PREVIOUS installments in this series revealed what psychologists don't know about child rearing, what you can do to build strong family ties in the '80s, and how to grow healthy babies. This installment takes you through the five basics every parent should know. Do you know what they are? Some parents practice none of these basic rules — they in fact aren't rearing their children. Others practice only two or three!
1. Love Your Children
No one needs and requires love more than do children. Parents can demonstrate that love and concern daily, whether for a newborn or a youth just turned 15. Parents soon learn that physical requirements vary with a child's age, but they often forget that love is required continually. Affection, attention, outgoing concern are key ingredients in all relationships. Children most assuredly shrivel up and die inside — and sometimes literally, too — without these ingredients of love. Most parents believe they love their children a great deal. Some, however, knowingly or unknowingly compete with their children; others live their lives vicariously through them. Others will not let go of their children and allow them to develop and mature. The needs of children are ever changing. Love makes the growth transitions possible. Loving parents produce loving children! A father who is overbearing cannot expect affectionate sons and daughters. The apostle Paul cautioned: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Col. 3:21, Revised Standard Version). When a mother yells at her son, "You dummy! Why did you do that?", she is not only discouraging her son, she is encouraging a brother or sister to think of the child in a disrespectful manner. Little babies and small children require affection, kisses, hugs and tenderness in order to grow and develop at a normal rate. The effect of love on children — and adults, too — is as important as clothing and good food, sunshine and fresh air all put together. Babies and children must have constant affection and encouragement to develop the right kind of confidence and sense of worth and the capacity to feel and express affection themselves. Even though this may seem obvious to some, it is, sadly, one of the most neglected areas of child rearing. You parents must learn to hold, kiss, cuddle and encourage not only your babies but your younger children as well. The habit of touching, hugging and physically expressing affection to children is something one should never outgrow! Yet how many parents have been emotionally crippled in this respect? Men, especially in the United States, too often have been taught to be the strong, silent types. By example and inference. males were taught that it is not proper for he-men to kiss and cuddle their young children — especially their boys. Perhaps we do not realize that for centuries it has been customary for countless millions of fathers in the Middle East and in the Latin world to kiss and embrace even their grown sons on occasion! You who are fathers and mothers should learn to regularly hug and kiss your children. Take them in your arms and hug them when you have been away from them for a while. Play with them, teach them, read to them while they are sitting on your lap, and then hug them and kiss them again as you put them to bed. Tell them: " Daddy and Mommy love you. We are proud of you. We are very glad to have a little boy (or girl) like you." With such love and encouragement, your children will bloom before your eyes. For your love and assurance and the sense of security it provides will nourish them as surely as physical food. And in doing all this, you will be building a deep bond of affection and trust that will make it much easier for your children to want to respond to your training and to please you even when you are not present to supervise them. Always let your children know that you will love them and try to help them no matter what. You may disapprove or even correct them for the genuine mistakes they will certainly make. But that does NOT change t he underlying love and affection you will always feel for them. But what is love? Many have false concepts of love. They think love is to let their child do whatever he or she wants to do at the moment. This is not love — it's permissiveness, the antithesis of what the Bible calls love. "Love," says God, "is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Jesus said God's law could be thus summarized: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:37-39 , Revised Authorized Version). Your relationship to God will manifest itself to your children in numerous ways. You will show love and mercy, because God shows us love and mercy. Demonstrating respect for your children is a basic quality of love. Demonstrating that respect is much easier when we realize that children — and other persons — are members of the God — created human family and are potentially members of the God family. That in turn helps children approach others in a similar way. Parents need to realize that love does not negate firm discipline. There is a right time to discipline children. But parents should never allow themselves to go on a yelling, storming rampage. That is not discipline. Nor does it show self-discipline Such wild , uncontrolled parental emotion will only produce disrespect in a child for his or her parents. If you are to really love your children, you must learn to know them as individuals. When children know that you understand their feelings and wants, they are much more willing to respond positively to discipline. Nothing frustrates children more than to be told to do something when they feel that parents don't understand. This does not mean catering to a child's demands or whims. It simply means listening so that children don't feel you have ignored their thoughts and feelings when you use your authority. This will lessen anger and resentment that could come back to haunt you. In-focus listening requires eye contact , with physical contact if appropriate. Acknowledging that you understand a child (even if you disagree) is usually helpful. Many parents mistakenly do not accept the fact that a child may have a different opinion. Repeating a child's thoughts is a good way to ensure mutual understanding. We all lose our tempers at times. When this happens don't be afraid to apologize after things have calmed down. It is possible to create a beautiful thing out of a bad experience. It's amazing how pleasant communications can become when a family member is big enough to apologize when wrong. You are teaching your children by example how to admit and handle their own mistakes. The times of warmness and closeness that usually follow such episodes are among those special memories that children and parents never forget. Showing care and concern for others is an additional value you can demonstrate and encourage in your children. Take an active interest in your children's activities and their friends. Take time to play with your children. Caring is also reflected in the family members' affection for each other. Men who believe they should show an unemotional image to their children deceive themselves. Moms and dads who take their children up in their arms and express warm affection are laying the foundation for love, compassion and caring in their children.
