What is the Goal of Child Training?
by Pastor Reb
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead,
bring them up in the training and instruction
of the Lord."
One of the biggest problems for
parents today is that they work hard at training and instructing
their children about the Lord and His ways, but lack a clearly
defined goal for that training. They know they want their children
to know God and to have godly character, but they are not sure
what the final product is supposed to look like. It is as though
they are baking a dessert, yet don't know if it is a cake or a
peach cobbler, and they keep throwing in sweet ingredients, hoping
the results will be edible. It would be far better for parents to
define their goal and then create a plan to accomplish it. There
is truth to the saying, "If you aim at nothing, you will always
hit it." Christian parents must have a clearly defined target for
their children's growth.
In order to determine if
we are accomplishing God's goals for child rearing we must first
identify them. As Christian parents our most obvious goal is to
bring our children to salvation. Second to that, God's most basic
goal for training children is encapsulated in Ephesians 6:4.
There, parents are told regarding their children, "…bring them
up in the training and instruction of the Lord." The Greek
word for "bring them up" holds the key. That word is
means: to rear up to maturity. The primary goal then, of
training and instruction, is to rear up children to maturity.
For us to bring children to maturity will require that we have a
clear definition of what maturity is.
Based on a broad study of
the Old Testament and a concentrated study of Proverbs
it is clear that maturity is characterized
by 3 elements: self-control, wisdom,
which are defined as follows:
- Self-control: not
being ruled by passions, emotions, desires, wishes, or
curiosity; freedom from having to do what one feels like doing;
the ability to choose to do what is right; fosters the
selflessness necessary for love of others.
understanding; insight; ability to learn
from experience; ability to make sound decisions; handling
stressful problems with a level head; possible only when not
ruled by passions (self-controlled)
accepting personal accountability for one's own actions;
faithful and conscientious work habits; integrity; reliability;
possible only when not ruled by passions (self-controlled)
HOW IS MATURITY DEVELOPED?
Maturity is rooted primarily in
self-control which, in turn, facilitates growth in wisdom and
responsibility. The most basic goal of training children,
therefore, is the subduing of their self-will. From the time
children are born, parents must develop in them the ability to say
"NO" to their own desires and "YES" to their parents. That is why
parental control of young children is imperative. A child who
learns to deny his own desires and submit to his parent's
controls, gains inner controls. Children are born into the world
self-centered, so must be trained from infancy that the world does
not revolve around them, and that life won't always give them
their way. Susanna Wesley put it this way:
"The parent who studies to
subdue [self-will] in his child works together with God in the
renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the
devil's work, makes religion impossible, salvation unattainable,
and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body
forever." (The Journal of John Wesley [Chicago: Moody, n.
The Bible calls this
self-will "foolishness" or "folly," and instructs parents to
train it out of children by discipline and chastisement.
The child whose will is never subdued
when young, will grow up ruled by his passions. He will
feel the need to speak his mind which will frequently get him in
trouble. He will come to believe that he should have what
he wants, when he wants it, and shouldn't have to endure
anything he doesn't like. He will grow older thinking he is being
deprived whenever he doesn't get what he wants from life, and by
his teen years he will become preoccupied with his "rights" and
know little of personal responsibility. Ultimately, he will
develop a "victim" mentality -- nothing is ever his fault --
someone else is always to blame for his misery.
Some parents believe that
maturity is an inevitable part of growing up and will happen
naturally to all children, whether trained or not. Proper rearing
of children, in their view, requires only that a parent love them,
take them to church, and try to give them a happy childhood. To
them, maturity is a guaranteed byproduct of getting older, so they
do little to help the process, and accidentally -- much to hurt
it. All children, unless calamity occurs, will grow older,
but only those groomed toward maturity will attain it. Hence, as
parents, we must work diligently to help our children develop the
qualities leading to maturity.
To further clarify the
definition of maturity, we must understand immaturity. The
child whose will is not subdued in the first few years of life is
hampered in the maturing process. No matter how old he gets, a
strong self-will ruled by the craving for self-indulgence
will be the mark of his immaturity. He will be self-absorbed and
lack the ability to be self controlled. Sadly, this
self-indulgence characterizes most children today -- even in
Christian families. As caring parents it is especially important
for us to identify and eliminate that in our child-rearing which
feeds the will and fosters self-indulgence in our children.
USING THE GOAL OF MATURITY AS
A BASIS FOR PARENTAL DECISIONS
To restate our premise -- a
proper understanding of maturity and immaturity is foundational to
effective parenting, for without a clear understanding of the
goals of parenting we have no frame of reference for parental
decisions. To evaluate our parenting decisions we need simply
determine: What will this activity, organization, or
relationship, foster within our children -- maturity or
immaturity? It is really that simple.
The problem is that as modern
American parents we have come to believe the misnomer that
children will eventually reach maturity by themselves, and little
input from us is needed. Rather than making maturity our
primary goal for them, we substitute as a goal -- a
happy and fulfilling childhood. Consequently, from the time
our children are born, we feed their desire for self-indulgence
and accidentally keep them immature. By the time they reach their
teen years they are just like the other "normal" self-involved
teenagers whose parents also made a fun childhood their
chief goal. Since so many American parents indulge their children,
America is filled with immature, gratification-oriented teenagers.
National researchers and experts, not realizing that teenage
rebellion and self-absorption is a phenomena of this century, and
unique to only a few affluent nations like ours, have concluded
such behavior is a natural and temporary phase of growing up.
Parents expect it and accept it.. Most teens do grow up, but
sadly, too few become mature.
Although most of us as parents
love our children, our commitment to their happiness harms them.
Indulged children are unprepared for adulthood. They have been
sent the message that their personal happiness is of supreme
importance, so they grow up thinking it is owed them. They
ultimately lack the self discipline necessary for successful
employment, and their self-centeredness will cause strife in their
marriages. And when their marriages fail, they will not consider
it their fault -- they will see themselves as innocent "victims"
of their spouse's shortcomings. From the time they are young, our
children must learn that life is not about fun and entertainment,
nor is it about personal happiness and self-gratification. It is
about responsibility and serving others. It is about finding joy
in honoring God and loving our neighbors.
WHAT HAS LIFE TAUGHT US?
Those of us who have lived at
least 25 years have learned that life is hard -- things
don't always go our way -- we don't always get what we want in
life. Our children must be prepared in their youth for the
challenges they will find in life. They must learn that they can't
have everything they want, and that they can endure quite well
with less than they hoped for. To mature properly, children must
learn while they are still toddlers to obey their parents quickly
and without resistance, and to endure hard situations humbly. With
their parents' help, they can learn as early as possible to die to
themselves, preparing them to live for Christ. Otherwise, as
teenagers, they will remain self-consumed, rebellious, and far
from God. May we as parents be faithful to do what is right.
Excerpted from chapter 2 of
Reb's book CHILD TRAINING TIPS: What I wish I knew when my
children were young.