In the Way He Should Go

“Old School” Child Behavior Standards For Today’s Families

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it...”

—Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

By Philip & Segatha Matthews

            The primary principle of truth presented here is that children must be trained. They cannot be merely educated about the right way or just shown the right way, but must be actually trained into the right way, just as a tree is trained to grow straight or an animal is trained to be obedient and useful.

            A quick example will demonstrate the practical difference between training and education. Educating a child says, “Don’t play with Grandma’s what-nots on the coffee table because you might break them and make her feel sad and she’s a nice woman and we don’t want to make her have to buy some more.” Training a child says, “Don’t play with Grandma’s what-nots on the coffee table because if you do, I will spank your little hand and cause you physical pain every time you touch them.” 

            Training forces a child into the desired mold based on submission to authority; education hopes to get him to go voluntarily into the mold based on what he has learned and reasoned. Both are necessary, but a degree of training must first occur before education can even have a chance.

Thus, child training involves the use of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and other means and methods to produce the desired results in the child. The goal of all child training is to bring the child completely under the control of the parents in order to build character into the life of the child.

But before any training can take place, it is critical for each set of parents to clearly know and agree upon “the way he should go.” That is, exactly what are the desired results we want to produce in our child? Exactly what is the finished product we are looking for and expecting? Exactly what is “the way he should go?”

The answer to these questions is essential, because if parents do not clearly know what their children are supposed to look like or act like during or at the end of their training, then it is impossible for the parents to really do a good job of training their children. If parents are not quite sure of what the output should look like, then they cannot possibly be sure what kind of input is required. Nor can they be sure of what methods to use to administer that input. In short, they simply won’t know how to train their children.

The purpose of this article is to help parents get a little idea of the way their children should go. Many parents seem to have absolutely no idea. They do not seem to know how a child should or should not behave, what kind of relationships their children should have with each other, with the parents, and with other people in the world, how to help them build a relationship with God, etc. And even if they do have an idea about these things, many parents have no idea of how to bring it all to pass.

Below is a list of some of the practical results that proper home training should produce in every child. These are some of the standards and goals that every parent should want his or her children to be able to achieve during and by the end of their days of being under active training. Multitudes of parents routinely settle for far less than these standards and goals, and the parents, the children, and the entire world are suffering for it.

However, these standards and goals can be achieved in every child, no matter what natural personality the child may be born with. And if these goals could be achieved, the promise of Proverbs 22—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it”—would be pleasantly fulfilled.

A.  A Short List of Behavior Standards and Goals:

(1). Train a child to be submissive to authority. After many years of observing how parents and children interact in our overly-permissive American society, it is easy to see that the most important thing parents can do for their children is to train them to be submissive. This cannot be emphasized enough.

            A child that is not submissive, i.e., a child who is rebellious, cannot be controlled by the parents at home, by the teacher at school, by the law enforcement officer on the street, by the babysitter in daycare, or by anyone else anywhere else. A rebellious child becomes a rebellious teenager, then a rebellious adult, unable to control himself, unable to be taught, unable to tolerate anything requiring self-discipline, and unable to fit himself into any social structures or expectations.

            Most of all, a rebel cannot follow God’s rules and manner of living, all of which are given for our benefit and protection. A rebel might make a good entrepreneur or creative individualist, but if everybody is a rebel and cannot live by the rules, the whole society eventually collapses.

            This is what is happening in our current American setting: All of the rules of life are being rewritten, redefined, or simply ignored, instead of being obeyed, resulting in a society where most children and adults are being driven by their own selfish desires and feelings.

            Permissiveness and indulgence will be our utter downfall. We see it every day in our violent schools, lower academic achievement, collapsing families, dishonest business practices, acceptance of deviant, promiscuous, and outside-of-marriage sexual behaviors, and even our national epidemic of obesity.

            Therefore, it is critical for the well-being of the individual, the family, and society in general that people be taught, as children, to be submissive and obedient to established social, moral, and natural authority. Submission is a very unpopular concept today, but we make absolutely no apology for saying that submission to authority is the single, most important missing ingredient in today’s world. This section and the next few describe various aspects of submission in training children.