2. Set the Right Example
Parental example is a critical factor in right child rearing. Nothing renders a parent's efforts in child rearing more ineffective than parental hypocrisy. Children cannot be expected to adopt standards their parents are unwilling to practice. Children and teenagers who smoke pot or take drugs will often point to their parents' addiction to alcohol, tobacco or prescription drugs. If children observe one spouse verbally attack, criticize or ridicule the other, they are likely to think this is the appropriate way to respond. Children learn from example more than from words. They are natural mimics. A child's personality often mirrors that of parents. Mannerisms, habits, vocabulary and opinions will reflect those of the parents — for better or for worse! Learning takes place through the five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling , tasting. Example is important in all aspects. The way we learn is through repetition, perception, association. Your children learn from the whole range of words you use, how you use them, the attitudes you express, the situations you explore and the information you share. Therefore, you would do well to evaluate what your example is teaching. Take for instance a little boy and girl observed fighting and screaming at one another in the yard. The girl's mother came out to stop them. She asked why they were fighting. The explanation: "Oh, we weren't fighting; we were playing family. He's the father, and I'm the mother." We may smile, but it's a sad commentary on the condition of many families these days. Parents also need to set the right example in providing for their children's needs. The children, after all, did not ask to come into this world. The parents, whether on purpose or accidentally, produced them. When a man and woman embark on such a course, they are obligating themselves to provide for the child until the child is grown. If anyone does not provide for his own, including children, "he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Tim. 5:8, RAV). Basic provisions that children need include wholesome, balanced food; appropriate, quality clothing; cheerful, well-kept living quarters; proper education; and wholesome entertainment. Children will follow parents' examples more than parents' words. Do you keep your word? Are you obedient to God? Do you respect law and those in authority? Do you say nice things to other people's faces and then speak critically of them in private? Do you claim to be one thing in public and then do just the opposite in private — even in your own home? You will be a successful parent only if you are a right example.
3. Take Time to Teach
Some persons just slap their children because it is so much easier than teaching or training. God instructs you to teach your children. "And thou shalt teach them [God's commandments] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut. 6:7). The Scriptures also admonish, "Train up a child in the way he should go..." (Prov. 22:6, RAV). Teach and train. What's the difference? They're similar but not exactly the same. Teaching involves gaining a child's undivided attention and taking time to give instruction about how to do something or how to act in various situations. Training, however, is repeatedly and diligently guiding children to apply what you have taught until it becomes a part of their character. Training may involve such simple things as developing the habit of being clean or of washing hands before eating. It also involves developing the habit of respecting elders and the property of others. Teaching and training require time, patience and repetition. Begin by setting the right example. Show principles and examples from the Bible. Use your own experiences and those of others to relate the proper way. Children, remember, learn by association. Often the best time to instruct a child is when he or she asks a question. Most children, especially young children, love to be read interesting and exciting stories. Reading aloud as little as 10 minutes a day from sound educational materials more than teaches specific facts. It stimulates a young mind's mental, intellectual and language development. Children need to be taught and trained in positive skills — for example, social and cultural manners. They must be taught how to develop their bodies and minds. Point out the positive results of right actions and the negative results of wrong actions in language your children will understand. For example, children should be warned about the tragedies of illicit sex. Explain what is happening in the world around us because of violating God's law against adultery and fornication. Point out the toll that is being reaped in unwanted pregnancies and the epidemics of social diseases. If the people now suffering from these penalties would have obeyed God, they would not have the problem. You can illustrate to your children the bad results of smoking, drug abuse, lying and stealing, watching the wrong kind of movies, reading the wrong kind of literature, listening to degrading music and participating in the wrong kinds of activities. Children are not yet equipped to make right decisions in these areas. They need clear explanations and continuous encouragement as they learn to make right decisions. It is your responsibility to know God's way well enough to be able to effectively impart it to your children. All of this training takes time — lots of time. Try to spend time each day with your children. Talk to them, teach them, get to know them and let them get to know you. Go places and do things with your children. You can attend cultural events or visit places of natural or man-made beauty. Teach them to appreciate and enjoy the finer things life has to offer. Go on family outings or camp-outs. Such activities will be memorable for your children — and for you. They will help to bind your family together as a unit. The necessity of parental involvement cannot be overemphasized. Too many parents rely on others to fulfill this God — given responsibility.
