to be Daniel. There was only one Daniel.
He was wonderfully set apart with gifts and wisdom that propelled him into high leadership positions. We desire that God would fully bless each of our own children with the gifts, abilities and resources that he or she has. This can only come about if they have godly character.
God decides what gifts He gives to each child. We cannot change that. We are, however, our children’s trainers. If we succeed, it is easy for them to do well in God’s eyes. If we fail, then we make if very difficult for them. In summary, we want our children to grow like Jesus.
And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature (age), and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52)
These words remind us of what is really important. But you might protest, “Jesus was different.” You are quite right. Jesus didn’t have the evil heart that taints our children. Without that evil heart, we can see that there would be a good ‘natural’ growth. We have a special challenge. We need to be aware that our child, as cute as he is, is bent or programmed or wired to do only evil, to live by his own sinful nature. ‘Natural’ things usually only mean an expression of his wayward heart. So how do we train our children who have evil hearts?
Thought: Do you really believe your child needs training? Why? What will happen if you neglect to train your child in one or two areas of his or her life?
The many things that a little baby is learning surprise us. Babies might be small but that doesn’t hold them back from learning at great rates. Training has to do with shaping what they are learning. We want them to learn the right things from their early experiences. We as parents desire that they learn how to overcome their foolish tendencies and live out right decisions even before they know those decisions are right. Besides plain ignorance to our responsibilities as parents to train our children, we face two popular assumptions that oppose child training.
Some parents will protest and think that it is unnecessary to train such little ones. These parents object on the basis that a child is predisposed to being one way or the other. For example, one child is “naturally” fussy but the other quiet. Another example we often hear is that boys are more ‘active.’
Names tend to shape the person. We see this very clearly in scripture where names in both Hebrew and Greek have meanings. As the children grow, we can share with them the kind of person we envision them to be. We don’t ‘push’ it but in a time manner put a thought in their minds This helps them more smoothly fit into the good aspect of their name. Let me give you an example.
My name, Paul, means ‘little.’ It helps me to remember that God delights in using little things in great ways to bring greater glory to His Name.
We agree on the whole that this is true but that only means they need more training! These parents believe that babies will be what they are. And generally they reject training as a whole. They come to a conclusion that they cannot really condition or train their child.
Of course, when it comes down to it, no parent can be completely consistent with this philosophy. Once in a while they must say ‘Stop’ or ‘Don’t do that’ in order to restrain the naughty child. But we view this perspective in another way.
If the child’s nature is so dominant that change cannot be brought about, then why does the Bible speak so clearly about training and instruction? We choose instead to follow the Bible’s teaching and commit ourselves to training the child.
We are not saying that each child does not have its own personality, bent, or temperament. Babies tend to have their own natural dispositions and pool of gifts that consist of strengths and weaknesses. From our own experience it seems that each child has at least one area of strength and one area of moral weakness. Examples of strengths include being sensitive to the needs of others, helpful, orderly, clean, attentive, knowledgeable, insightful, devoted, etc. Examples of weaknesses are fear, doubts, rash, worrier, explosive, sensual, lazy, liar, etc.
A good friend recently mentioned his concern for bringing his baby into this lascivious world. Later he revealed what he was thinking. He said, “What if he is a strong-willed child?” The notion behind his comment is the fear that there is a certain kind of child that cannot be trained. But we need to think about this idea a bit.
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The greatest problem is that people do not think through what a strong-willed child is. It certainly is not a biblical term. Actually, we see that Daniel himself showed himself to be of a strong will. Those that are very self-controlled exert an extreme amount of control over their will power so they can set themselves to do the things that please God. This certainly was not my friend’s concern. His concern was over a child who was strong-willed in doing evil.
But again we need to go back and think what is it that we are really saying. Firstly, let’s admit it is not the strong will that is the problem. We should be thankful for strong wills. Secondly, let us name the real problem. The real problem is that some children do evil. They are spoiled rotten. The problem is not their strong wills but their willingness and ability to do evil. Is there a cure? Sure there is.
The scriptures state very clearly that the rod of discipline chases the folly far from a child. The problem is not children who are strong-willed but parents who will not use chastisement to keep their children from expressing their evil. The more freedom the child has to do evil, the more they go wild assuming they have the right to get everything they desire. This problem develops then not because of a child’s temperament but by the parents’ unwillingness to love the child and care for him by proper discipline and training.
As my wife well summarizes,
“The problem is not a strong-willed child but a weak-willed parent.”
Other parents will reject the idea that children can learn things at such an infant level. True, a baby’s thinking process is not the same as a school-aged child. The learning process is more like conditioning them to respond in certain ways.
We can answer these parents with two thoughts:
1) God tells us to instruct our children. We better obey Him even if we do not understand the process.