            A child should be able to refrain from expressing defiance and even from being defiant. A defiant attitude is just as bad as a defiant action. A child should never run away when the parent commands, “Come here!” No prolonged sulking or crying should be allowed. Nor should a child get away with deliberately ignoring the parent or stubbornly refusing to answer. No singing or pretending to be preoccupied with other things or walking away while the parent is talking should ever be tolerated.

            In order to train a child not to be defiant (because self-will is built-in at birth and every child, not just yours, is very stubborn), the child’s will must be conquered and brought under subjection to the parent’s will. Conquering, not breaking, the child’s will simply means that the parents have permanently won the war over whose will—the parents’ or the child’s—is going to prevail at all times.

            When a child’s will is under subjection, everything he does is done because it is the will of the parents—to eat, to sleep, to work, to go play and have fun, to study, to visit with friends, to have free time, or whatever. The parents must realize that they must control what the child does, how the child feels, how the child thinks, what attitude the child takes, how the child responds and relates to the world, and everything else in the life of the child. The child’s life is the parents’ program entirely. A child whose will has been conquered goes along with the parents’ program willingly and submissively, even though he/she might not be too pleased about it.

            This subjection must be obtained at a very early age and maintained until the child is grown and leaves home. Even some Christian parents don’t believe this last statement, but Luke 2:51 tells us that Jesus Himself was subject to His parents until He left home and began His earthly ministry—at the age of thirty: “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them…”

            Of course, wisdom dictates that parents give much more freedom and independence the older children become, but defiance is never an acceptable behavior at any age.

            Subjection of a child’s will can be accomplished only by the wise use of spanking very early in life. Conquering the will cannot be obtained by using time outs, banishment, lectures, bribery, reasoning, rewards, positive and negative incentives, contracts and deals, negotiation, and other forms of behavior modification. These methods do not conquer the child’s will. They merely perpetuate an on-going wrestling match between the parents and the child over whose will is going to win out and who is going to be the boss. Many times it might appear that a young child is cooperating with the parents without having his will brought under subjection, but usually his willfulness will resurface with a vengeance when he becomes a teenager.

            Conquering the will requires immediate pain to bring about submission, which ends the wrestling match. Then, after the child’s will has been brought under subjection to the parents’ will, many of these other forms of modifying behavior can be used with some effectiveness.

            Many parents refuse to embrace the concept that a child should be submissive and his will should be subject to the parents. This is especially true in today’s world, where permissiveness, children’s rights, independent individualism, the specter of child abuse, and other ideas permitting self-indulgence are the spirit of the age.

            However, such parents are bucking the wisdom of the ages, and their results are not good at all. Character-less, out of control children, who later become undisciplined, out of control, self-seeking adults, are wreaking havoc in every area of our society—the business world, the government, the schools, the family, and even the church.

            Regarding the subjection of a child’s will, listen to the words of Susanna Wesley, mother of nineteen children, the most famous of which were John and Charles, leaders of the 18th century Methodist Revival that has positively influenced the history of the world, even until today:

      “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must with children proceed by slow degrees, as they are able to bear it; but the subjecting the will is a thing that must be done at once, and the sooner the better, for by neglecting timely correction they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy which are hardly ever after conquered, and never without using such severity as would be as painful to me as to the child. In the esteem of the world they pass for kind and indulgent whom I call cruel parents, who permit their children to get habits which they know must be afterwards broken…

       “When a child is corrected it must be conquered, and this will be no hard matter to do, if it be not grown headstrong by too much indulgence. And when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies and inadvertencies [accidents] may be passed by. Some should be overlooked and taken no notice of, and others mildly reproved; but no willful transgression ought ever to be forgiven children without chastisement less or more, as the nature and circumstances of the case may require. I insist on conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education, without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. But when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents, till its own understanding comes to maturity, and the principles of religion have taken root in the mind.

