Some parents are making a fatal mistake in their child rearing and heading for heartbreak in the years ahead. You could be one of them. If making your children obedient is your only goal, you will probably find yourself with an uphill battle for 10 to 20 years, ending with disappointment and a "generation gap." What do you wish to accomplish in training your child? Have you ever stopped to consider? What overriding goal do you have in mind as the ultimate end point of approximately twenty years of feeding, clothing, protecting and teaching your offspring from infancy on through childhood and the teenage years? Unless you can see, and consciously work toward the right goal, right results cannot be guaranteed.
What Is the Right Goal?
The overall purpose of your child rearing should be to develop your children into balanced, happy, mature, well-adjusted, godly adults. They will need to become capable, reliable persons prepared for the responsibility of adulthood, and the problems of adulthood. Ideally they should be able to take their place in society without the hang-ups and complexes you have had to fight all these years! That should be your overall goal. So how would you approach such a goal? Obviously the best of all examples to look to is that of your spiritual Father. God Himself is the ultimate Master in right child rearing.
More Than Just Punishment and Obedience
Some parents seem to think their only job is to discipline. They seem to feel the only thing that counts obedience. Why? Actually it's often just because they are so selfish. Such parents just want their children to stay out of their hair — to not "bother" them. Others may strive to have obedient children for vanity's sake. When friends or relatives visit, they show off." Sit down!" "Go to your room!" they bark. Their children obediently trot off to bed. Guests are supposed to be impressed. But what if the only way God worked with you was through discipline? What if every error received a sound whack? What if every wrong thought, selfish act, foolish mistake resulted in so many swats? What if not one sin passed unnoticed, and there was no warmth, no love, no evidence that God was concerned for you, except for a continual rain of swats, spiritual spankings, and a constant stern "no" booming in your ears? You would become so discouraged, so despondent and terribly unhappy, that if you didn't openly rebel, you would turn inward, and your personality would shrivel up. You would feel that you could never really accomplish what your Father expected of you. And so you would probably quit trying — except just enough to keep from getting "swats." Your children will react the same way if treated that way! And you will someday wonder why your children, who seemed so obedient as youngsters, have become so distant, so heartless and unfeeling, as adults. Discipline alone will not work! Some parents have tried it and ultimately have come to say something like this: "I have spanked him till I am blue in the face and he still doesn't obey me." Something important is lacking. Your spiritual Father is known for His love and mercy. Even when He punishes, He doesn't give you what you really deserve. Rather, His heart is turned toward you. He forgives. Do your children think of you as merciful, like your heavenly Father? Is your heart turned toward them and their hearts toward you, with warmth, trust and affection? A characteristic of God's true Church, bearing to the world the last warning message before Christ's return and preparing the way for His appearance, is expressed in the prophecy of Malachi 4:6: "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." Is your son's or daughter's heart turned toward you? Is yours turned toward him or her? If not, your basic approach to child rearing is wrong. God gives you more than mercy. He constantly works to encourage you. He makes you laugh joyfully. He rewards your efforts with blessings, leading you gradually along the right way. This is the way you must lead your children. Child rearing is synonymous with love and character building. Discipline is a part of both. But so are encouragement, affection, listening and positive instruction. If temporary obedience is your goal, and you use only discipline to get it, your children may flee from you when they are able, just as the inmates of the concentration camps fled from their Nazi persecutors whenever they had the chance. Many children have run away from home because of the intolerant behavior of parents. Each week thousands of children run away from their homes all over the world. Don't push your children into making a similar mistake which they'll regret later. Don't make discipline your only form of child rearing!
