Since the Bible gives us God's own promise that if we train our children up in the way they should go, they will not depart from it, I am astounded by the number of Christian parents who are convinced that no one can know how their children will turn out. In fact, I remember one woman saying, “I had my daughter in church every time the door was open and she still turned out wrong.” What that woman failed to see is that training a child involves far more than church attendance.
When my oldest daughter (Beth) was three months old, I began to talk to her about salvation, because I was convinced that if she could begin learning a language at that age, she could learn other things too. When I would hold her and talk to her she would look right at me, smile, and take in everything I said. Therefore, as I held her I would say, “Jesus died for your sins, yes He did, yes He did. He died for your sins so that you could have salvation. Yes He did, etc.” As I did this she would smile ear to ear, and I did it quite often. When she began to talk I would get her to say, “Jesus died for my sins” and, “I'm a sinner saved by grace.” Then, one day just before she was two years old, she walked up to me while I was sitting in a chair, placed her hands on my leg, looked up at me and said, “Jesus died for my sins.” I said, “Yes, He died for your sins so that you could have forgiveness.” After that she would go around saying, “Jesus died for my sins so I could have forgiveness.”
If you have any doubts as to what a child that age can learn, then consider this. When Beth was less that a year old, my wife would sing the alphabet to her. She would sing, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G”, etc. As a result, when Beth was about 15 months old, I heard her singing the alphabet to herself. Although the last part of it was garbled, after that time I would sing it with her. Consequently, she could recite the entire alphabet by the time she was 18 months old. A short time later, she was given a magnetic letter desk that had a storage tray with a letter shaped socket for each letter. Because putting the letters into the tray was like working a puzzle, and the letters were in the right order, she quickly learned what each of the letters looked like.
In contrast, my younger daughter (Rebekah) had a very different personality, and there was a resistance in her that was not in her sister. For example: Whenever I would say to her, “Jesus died for your sins, yes He did, etc.”, she would turn her head to the side and shut me out. Moreover, by the time she was two years old, whenever I would try to get her to say, “I'm a sinner” she would adamantly reply, “no! I'm not a sinner! I'm not a sinner!” At that time, because I knew that children who resist their parents often listen to their peers, I asked my oldest daughter (Beth) to talk to her sister. Although Beth was only four years old, I knelt down so that I could talk to her face to face. I then took one of her hands in my right hand and the other in my left hand, and told her that I needed her help to convince Becky that she was a sinner. I explained to her that if Becky would not admit that she was a sinner she would not be able to get forgiveness and would go to hell when she died. When I got home from work the next day, my wife told me that Beth had really taken what I said seriously. She told me that Beth had a long talk with Becky and explained to her that she had to admit that she was a sinner so that she could get forgiveness and not go to hell. After that Becky was willing to admit that she was a sinner, but it was a few more years before she understood the way of salvation.
When Becky was about five years old I sat her on my knee and asked her this question. “If you died tonight and God asked you, 'Why should I let you into heaven', what would you say? Her answer was, “I don't know”. I then said, “You know you are a sinner don't you?” She said, “Yes.” So I asked her, “Can you tell me what some of your sins are?” At that point I was prepared to mention such sins as fighting with her sister, etc. However, to my surprise she hung her head and said, “I lied to mommy once.” I then said, “Do you know that if that sin is not forgiven you will burn in hell when you die?” A shudder went through her as she said, “Yes.” Therefore, I quickly comforted her by saying, “But Jesus died on the cross so that you could have forgiveness. He already died to get forgiveness for you. But you need to tell Him that you are sorry you lied and that you want forgiveness.” At that point I led her to tell Jesus that she was sorry that she lied and that she wanted forgiveness.
About one year later, I took her on my knee and again talked to her about salvation. When I asked her how she would answer the question, “Why should I let you into heaven?” she again said, “I don't know.” She had forgotten what I had said to her the first time, so we went through it again. I reminded her that she told me that she had once lied to mommy, and she admitted it. I then talked to her about Christ and her need for forgiveness, and we prayed. A year later we went through a similar session and I explained the way of salvation to her a third time. After that it seamed to stick. I also noticed that once she understood the way of salvation, and began to look to Christ for forgiveness, her defiant attitude started to wane. I believe that was because the Holy Spirit was at work in her heart.