       “I cannot yet dismiss the subject. As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children ensures their after wretchedness and irreligion; whatever checks and mortifies [self-will], promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident if we further consider that religion is nothing else than doing the will of God and not our own; that the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness being this self-will, no indulgence of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable. Heaven or hell depends on this alone, so that the parent who studies to subdue [self-will] in his child works together with God in renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the Devil’s work; makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies to damn his child body and soul forever.”1

            Those are some very sobering words by a mother who was definitely experienced and who definitely achieved great results. Parents should take that thought to heart and make this vow: “If I don’t train my children to be submissive and under control, I am essentially dooming my children to a lifetime of misery and maladjustment on earth and to an eternity of torment in hell. I love my children far too much to allow this to happen. Furthermore, they are not really my children but God’s that He has only loaned to me, and I definitely must make sure that His children turn out right. So here and now, by God’s grace and wisdom, I’m going to bring my children under control and train them to be submissive and obedient, no matter what it takes or how hard it may be on me!”

(2).  A child’s response to corporal correction is extremely important because it indicates whether or not his will has been conquered. Continued rebellion in any form during or after correction is never to be tolerated. Hitting, spitting, prolonged sulking, or any other expression from the child that he is still mad is not permitted. The standard is that the parent has made his/her will clear, and the child must go along with it whether he likes it or not, without showing outward displeasure. Perhaps the child may still be angry and displeased, but showing it outwardly in any form is simply forbidden. If the child is allowed to continue showing his anger, then the child wins because he is still getting to have his way.

            Remember the goal, as Mrs. Wesley wrote, is to conquer the child’s will, and a child that continues to express his anger has not been conquered. Even if it takes hours to achieve the desired proper response, the parent must continue with the correction until the child’s desire to rebel is worn out and the child has given up all resistance and become truly submissive in attitude and behavior. Such severe measures will not be needed often, once the child’s will has been truly conquered. And at the end of each session, the parent must remember to pray with the child, to clearly re-explain what the child did wrong to deserve the needed correction, and to reassure the child that he is still loved, usually by hugging him.

(3).   A child should be able to obey the parents at the first verbal command. Full obedience should occur without the parents constantly threatening, screaming (or even raising his/her voice), begging, bribing, negotiating, explaining, endlessly repeating themselves, or finally doing the job themselves to avoid the hassle and save themselves the time and trouble. If these behaviors are required to get the child to “obey,” then the child is not really obedient at all.

            True obedience requires an immediate performance of the command given, without reluctance and without the child moving in slow motion. True obedience is accompanied with the child having and showing a good attitude. A child should be able to sit down when asked, come when asked, stop when asked, etc. Even a well-trained animal can do this when ordered to “Sit,” “Come here,” or “Stop!” God’s highest creation should definitely be able to do better.

            A parent should eventually be able to control a child with only a calm voice command, or even a raised eyebrow, a look of displeasure, a snap of the fingers, or any other low-key indication of the parental will.

(4).   Children should be able to address their parents, those in authority, and all adults in a respectful manner. They should be able to avoid all back talk and “sassing” the parent. Under no conditions should they be allowed to say “No!” to their parents or refuse to obey. Under no conditions should they be allowed to communicate to their parents in a disrespectful manner, either by their choice of words, tone of voice, grunts, groans, or other expressions of displeasure, visible attitude, body language, or physical threats or actions.

            Children are not naturally respectful; they must be trained to be respectful. Any disrespect to parents and to those in authority means that the parents have failed to train their children. So the fault lies more with the parents than with the children.

            Along this line of showing respect, a child should never be allowed to contradict the parent. For example, the parent says one thing and the child says, “No, it’s not! It’s another thing.”  Then the parent begins arguing with or endlessly explaining the matter to the child. This whole exchange raises the child to the parent’s level, or rather, reduces the parent to the child’s level, and such should never be allowed to happen.

            If the child has reached the mid- to latter-teen years and is approaching independence, he can preface all statements of contradiction to his parents with something respectful like, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, Dad, but…”  For younger children, however, contradicting parents is completely impermissible.

(5).   Children should be able to exercise a degree of self-control at an early age. Parents often want to know when to start disciplining (i.e., correcting) their child, so here is the rule to follow: A child that is old enough to express defiance, rebellion, and a negative attitude is old enough to be trained that such is never allowed and will not be tolerated under any conditions.