2) We have seen the difference between a trained and an untrained one, three, six-month old. The difference is like day and night. Why wait to start training at 1 year when starting earlier makes it easier for both parent and child? Starting later makes re-training necessary (which rarely gets done right in any case).
A child chiefly learns in two ways: imitation and observation. Imitation is obvious. I brought my little 2 year-old girl to say “Hi” to Mom. I saw my little girl make a funny face raising her eyebrows. I wondered what she was doing and then realized that she was imitating my wife whose face I couldn’t see from my position. Children love to imitate sounds, gestures and everything they can. Many parents, however, miss the way that children learn by imitation.
Tiny children also learn quickly from their experiences. They observe what happens in response to what they do. For example, a baby learns that when it cries, a big person comes to see what is wrong, picks him up and says a lot of nice words. The child, through repeating the process, learns how to connect and communicate to the big world bit by bit.
The child needs to learn some very basic lessons to be able to grow in wisdom. Training has two aspects to it. It includes rebuke and discipline to curtail their willingness to respond according to the foolishness bound up in their heart. Training also includes positive exhortation, instruction and encouragement so that they can grow in wisdom. What are some of these positive areas of training? Let us mention five specific areas that need to be developed in young children and some suggestions for how to help them grow in these areas.
We suggest that five of the most foundational things an infant needs to learn are: security, self-control, trust, contentment, and respect for parents (obedience). These elementary concepts are closely connected to one another and will allow the infant to grow properly and learn to love God and others. Please remember we are not speaking about the way an adult learns.
An adult learns by taking in concepts, images, words, ideas, and processes them into useful information by which they make decisions. As stated above, children including infants, learn chiefly by imitation and observation of cause and effect.
You might wonder how security, self-control and the other character qualities have anything to do with what a baby learns from being picked up. A baby is learning what to expect in life from the very situations that he faces. Let’s take a brief look at each of these important things a child needs to learn to become a godly child.
Security is that sense of tranquility about life that enables a child to respond without fear or anxiety to changing situations.
Step by step as the child observes what happens in different situations, he finds that he is okay if he hears either of his parent’s voices. His trust factor is a big key to how strong his sense of security is. Security is also closely related to how contented a child will be.
Security is learned by normal routines and fulfilled expectations about his key concerns regarding wet diapers, being hungry or getting hurt. When something is wrong, he knows from experience that someone will care for him and take care of him in a timely and pleasant manner. The way and attitude of the parent’s response: patient or impatient, fearful or trusting, anxious or calm, greatly shapes the child’s attitude.
Those positive attitudes will generally produce a secure child; the negative attitudes and responses from the parent will generally produce an insecure child. Insecurity develops when the child finds that the help he needs is irregular or when he is older it comes from sensing the possible loss of those that care for him (eg. toddler observes parents quarreling). Therefore insecurity in the child is related to the fearful, anxious impatient attitudes of the parent.
Self-control is the ability to restrain ones own actions, words or desires in order to do what is right.
Because the infant has no self-control the parent acts on his behalf to cause him to bring his will and desires under the benevolent rule of the parent. In this process the baby becomes acquainted with what it means to restrain his actions or will in order to conform to the parents will.
Self-control is gained by knowing the rules or laws, choosing to put ones own will aside and conforming to the rules. As a child gets older, he will internalize these decisions. He will obey even when others are not watching.
This is taught in several ways, but the clearest method at the infant level is simply making sure the child does not get everything he wants when he desires it. This includes not feeding the child when you know he has had sufficient, not holding the baby whenever he is awake and not going to get the crying baby when you know he is okay and should be sleeping.
At the infant level self-control is cultivated by having a good routine. It is enforced by discipline in older children. The lack of self-control is quite apparent when the child is oblivious to the rules about him and merely seeks to satisfy his interests or desires.
We might think self-control would develop only in older children but we can see the contrasts very clearly in trained and untrained babies. Those ‘reachers’ or ‘crawlers’ who are gaining self-control will tend to move more slowly into new situations. They are trying to discern the boundaries from what they already know. “I can’t touch that. I can do this.” He is comfortable with clear boundaries.
Those without self-control are bent on doing their own thing. They rush into situations assuming he can touch anything. Later as he crawls or walks, he assumes he can go anywhere. He will protest loudly when his will is restrained. Self-control is strongly coupled to obedience.
Trust is the ability to believe certain things can and should happen.
Trust, belief and faith are from the same Greek word but have different shades of meaning. A child learns trust through observing what normally happens. They know what can happen by observing what does happen. They try things because they see it being done (imitation). If they don’t see it done, then they don’t try it. Good routines help build up this trust level. Notice how David says that he learned trust.
