What is the Goal of Child Training?


by Pastor Reb Bradley

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."  

(Eph 6:4)


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 ektrepho, which 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, and responsibility, 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.
  • Wisdom: 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)
  • Responsibility: accepting personal accountability for one's own actions; faithful and conscientious work habits; integrity; reliability; possible only when not ruled by passions (self-controlled)


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. d.] p.106)
  • 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.


    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.


    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.



    Family Ministries
    PO Box 266
    Sheridan, CA 95681
    (530) 633-9923
    Fax (530) 633-9325
    Credit Card Orders
    (800) 545-1729
      Copyright 1998 Family Ministries -- All rights reserved. / Used with permission




    I got the crayon background at:


    and the bear 'n' honey at:


    Back to Article Chart  /  Back to Main Lobby



    [What's New]  [About Our Ministry]  [Website Tips]  [Help! Article]  [Course (SORR) Intro]  [Article Chart]  [Recipes]  [Shelton Family Scrapbook]  [V-Enna]  [Storehouse]  [Catalog]  [Lifestyle of Learning]  [High School Helps]  [Love Lullabyes]  [Local (Longview, WA) Pages]  [Reader Comments]  [For Newsletter Editors]  [Email List Options]  [Site Map]  [Contact