            If Junior is old enough to jerk and convulse in anger in his mother’s arms, then Junior is old enough for Mother to train him not to ever do that again. Tap his little legs or arms to inflict some sharp pain while telling him “No, no!” It does not matter that he is only six months old.

            Parents often fail to deal with defiance early, thinking either that it is cute and spunky or that their children are too young to be trained to obey and should be excused from being expected to act right. But the children are being trained anyway: If a child is not corrected when expressing defiance, he is being trained to know that defiance is permissible and will go unchecked. So the parents might as well train the child in the way he should go.

(6).   Children should be able to refrain from throwing fits of anger, tantrums, prolonged pouting, screaming, loud crying, beating their heads against the wall or resorting to other forms of self-inflicted pain, holding their breath until they are blue in the face, refusing to answer when questioned, or other demonstrations of their displeasure in order to get their way. Such behavior should never be tolerated. A child should never receive what he desires by throwing such a fit.

            A two-year-old who can manipulate his or her parents by resorting to such behavior has trained his parents well, when it should be the other way around. Parents should remember that unless they train and control their children, their children will train and control them. Parents must determine early on that they are not going to fall under the control of their children, no matter what it takes.

            Children that demonstrate such manipulative defiance have been allowed to grow rebellious for too long, no matter how young they might be. Hopefully, it is not too late (Proverbs 19:18 KJV), but the parents will have an extremely difficult (but not impossible) task bringing that child’s will under subjection. But if the child is to be salvaged and a long life of misery caused by self-will is to be avoided, it must be done. And it can only be done with the wise and consistent use of corporal chastisement, a good dose of parental self-control and maturity, a whole lot of unconditional love shown to the child, and much fervent prayer.

            Parents must closely watch and guard their children’s spirits. By this we mean the feelings and attitudes that drive them. A child should have an open spirit, able to receive love, to be submissive, to respond freely, and to take correction with a good attitude. A child that has a sullen and closed spirit, secretly harboring envy, resentment, woundedness, refusal to communicate, etc., will eventually grow beyond the ability of the parents to reach the child. Furthermore, it can leave open a ‘door’ or opportunity for Satan to have access to the child. 

            It is necessary for parents to know how their children feel, what they are thinking, what is hurting them or causing them anxiety, what their needs are, etc. A child with a closed spirit keeps a parent guessing and worried about what is the problem with the child, and eventually the child is somewhat shut off from the family. Thus, it is critical not to allow sullen non-communicativeness, even if it means spanking the child at times to get them to be submissive and open up.

            But mostly it requires going overboard in showing them love from the time they are young, being careful not to wound their fragile spirits, and when they are wounded, not allowing them the chance to withdraw into themselves to pout, to refuse to talk, to nurse grudges or feed resentment and unforgiveness, and to sit around pitying themselves.

(7).   Children should be able to sit down and remain still and quiet for a reasonable length of time. Here is where the problem often lies: some parents obviously believe that a “reasonable length of time” is about two to five minutes for a toddler, and about twice that long for an older child. The fact is, a toddler can be trained (it may not be natural but they can learn) to sit still and quiet for at least thirty minutes or even longer. They can be trained to occupy themselves quietly in one spot for a long time.

            Because so many children today are not trained to sit still and exercise self-control, the schools can barely teach them. An axiom of education is, “You can’t teach a child if you can’t control him.”  Many of the children labeled ADD, ADHD, OD, hyperactive, and learning disabled, are merely untrained and undisciplined. Millions of children are on Ritalin, Prozac, and other calming drugs, most of them unnecessarily so.

            The current epidemic of undisciplined, inattentive, and uncontrollable children is the natural fruit of a permissive society, not the result of some mysterious virus or some unknown agent in our food or water. We do not deny that a particular child may have more restless or compulsive tendencies than do others, but this merely means that that child must be more consistently and rigorously trained. Unfortunately, the training required is usually too rigorous or consistent even for the parents. That is, it hurts them too much.

            Even in church services, children can be trained to sit still. They should not have to leave church services unless something is really wrong: sickness, soiled diapers, injury, hunger (infants only), unforeseeable accidents, or the like.