4. Discipline Your Children
You may have seen it — a young mother, wrestling with her small children. She tries to be nice to them and reason with them. She even tries to bribe them with candy and other treats if they would only "be good." But they seem to delight in throwing tantrums and embarrassing their mother in public. They seem totally uncontrollable. Part of that mother's problem is that she — along with millions of other parents — has no definite plan or program in rearing children. Much of this comes from parents having been led to believe that in rearing children your choice has to be either love or discipline. That is utterly and tragically wrong! In truth, the correct approach to child rearing involves both love AND discipline. They go hand in hand. If your little child keeps running out in the street — laughing at you because you either can't or won't discipline for this foolishness, you may one day lose your child under the wheels of a passing automobile. And all the permissive sociologists and psychologists on earth won't be able to bring your child back to life! It is important to teach the meaning of "no" in advance of problems. Little children, for their own welfare, must be taught to obey their parents. In any number of dangerous situations, it could spell the difference between life and death. God's Word clearly admonishes to correct and discipline our children for wrong actions. However, discipline involves not only appropriate punishment for wrong behavior but rewards for right behavior (Prov. 22:15 and 29:15). Unfortunately too many view discipline in a negative manner. They have seen so much child abuse that they reject the principle of proper discipline altogether. They adopt, instead, a destructively permissive stance in respect to their children's attitudes and actions. Proper discipline for wrongdoing must never take the form of child abuse! Discipline for wrong acts or attitudes should never involve verbal insults or degrading put-downs. It also should never involve punching or slapping in the face, strapping with a heavy belt, twisting arms, boxing or pulling ears, pinching, kicking, or hitting about vital organs. We speak out in the loudest terms against an adult losing his or her temper and striking a child in uncontrolled anger or rage. The word discipline comes from a Latin word that literally means "instruction." That instruction must begin at a very young age. A small sapling can easily be trained to grow in the right direction, but once that sapling becomes a mature tree, it is not possible to change it. In a similar way, children can be trained when young, but there comes a time when parents may no longer be able to teach a child. God's instruction is "Chasten your son while there is hope..." (Prov. 19:18, RAV). And: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Prov. 13:24, RAV). Administering discipline appropriately and promptly is important. While children are young, teachable and pliable, they can be trained by proper instruction and correction. This includes approbation or reward for doing well, and proper discipline for wrongdoing. Here are six important points to remember when administering discipline: • Never cause injury to the child. • Discipline should be administered in love, not anger. • A spanking should only be applied to the gluteus maximus — the fatty area of the seat — nowhere else. That is where one sits down. Physical discipline should be just painful enough to be effective. • It should be done only in private. • Discipline, physical or otherwise, should be applied promptly, fairly and consistently, and be felt if it is to be effective. • It should only be administered after the parent explains to the child why the child is being corrected. If a warning is given as a child starts misbehaving, and discipline is administered if the child fails to heed, the child has the chance to avoid the punishment next time and so learn self-control, and the parent's word and warnings are reinforced. Never injure a child. Do NOT lose your temper or strike the child on or about the head or any vital organ. But DO spank hard enough so that the child sincerely responds and is sorry for his or her misconduct. In some nations this biblical admonition is forbidden by law and parents will have to conduct themselves judiciously. Then, after the worst of the crying subsides, take your child lovingly in your arms. Tell your child you love him or her, that you had to spank so that he would be a good boy or that she would be a good girl, and that you hope the child will learn to do better and grow up to be a fine, upright man or woman. When this is done correctly and consistently, the child, about this time, will be hugging you back, realizing and agreeing that he or she needed the spanking, and feeling more secure in your love and your genuine concern than before the spanking. For you will have