Training in Making Decisions
When your child is a baby, you must make all his decisions for him. You decide what he will eat, what clothes he will wear, where he will go and when. As he gets older, you can give him more freedom in these areas. Still maintaining overall supervision, you should gradually widen the area in which you let him make decisions. Let your child decide what colors to use in his coloring book. Then, what clothes to wear. Still later, give him a chance to decide how to spend part of his savings or allowance. Let him even decide to buy something, occasionally, that may be a waste of money. Better for him to waste a little when he is young and learn from it than to lose much more when he is older, with the responsibility of a wife and child of his own. Unfortunately, many have not learned the right use of money until the stakes are so high that permanent damage is done to their marriage and financial security. God is teaching you to decide — on your own. He calls it building character. He guides you, giving you the principles involved; warning you that obeying His laws brings blessings, and not obeying them brings curses. He gives case studies in His Word. He even commands you to choose His way. But the final decision is in your hands. As God's son or daughter, you must decide — and bear the consequences of your decisions. So teach your children to make decisions. When they start school, they will have to decide with which friends to spend time, what books to read, and later, whether to engage in premarital sex and drug use. You will not be there to guide them at each crucial, decisive moment. They will have to decide by themselves. Equip them for that ahead of time! Give them practice now in making sound decisions. The key is to have areas in which your child can feel free to make up his own mind. You decide whether he should put his hand into a fire. You dictate to him about going into the street. Those areas are not for him to decide for himself. But is it really so crucial which playsuit he wears? Or what toys he plays with, as long as they are suitable for the time and place? Your daughter may feel she has invented a new way to sew. You know it won't work. Explain it to her. Show her why it won't work, without mocking her for coming up with such a childish idea. If she doesn't feel you know what you are talking about, let her try it! When it doesn't work for exactly the reasons you said, she will learn more than sewing. And she will see you aren't as ignorant as she might have thought — which will be crucial for her when she is seventeen and deciding about avoiding drugs or sex before marriage — or whether to marry Freddie anyway when you tell her it would be a bad match. But leave off the "I-told-you-sos" which only serve to tickle your vanity and widen the gap between you and your child.
Main Principle of Rulership
You are the ruler of your child. But you need to realize the cornerstone principle for God's type of rulership." Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them," said Jesus Christ. "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matt. 20:25-27). Have you ever thought of it this way? You are your child's servant. You are to serve him by preparing him for adulthood — not like a demagogue who will not tolerate any difference of opinion, nor any delegating of decision making, but like a wise teacher, instructing your child in the ways to make proper decisions. He can only learn that by practice. And practice implies some mistakes. Your job is to make sure they are little mistakes, not life-shattering ones. How much better it is to serve the children God has given you by helping them to learn that they do need their parents' advice as they walk the road of life. How much better that they learn that when mom and dad say "no," there is usually a very good reason. They have seen the proof. Let them get used to admitting, "I was wrong," without shame or jeering. If you rule your-children Christ's way, they will want your rule. They will learn it is for their good. They won't feel fettered by it, as if bound in a straitjacket. They will be free in it. They will respect you for it. And God will guarantee them a long, happy life for respecting their parents (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3).
What to Teach Your Child
There are many other things to teach your child to prepare him to be a godly adult. First, teach him to express himself. You can do this by letting a smaller child go over the day's events before bedtime. Sure, listening to him recount an event that happened while you were at work can require patience — but it's often profitable to the storyteller. It's something similar to Spokesman Club, where the men of God's Church learn to put their thoughts, opinions, questions, doubts and fears into words. They receive a diploma AFTER they can speak from the HEART! You should also teach your child to express himself by listening to and answering his questions — not squelching them. Treat his "foolish" questions with respect. A question that sounds nonsensical to you must have been in his mind before it came out of his mouth. And if it was there, it needs an answer! Also, one question lays the groundwork for others. Sometimes the proper answer to one of these questions, if heeded, will save the child untold trouble. Too many parents squelch the "silly" questions. So they never get a chance to hear the big ones! Third, teach your child to do things. Ever see a young boy standing awkwardly beside a swimming pool while all his friends are swimming enthusiastically? He can't swim. He is self-conscious. An