            Thus, children’s church should not be viewed as the only way to keep children quiet (and out of sight) at church, but as a very smart method to input spiritual truths into children on their level using their language. Children’s church should not be thought of as a babysitting service merely to relieve frustrated parents and keep untrained children from disrupting the service. They should be able to sit still in church even if children’s church did not exist.

(8).   Children can learn to show respect for the property of others. They can be taught not to touch everything they are curious about. There should be no grabbing and playing with stuff in the store. Even a one year-old can be trained not to play with Grandma’s pretty little knickknacks on the coffee table. Take a little switch, pencil, comb, or other small rod and spank their hands every time they touch something they should leave alone. It will not take long for them to learn that those items are off limits because they are associated with pain and the word “No!”

            Grandma should not be forced to remove and hide everything in her house just because the grandkids are coming over. Children can be trained to leave things alone. In other words, you shouldn’t have to “child-proof” your house. You can “house-proof” your children.

(9).   Children do not have to be busy every moment of the day, feverishly bustling from one activity to another in a vain attempt to keep them under “control” by keeping them super busy and distracted. As we said above, they can sit and read or occupy themselves quietly in some other way. We recommend that you avoid using TV, especially when children are young. Videos too should be used in a very limited and controlled manner. Neither should be used for indiscriminate babysitting.

            Even if the programs or videos are wholesome, they still help create a craving and need for constant activity, excitement, movement, entertainment, and distraction. It addicts them to having some kind of action going on all the time; else they get “bored.”  A complaint of “boredom” means that it is time for family interaction, creative activities, household chores, academic work, or something else productive and character-enhancing.

            Train your children to take naps and rest periods; this may not be natural for them, but that is what training means: to force and mold a child to do or be what is not necessarily natural for him to do or be. They can be told to “Lie down and go to sleep” and obey those orders without whining or constantly getting back up, supposedly because they are "thirsty" or have to "use the bathroom" for the umpteenth time.

(10).  Children can be trained to work and do household chores without shirking, sneakily getting out of it, grumbling and complaining, letting the other kids do it all, doing a half-way job instead of a thorough job, etc. Laziness is not something you want to see in your children after you have raised them, so you must train it out of them early. Make a game out of working when they are toddlers, teaching them to pick up their own toys, clean their rooms, help you with your chores, and so forth.

            You must train them to work and discipline themselves. Give them regular responsibilities; make them do what is good for them to do. Make them learn what is good for them to know. They must be trained how to be willing to work, even though it is possible that some of them may never learn to like work. The older they get, the more you want (and hope) for them to voluntarily help out around the house, so let them know that is what you expect from mature young people.

(11).  Children can be trained to be spiritually aware. Talk with them at an early age about the Lord. Practice the following activities daily: Read them Bible stories and other character building, age-appropriate stories that help them understand right from wrong, good from bad, and what is morally acceptable to God. Teach them to pray, initially by repeating after you. Exercise their minds by teaching them to memorize Bible verses; even two-year-olds can learn moderately lengthy scripture passages.

            When they can understand and become curious about Jesus, lead them to the Lord. Teach them to give to God and to sacrifice some of their valuables for His work and for others. Throughout their childhood provide spiritual resources, activities, events, fellowship with Christian youth, and other opportunities for spiritual involvement and ministry. Emphasize an understanding that salvation is not just a religion of rules but a living relationship with their Heavenly Father. Pray mightily that they actually find a divine reality in that relationship. In other words, make sure God is real to them.

            And in order to keep them under your moral principles and character training twenty-four hours a day, give them a Christian education, either by sending them to a truly Christian school or by homeschooling them yourself with a truly Christian curriculum. A truly Christian school or curriculum is one that (a) produces a Christian worldview by teaching every subject from God’s perspective and (b) maintains an environment where the service of God is tantamount and submission to His will is normal and expected.

            By being constantly under such training, your children will not have to face the faith-destroying dichotomy most Christian children undergo when they are taught one way of life at home but a completely opposite way of life at school. Why allow them to “learn the way of the heathen” if you expect them to follow only the way of Jehovah God?

(12).  Children can be trained to love their parents and their siblings and to be kind to all, but it must start very early. Love for others does not come naturally. All humans are innately selfish and self-loving, so love for others must be taught from day one. Control the spiritual environment in your household: Do not allow your family atmosphere to be taken over by resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, ridicule, vindictiveness, jealousy, fighting, wounding each other, or other forms of hatred.