"Yet thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb;
Though didst make me trust when upon my mother's breasts" (Psalm 22:9).
A child’s faith and expectation are closely entwined and have a powerful shaping influence on the child’s attitude. If the baby in a routine finds that his mother comes for him time after time after he awakes, then he soon has a trust that he will be fed at the right time. Someone is caring for him. He does not need to fear or cry. Instead he can in a satisfied way look at the things around him. A baby with little or no routine will tend to cry more because he doesn’t know what to expect.
Trust is the ability for the child to endure little modifications in his life style and still not be ruffled. The opposite of trust is fear. Fear also has a strong shaping influence. If the mother responds with anxiety, impatience or worry the child will also learn to respond to life the same way. Fear is the absence of trust and provokes certain unpleasant responses such as panicky cries.
Contentment is the willingness to be satisfied with the present circumstances.
A contented child is a true blessing. And even though some children seem to be more “naturally” content, it is a lesson all need to learn. A child learns contentment through a recognition and acceptance of boundaries: that he cannot have something else (an out-of-reach toy) or be somewhere else (cries to get out of the playpen), or do something else (stay at the park a little longer).
Parents sometimes think it is good to give the child many, many toys to stimulate their curiosity. In a matter of minutes the one toy will lose its appeal. The child never really gains an appreciation for the toys because there is always another one to move on to. In fact, contentment allows the child to develop focusing and concentration skills. Too many toys or choices interfere with gaining these skills.
Contentment with only a few toys or objects allows him to gain mastery over fine motor skills. It gives him the time to explore the intricacies of the textures, colors, sounds and use of them. Discontentment exposes itself through rudeness and fussiness. Discontented children are not grateful and are poor stewards of what they have because they have not learned to value the objects.
Respect for authority is a sense of caution or proper fear toward the ones in authority over them.
That healthy fear motivates them to conform to the authority’s desires. Obedience is the quick compliance to another’s commands. A child first learns respect and then obedience. With respect, obedience comes fairly easily. A child will not regularly obey a person whom they do not respect. They will tend to please themselves.
A baby of course does not understand authority. He is acquainted with only a select number of people who most often care for his needs. He learns to respond to them. The baby will gain respect when he is prevented by the caregiver from carrying out his own selfish will. Healthy fear comes later when he is given a little tap to reinforce the idea that some action is unacceptable.
Repetition of the activity, linked to a tap or a “no” from the parent will cause an unpleasant feeling. In order to avoid the unpleasant feeling, he will refrain from doing it again. Some babies are more stubborn and take a longer time to learn. Parental consistency goes a long way to bringing about compliance more quickly. If he learns that “no” always means “no” he will comply more quickly.
The more respect, the more obedience. It is true that only obedience is not our end desire. We do not want them merely obeying us but that they desire to do what is right and good from their hearts. For this they need the Lord. The lack of respect is cultivated by giving him freedom to do what he wants. He does not understand authority because authority has not shown itself to be in existence.
We do not have time to trace how all the different character traits are learned. We would only have you recognize that the child who trusts will be more patient than the one who fears. The contented child is apt to be more joyful than the upset and discontented child. The secure child will be more at peace than the insecure child. The self-controlled child will tend to be upright while the child that lacks self-control will tend to be naughty. The child who respects his parents will do much more goodness.
We can train a child to respond in a loving way by helping him to think about the needs of others and doing something about it only when the child is not preoccupied with getting what he desires. In other words, the ability to exercise control over his own desires enables him to learn how to care for the needs of others.
Once a child has learned to accept limits to his will and desires, then he can learn how to be comfortable with doing what is right, good and pleasing. Otherwise he will never reach that point. We are not saying that this would replace the Spirit of God in a person but instead that it readies a child to identify what is the highest good, namely, the love of God as seen in Christ Jesus. He is still a sinner and needs the forgiveness of God in Christ.
We have observed how a child needs to learn certain basic moral qualities very early in life. If a very young child is acquainted with such pleasing patterns, then it will pave the way for them into young adulthood when they will begin to consciously choose what they want in life.
Just the other week, a person was sitting next to our two-year-old. The little girl was sitting in a folding chair while holding her food and cup in her hands patiently waiting for Mom to return. The lady said to me, “She is just like an adult.” We know other families who train their children. They do the same things.
Training brings about mature responses early in a child’s life. We don’t often see the results of early training because people do not believe it can happen and therefore don’t train their young children. If a parent faces on keeping a child from doing certain things, then he has missed the point of discipline. Discipline is the development of the ability and desire to do good.
Daniel is a great reminder for us. He first reminds us that there is a pagan culture out there that wants to swallow up our children. But more importantly, he reminds us that we can greatly shape the character of our children. We can train up our child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
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