I never once told my girls to ask Jesus into their heart, or to go forward to be saved, because that is not the way of salvation taught in the Bible. I simply taught them that they were sinners and that Jesus died for their sins. They believed it, and that is what faith in Christ is all about (1Corinthians 15:1-3). I also never placed any importance on the day they were saved. Instead, I told them that the important thing is to know – right now – that Christ died for your sins and that you are trusting in Him for forgiveness and salvation.
I believe that it is important for a child to know who is boss, and to recognize their parents as the authority by the time they are two years old. However, because they do not think reflectively they will need to be taught many of the same lessons over and over again for at least twelve years. Because learning takes time, never try to rush it by being mean. When children need to be taught, it is better to talk the matter over calmly than to fuss. Fussing tends to go in one ear and out the other.
Discipline is important to children. Because they have many carnal desires and impulses that they find difficult to control, they need the external motivation that discipline provides. However, it is important to keep emotion out of discipline. Children need to see discipline as the just punishment for wrongdoing, not as an expression of irritability on the part of a parent. I once saw a woman (whose child was in her grocery cart) hit her child and then yell sit down. That is the wrong way to discipline. It would have been better for her to place one hand on the child and say, calmly but firmly, “sit down”. Once the child was down she should have then explained why he needed to remain seated. If he began to stand up at a later time, he might need another calm reminder. Discipline should come only in response to defiance or disobedience.
When my children needed discipline, I would often sit in a chair, and calmly tell them to come and stand in front of me. I would then tell them what they had done wrong and listen to what they had to say. They would then be informed that because they did wrong they must be punished. I would then calmly tell them to turn around and let me administer punishment. Discipline should come from calm reflection, not emotion.
It is not always necessary to spank. I would often discipline my girls by pinging them. To do this I would cock my index finger against my thumb, build up pressure, and let my index finger snap loose against the side of their head. It is much like snapping your fingers, except that the index finger goes in the opposite direction. The tap is too light to do any damage, but it is unpleasant. I am thankful that I learned that method of discipline from another Christian parent when my children were quite young. It is a very effective way to discipline small children.
When dealing with my children, I tried to avoid grabbing things away from them. Instead of getting into a tug of war, I would calmly say, “Give it to me.” If necessary I would repeat it. However, I gave them time to subdue their own contrary desires. It is important for them to learn how to subdue their own will, and they do not learn that when parents just grab things away from them.
When my oldest daughter (Beth) was very young, I began counting to three after telling her to do something. If she would not do it in that time, I would walk over to her (very heavily for drama) and ping her. As soon as I noticed that she was waiting till the count of three, I began going after her at the count of two. I then began to say two, without saying one. When she asked why, I told her that the first time I said it was number one. I did not do this at every whim, but only when there was disobedience. She soon learned to hop when I said two. Her younger sister copied her behavior, and as a result, I rarely needed to discipline them after they were five or six years of age.
While young children need to explore their world, learn how to do things, and discover how things work they cannot do that if they are sitting in front of a television. For that reason, I tried to keep television viewing to a minimum. In our case, surrounding hills that interfered with the TV signals made it easy to keep the TV off when they were young. During that time, we got them a puzzle of the United States that had the pieces cut along state lines. As a result, they quickly learned to recognize every state. My wife then used flash cards to help them learn state capitals. As a result Becky could name the capital of every state by the time she was three years old.
At that time, we got our first VCR, even though we only had three tapes for it. One of those tapes was the 1950 version of, “Heidi” starring Heinrica Gretler and Elsbeth Sigmund. The second was, The Little Princess” starring, Shirley Temple. The third was, “Fire Over England.” While we still kept television watching to a minimum, the girls would watch one of those movies each day. Moreover, as they grew familiar with those movies, I could see what a powerful influence movies have, and how they can be used for either good or evil. For example, the movie “Fire Over England” stirred an interest in history, while that particular version of, “Heidi” gave them a very good example of how people ought to interact with one another.