            Prevent this by three ways:

            (a) Do not wound your children’s spirits yourself by mistreating them or your spouse, but instead, model only love and fairness towards them and humility when you fail. Remember that a child who does not feel enough love from his parents will be too insecure and completely unable to show love to others;

            (b) Correct every instance of the above negative attitudes or behaviors with prayer, lectures, and positive incentives, but also spankings if necessary; and

            (c) Using the methods of spiritual warfare, exorcise the spirits of Satan from your house wherever they may have taken a foot hold before they ruin your whole family. Satan preys on wounded spirits. Healing comes through willingness to forgive and let go of bitterness.

            Do not allow selfishness in any child, but train your children to share with each other and learn flexibility. Every so often, deliberately practice forcing them to share their belongings with others, ignoring their protests of “Mine!”

            Teach consideration for others—their feelings, their desires, their needs, etc. Never let any child eat all of the food from the rest of the family, but teach everyone to be considerate of the others until the pot runs dry. If one child cuts the pie into so-called equal pieces, let the other children get first choice to keep down charges of unfairness.

            You may think this is trivial, but I can never erase the memory from my own childhood of a neighboring teenager viciously trying to stab his brother for eating the last bowl of corn flakes. Never let derogatory name-calling get started in your family. Never let any child bully another. Never let a child keep a mean attitude about others, but talk to them and pray with them until their attitude softens.

            Of course, you must be careful not to side with a child who demands special attention by constantly complaining about, tattling, or accusing the other children. Love cannot prosper in a family where the parents do not give the children equal treatment. Be careful that you do not neglect children in the middle positions of the family or children who may be naturally more quiet and less demanding than the others. Whatever you do, never compare siblings and never favor one child over another.

            Furthermore, do not allow outsiders to show favoritism towards any one child. For example, don’t allow Grandma to buy gifts for her favorite grandchild while neglecting the others. And don’t allow anyone to pour on compliments and praise for one child while ignoring the others. If necessary, speak to the offending person and get them to understand how their biased actions negatively affect all of the children, and if this is unsuccessful, either avoid having too much contact with that person or take it upon yourself to even things out in some other way.

            Practicing favorites in your family is the surest way to permanently turn one child against another, to breed jealousy and resentment among siblings, and to destroy the self-esteem of all. Just take Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for examples of what parental favoritism does to a family—forever. The world has been fighting wars for the last few millennia because of that family’s practice of favoritism!

(13).  Children can be trained to be socially well-adjusted. In other words, children must be trained to have good relationships and to be able to get along well with other people in differing circumstances. They should not have to have everything and everybody go their way, but should be flexible and able to make adjustments to the changes of life with good attitudes.

            They must be trained to obey other adults and authorities. A child that is not trained to obey will not obey the baby-sitter, the teacher, the grandparents, and later, the boss or the police.

            Children can be trained to be emotionally secure if parents unconditionally love them, and they can be trained to have confidence if parents encourage them, accept them, and teach them skills that boost their competence.

            Children must also be trained to have and keep a good, pleasant attitude towards other people in general. Some children may be naturally friendly, but others are not and need training in this area. They must be trained to greet and speak to others kindly and confidently, to be considerate, to be friendly, to share, to be able to function as part of a group and not demand constant attention for themselves, etc.

            If the parents allow a child to be selfish, unruly, inflexible, moody, and withdrawn, the child may never learn the social skills and confidence necessary to get along well with others. He or she may find it difficult to be liked by their social peers, or anybody else for that matter.

(14).  Children must be trained to have life skills in several areas:

            (a) Parents should insure their children have the above social skills enabling them to maintain decent relationships with the rest of their world. Their future happiness depends on this.

            (b) Parents must insure that their children have some type of compensatory skill to build confidence and self-worth while growing up. No child should reach adolescence without being able to do at least one thing very well. Thus, excelling or seriously participating in sports, art, music, or some other enriching hobby or activity is critical for a child to develop his or her self-esteem and to compensate for any normal feelings of inadequacy.