outsider. And very unhappy. He is also losing valuable leadership training. Avoid allowing inferiority and other personality complexes to form — teach him to develop talents and abilities, such as swimming. If possible, give him or her opportunities to go horseback riding. Teach him or her to make things, such as cookies and doll clothes for girls and model airplanes and boats for boys. Go on hikes, picnics; buy a kite and help them fly it; take them to sports events. Fourth, develop your child's interests as fully as you are able. His whole life will be richer. He will be able to mix with all kinds of people and realize his full leadership potential. Did you ever notice that many of the greatest leaders have a broad range of interests and well-rounded personalities? Help your child to become like Christ in this as much as in other ways. Fifth, teach him the proper use of power. Money is a form of power. Your child should learn how to use it wisely. A car is power. So is a boat, roller skates, BB gun or a bicycle. Children will misuse these unless trained. Sixth, teach your child to face trials bravely. A broken toy can be a major crisis if you're four. So can a dead pet. Take time to put these "trials" into perspective. A broken toy can open the door for you to explain the importance of buying quality items, or proper care of possessions, or even principles of maintenance and repair. The dead pet is different from a dead human. Teach your child the difference. Just sitting down and explaining the overview will take much of the sting out of the "trial." It also helps narrow any potential generation gap. Your own example in facing your trials is also important. If you are dressed to go out and your child spills milk down your best outfit — you have a trial. If an otherwise calm and composed mother suddenly becomes a screaming witch, hurling abuse at a glass-shattering pitch, her child will learn by example not to face trials bravely. He will also tend to fly apart in the face of trials. Actions speak louder than words. If you expect your child to stand firm in a crisis, you must stand firm first.
Teach Them to Face the World
You should also teach your children that there are problems in the world — horrible, heartrending problems. Then demonstrate that God has the answers. If someone becomes ill or involved in an accident, there are reasons — usually easily defined. Teach your child. Show him the principle of cause and effect. Show him how to avoid the effect by following God's way of life in the first place. Older children will see pregnant girls drop out of school. Show them the effect on the girl, her family, the boy and his family, and even on the unborn child itself. But take care! All children are idealistic. They view the world through rose-colored glasses, and it's a good thing they do. If any of us could see all the evil, and all the trials and problems ahead of us, at once, we would feel defeated before we start. The rose-colored glasses gradually have to go. But remove them gently; don't rip them from a child's face. If you tell your child how rotten the world is, he will likely not believe it is so bad. And there is no purpose served by shouting, "You wait till you have to earn your own living. It's tough out there!" What you say is true. But you will make more progress by positive instruction. Show the fruits of the wrong way. When all the facts are presented in an atmosphere of reason, few children will knowingly and imperiously choose the automatic curses of the wrong way. It is up to you to maintain an atmosphere of reason. If you continually discourage your child, he will become bitter and resentful. Then he will become more susceptible to wrong influences. You must maintain an atmosphere of reason by being reasonable and fair yourself. God says — and let's always remember it — "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Col. 3:21).
How to Teach Obedience
Finally, you should teach your children obedience mainly by setting them an example of respect for the laws of God and man. Teach them to respond quickly when instructions are given. Be sure you have your child's attention, then tell him what you want him to do. Back up your words with discipline if necessary — in love. Above all things, don't constantly use the phrase, "How many times do I have to tell you...?" or "Do you want a spanking?" or "If you don't do as I said, I'm going to..." That is not effectively teaching obedience. Instead, you are encouraging delayed response, teaching the psychology of last-minute escapes and the deathbed repentance syndrome. You should teach your children the principles behind obedience. In your regular Bible studies, point out the clear lessons of what happened to those who obeyed God and those who disobeyed. Always stress this vital principle so that the lesson is driven home. Remember your real goal is long-term, willing obedience. It is not something short-term like getting your child to go to bed. You certainly cannot expect real lasting obedience to God or man if you take such a shortsighted approach. Keep your long-term goal in mind. Solomon described it: "My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine. Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things" (Prov. 23:15-16). Solomon saw the proper goal was more than temporary obedience. When your child is no longer a child; when he reaches maturity and enjoys a life of happiness, balance, wisdom and sound judgment, without the cares and kickbacks of disobedience, then you can say that your child training has been a success. You will have accomplished the real goal of child rearing!