Instead of using the television as a babysitter, when we did watch it we generally watched it together, as a family. However, my wife would watch the news in the evening, while I was at work. During that time we never tried to hide what was in the news from the girls, because I felt that it was important for them to know what the world was really like. [Things are a little different today because of the open sexuality on TV.] Besides, their awareness of what was in the news gave us an opportunity to teach them a proper attitude toward what was going on. Furthermore, because I never turned the radio on when we were in the car, we often discussed things that were in the news while we were on the road. In fact, we had some of our best family conversations at that time. As my daughters asked me about specific things that were on the news, I always tried to give honest and Scriptural answers to their questions, and used the opportunity to teach them a Biblical perspective on life. A parent who lies to his children, or gives stupid answers to their questions, only destroys his own credibility. In order to pass on the faith we must build a relationship of trust (Deuteronomy 6:7).
When the girls asked me what abortion was, I told them that it was just a fancy term for killing babies, and that some people think it is alright to kill babies, but God says it is evil. When they asked me why some people think it is alright, I told them that when a person does not admit their sin and look to Jesus for forgiveness, the devil can get into their heart and get their thinking all mixed up. When they asked me what adultery was, I simply described it from their perspective as, “When a mommy or daddy runs off and says, ‘I'm not going to be your mommy or daddy any more. I'm going to live with someone else'.” They could see right away that such behavior was wrong, so I reinforced that by telling them that God says adultery is evil. When they asked me what rape was, I told them that it is when someone treats a woman badly and hurts her. I then added, “You will understand that better when you are older.”
During the past century, America's public school system has been systematically converted into a pagan religious system. That system has its own doctrines on the origin of life, the roles of men and women, sexual morality, homosexuality, what comes after death, and so forth. Therefore, it is just as wrong for Christians to send their children to such schools as it is to send them to a pagan school. Moreover, I firmly believe that parents are responsible for what they allow their children to be taught. If I hire a tutor who teaches my children false doctrine, I am responsible for what I have allowed my children to be taught. Therefore, if I allow the government to hire that same tutor for me, I am still responsible. For that reason, when it came to academic education my wife and I chose to homeschool our children. Besides, children need to be with adults so they can learn to act like adults.
Some parents naively think that they can correct any wrong ideas that their children pick up in a public school. However, what they fail to realize is that it is not a matter of one or two wrong things being taught. Instead it is a matter of false doctrine being woven into the entire curriculum, so that everything that is taught gives their children a twisted and distorted worldview. For that reason, the only way that any child can overcome the harm done to their mind by the public school system, is to totally reeducate himself, and few are able to do that. Besides, what loving parent would want their child taught falsehood to begin with?
Since the Christian walk consists of far more than just worship, our Children must learn to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. They must learn to work, relax, sing, have fun, and be entertained in a way that is wholesome and above reproach. For that reason, we need to provide our children with a Christian culture. And, to that end, we need to realize that culture is simply applied religion.
A culture is the way in which a particular people apply their religious beliefs to everyday life. Consequently, a Moslem culture or a Hindu culture will be radically different from a Christian culture, because the people will be trying to conform to a different set of religious beliefs. When I was growing up, America had a Christian culture, and, for that reason, Christian values prevailed even though many things were not theologically correct. For example: Society in general recognized that sex outside of marriage was wrong, that homosexuality was evil, and that God ordained different roles for men and women. However, because secularism (including both atheism and humanism) is now the dominant religion, even though there is still Christian influence in our society, whenever Christians try to apply their beliefs to public policy they run into a wall of secular bigotry and media hatred. In addition, secularism dominates the halls of government, liberal churches, schools, and the entertainment industry. For that reason, one of my aims in training my children was to pass on to them the Christian culture that American once had.