            This is why we called them compensatory skills. They keep a child from reaching the peer-pressure-filled teen years with the sad lament, “I can’t do anything; I’m good at nothing!” The benefits of sports involvement, piano lessons, and the like are well-documented. See that each child has something special that he or she can do very well.

            (c) But looking even beyond the teen years, parents must insure that their children have career skills. No child should be allowed to reach full adulthood without possessing some valuable ability that enables them to have a career and maintain their independence and self-sufficiency. In today’s world, they need to have either a post-high school education (certificate, diploma, or degree) of some type, a trade or craft, or some other valuable job-related skill. Just finding a generic job makes a person dependent on his or her employer, but possessing a skill or special knowledge adds value to the person himself, thus enabling a degree of independence.

            A child that does not have a career skill of some type is prone to be dependent on his parents, sometimes for life. It is the parents’ responsibility not to let this happen. Children will never become self-sufficient and completely independent unless parents train and prepare them to be.

B.   Parental Attitudes That Prevent or Hinder Proper Training:

            Below are some of the fallacies that many parents believe and use to justify why they do not properly train their children:

Objection #1: “Strictly training a child stunts the child, represses him, hinders his development, and prevents him from being himself. He should be allowed to express his natural inclinations and desires, and learn to choose for himself  the best way to go, etc.”

Response: Actually, some of this is thankfully true. It is a fact that a child left to himself will not turn out to be some kind of beautiful, respectful, well-behaved model citizen (Proverbs 29:15). So if training prevents him from being his naturally selfish, evil self, then training be thanked. A lot of his natural inclinations ought to be repressed. We live in a society where fewer and fewer people repress their evil natural inclinations; everybody wants the freedom to be themselves. And it’s literally killing us.

                  However, the idea that training a child stunts his development is entirely false. Proper training enhances and promotes his development. Without training, he will be immature and undeveloped, never able to function properly and peacefully in society. The children that are never “repressed” but allowed to develop into their naturally selfish selves become the obnoxious adults that no one likes to live around.

Objection #2:“ Some children are just born good. Some are just born bad. Some kids are just not manageable when they get here… He’s a strong-willed child that just can’t be controlled. In fact, you really can’t control any child… He has traits that just run in our family; my dad was like that, so there’s not much we can do about it, etc…”

Response:  The truth is, children are born with their basic personalities, which might make some more easily manageable than others. But all of them can be managed—without Ritalin and other mind-numbing, behavior-modifying drugs. It takes wisdom, it takes God, and it takes parental diligence, consistency, love, and maturity. As Susanna Wesley wrote regarding her child training methods, “No one can, without renouncing the world in the most literal sense, observe my method…”

                   In other words, it takes character on the part of the parents. A child that lacks character is merely reflecting a lack of character somewhere in his or her parents. Children are born with personality, but character is made, the result of years of proper training.

                               Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis, famous dog trainer and animal behaviorist, would often say, “There are no ‘bad’ dogs or ‘bad’ breeds. Every dog problem is really a people problem—a dog-owner problem.”

                   Likewise, there are no “good” or “bad” children; all of them must be correctly trained by their parents. If they are not, then they will turn out not to have good character and will live in negative ways.

                   So instead of labeling children “good” or “bad,” we should say that they are “trained” or “untrained.” That puts the proper focus on the matter.

                   This also brings up a very serious truth for our consideration. The Bible actually contains lots of evidence that all children are born with a tendency to go bad rather than good. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child…” (Proverbs 22:15). “The wicked… go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies…” (Psalm 58:3). “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).

                   All of these scriptures, and many others, state the very alarming principle that all children will go bad unless someone prevents it by training them. This realization should be enough to motivate every parent: Unless I train my children in the way they should go, they are inwardly bound to go in the way they should not go.

Objection #3:“ Spanking a child is a form of child abuse. If you hit him you’re just teaching him that hitting is acceptable. You’re teaching him that he can get away with hitting others if he’s big enough. A child that gets hit learns to be violent and hit others…”

Response:  First of all, spanking should be distinguished from violence against a child. Pain and discomfort are necessary and effective teachers for all human beings, and a spanking is simply a form of deliberately inflicted and controlled pain, applied by one responsible for the child, with the purpose of teaching a lesson necessary for the child’s development. Spanking is not punishment, but correction.