broken through an emotional barrier with your child by the kind of proper discipline just described. Somehow, after spankings are done in love, children are enabled to respond better to their parents in a deep, trusting manner. They will know from experience that when their youthful tensions and self-will are expressed in outward rebellion, they get spanked. But your child will see that spankings are done in love and for his or her good. That tensions leading to bad attitudes are actually relieved by spanking and subsequent tears. And that you and your child actually feel closer emotionally after sharing this intimate, loving experience of helping a young child get control of himself or herself and grow up. As the properly reared child grows into puberty and the teenage years, spanking will be done less and less. Your child will be grounded early in his or her life — that you the parent are in charge, that discipline must and will be carried out for the child's good if wrong attitudes or rebellious, disrespectful behavior occur. Discipline can take many forms. One of the most effective, especially for older children, is the withholding of privileges. Banning use of television for a certain period, for example, or withdrawing permission to play with a friend, to go to a movie or to use the family automobile can be effective. In most cases it is better to withdraw privileges for relatively short periods (a few days or a week or two depending on the age of the child). Long periods — especially with young children — are usually ineffective. Giving children a chance to have the privilege reinstated by the correct behavior can help underline the lesson being learned. Making a child of any age realize the consequences of his wrong action or attitude is a form of punishment in itself. Suppose, for example, a young boy throws a rock and injures his little sister or brother. The parent may then give the offending child the opportunity to "care for" the wound. Make him sit beside the injured child and hold a cold cloth against the wound. Or have him administer the adhesive bandage. Let him "suffer" (see I Corinthians 12:26) with the injured child a little, and he will soon feel remorse over what he has done! Children must be made to realize that wrong actions hurt other people. Undesirable conduct is such because it hurts everyone involved — including those who perpetrate it. Remember, too, that any correction should fit the infraction, and that children vary in temperament and aptitude. Use wisdom and discretion, and make sure all disciplining is done out of proper concern for the child. Parents should always seek to explain their actions to the child who is receiving correction. A child must be made to realize why he or she is being disciplined. He or she should understand the justice of that correction. Don't overdiscipline for a minor infraction. Don't underdiscipline for a major one. Correction should be greater, for example, for stubbornness, tantrums and wrong attitudes than for careless oversight or an accident that did not involve a wrong attitude. And remember, discipline should never be revenge! Vindictive parents are ineffective. Poor child rearing produces maladjusted, unfulfilled, insecure children. Proper child rearing bears the good fruit of bright, responsive, well-adjusted, happy children. Remember, proper child rearing is built upon the bedrock of these critical principles: love and open affection; right parental example; intelligent, balanced teaching; and effective, appropriate discipline.
5. Accept Your Responsibility
How many parents today know that God has ordained government in the family unit? How many know God holds fathers responsible for properly leading, guiding and providing for their families? This husband — father leadership in no way demeans a mother's role. Mothers often carry more of the day-to-day load of teaching and training of children, especially when they are young. But God holds fathers accountable to see to it that the home is being guided by God's child-rearing instructions. Of course, if a husband isn't physically present because of death, divorce or desertion, the mother has to do the best job possible. A forthcoming installment will cover instructions for single parents. God's instructions on family government are clear. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church.... Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:23-24, RAV). That doesn't mean a father can rule his family in a dictatorial, selfish, inconsiderate manner. God's Word commands, "Husbands, love your wives [and families, we could add], even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph.5:25). Ephesians 6:4 also emphasizes parental responsibilities: "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (RAV). How contrary to today's practices! Next month we cover preschool years as preparation for life.