                   Thus, spanking is something done for the child, not to the child. Violence and child abuse, on the other hand, are not done with any redeeming purpose in view.

                   Parents must settle it in their minds whether or not they believe that the Bible’s teachings about spanking are true (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13, 14; 29:15, 17; Hebrews 12:6-11). Then they must begin to apply these principles consistently when called for, being sure that they are, first of all, consistently showing their children enough love and affection, attention, structure, and direction. Only then is a parent truly privileged to spank their children for misbehaving, because a child who is not being loved does not deserve to be spanked. Furthermore, a child who lives in a chaotic environment without any structure, where the rules are inconsistently or unclearly enforced, can hardly be faulted or justifiably spanked. Everything in such an environment is too inconsistent for effective training to take place.

                   To avoid harshness during corporal correction, a parent should be methodical and deliberate, completely in control of himself or herself. This insures that the spanking takes place for the purpose of correction and not simply because the parent is mad, embarrassed, tired, fed-up, or otherwise frustrated.

                   So calmly, the parent should make sure that the child knows exactly why he is going to be spanked, which rules he has willfully violated, what the correct and expected behavior should have been, how the parent has tried to obtain such obedient behavior in the past, and what the spanking will consist of. Efforts should be made to get the child's acquiescence for the spanking. Usually the child will plead for another form of discipline, so the parent should explain why the alternative will not work or is not appropriate.

                   Then the spanking should proceed as promised. Afterward, the parent should pray with the child, hug the child to show that he is still loved but merely had to be corrected, and insure that the child is not still pouting but able to respond positively to the parent. If the child needs to apologize to anyone, this is then done. Then the matter is put behind them, and life goes on. This can be a positive experience for all involved. For more discussion on discipline, go to the chapter on "Respecting the Children."

Objection #4:“ I’m afraid that if I’m strict and hold to high standards, or force my children to do what is right and best, they won’t like me. They’ll think I’m mean...”

Response:  Many parents back down because of this fear, but actually the opposite is true. Your children will learn to love you for your concern for their well-being if you combine your strictness with unconditional love for them.

                   By the time they reach adulthood, they will be able to admit this, so try to hold out until then. They will love you for being strict with them once they get out into the world and see so many other young people floundering and messing up their lives because their parents never taught them self-control and good character.

                   So be strict with confidence. Parents who love themselves more than they love their children will constantly back down in fear to save themselves, allowing their children to grow up without enough standards, boundaries, moral convictions, and other qualities necessary for their children’s future peace and happiness.

Objection #5: “Junior is really intelligent; he can decide for himself what he wants to do. I don’t want to force my beliefs on him. I’m going to just wait until he gets old enough to decide for himself about this matter…”

Response:  A child can make some not-so-important decisions for himself, but giving kids too much significant decision-making power too early can be detrimental. Being concerned about what the child wants and likes is indeed considerate, but the ultimate question should never be what does the child want, but what is best for the child. Hopefully, the two can coincide, but when they don’t, the parent, who is more knowledgeable and is being held responsible, should make the correct decision.

                   This holds true until the later teen years, during the process in which the child is gradually becoming independent of the parents. Then the child can be allowed to make many of his own decisions and learn to live with the consequences.

Objection #6: “A child can learn from his/her mistakes and reason himself into a wise course of action… He’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

Response:  That’s the attitude to take with another adult or an independent-minded teenager on the brink of adulthood. That is not the policy to follow for young children. They are not little adults.

                   Children are emotional feelers, not reasoners. It is well documented that certain aspects of their reasoning ability in many areas of life are not even physiologically or cognitively well-developed yet. They are not wise; this is why children are easily misled, easily confused, easily influenced, etc.

                   Parents should never expect a younger child to reason and figure things out like an adult would do.  Putting a child at risk by letting him learn by experience is not usually the best course of action. The child might not learn what the parent had in mind at all. Since the parents are responsible for what happens to the child, it is their job to make most of the decisions.


1  Franklin Wilder, Immortal Mother, Vantage Press, New York, 1966, p.45.