I believe that parents who try to cut their children off from all culture, expecting them to listen only to gospel music, watch only the religious channel, and so forth, do more harm than good. In the name of being religious, they are refusing to apply their religious beliefs to everyday life. Children need to learn how to relax, play, have fun, entertain and be entertained in a Christian way, and if they are not taught this as a child, they may well grow up to behave one way at church and another way outside of church.
Since one of my earliest memories was that of going to sleep while listening to Al Jolson singing on the radio, I began my cultural training by letting my girls go to sleep listening to a tape recording of Al Jolson. In fact, children identify with songs like, “Mammy” and, “Sonny Boy.” After a while I began to alternate the Al Jolson tape with recordings by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Gene Autry. I then included music by Strauss as well as beautiful old hymns of the faith. Furthermore, during some of our discussions I would point out that music should be beautiful with good words, not just noise with bad words. When we would hear a boom box or loud rock music I would say, “I don't know how people can stand to listen to that noise.” In that way, I guided them to appreciate good music. As a family we enjoy the music of Lawrence Welk (which is essentially the music of the Christian culture that prevailed in America prior to the 1960's), and, at present, both of my daughters like the music of the opera, “Carmen.”
While moviemakers have always pushed things to the edge of acceptability, many old movies reflect Christian values. In fact, between 1934 and 1948, the movie industry followed a self-imposed standard of decency, which reflected the standards of society at that time. Many good television shows from the 1950's are also available for family entertainment, and when families watch such shows together, parents have an opportunity to point out to their children anything that is wrong. Speak up while the show is going on and discuss it at length later. My parents taught me what was wrong with gambling while we watched, “Maverick” on TV. Ask the children to see how many wrong things they can pick out, and teach them when to turn the TV off. In the older situation comedies, the characters would often lie, in order to create a situation, and you can point out to your children that lying is wrong. However, content that reflects a lower standard of sexual morality, or the occult, pollutes the mind, and, for that reason, should be turned off.
Although secular society views good manners as just a bunch of rules, as Christians we should realize that true manners are rooted in kindness and consideration for the other person. For example: Since it is rude and inconsiderate to throw gum on the sidewalk, children need to be taught to save their gum wrapper so that they can wrap their gum back up when they are finished with it, and keep it until they get to a trash can. Since it is also inconsiderate to let the serving spoon touch your plate, or to begin eating without first seeing that the food has been passed to others, children need to be taught to recognize such behavior as inconsiderate. Furthermore, in teaching your children, it is important for you to set a good example. For that reason, when I would ask my girls for a favor I would say, “please” and, “thank you.” It is not enough to teach a rule we also need to teach a good attitude.
When we entrust the spiritual wellbeing of our children to God's care, leading them to look to Christ for righteousness, He will bless our efforts to train them according to his Word, and, part of that blessing consists of an interest in learning God's Word. In my case, I also believe that God used the AWANA program (a club for youth that combines learning with fun and offers rewards for memorizing Bible verses) to provide my daughters with a program of Bible memorization. At any rate, that program was an answer to prayer for my family, and my girls were eager to learn the Bible verses. In addition, we also made Bible study a regular part of our homeschool program.
When it came to teaching my daughters the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, we used a set of lessons by Oswald Riess entitled, “What Does the Bible Say?” Since that set of lessons, consists primarily of quotes from Scripture, it fit right in with our emphasis on the Bible. Nevertheless, as the girls were too young, at that time, to answer the questions at the end of each lesson, I had them write down and memorize the answers for the test. After finishing that series, we also went through the “Apostles' Doctrine” series of lessons, that I had written.
Finally, in order to teach our girls the Lord's Prayer and the ancient creeds of the faith, we included them in our school opening at the beginning of each day. I believe that the ancient creeds are important because they give us a link to the early church. All in all, they received a good grounding in God's Word.
When the Bible tells us to train up our children in the way they should go, it is not telling us to make them conform outwardly to a set of rules. In fact, children who are only made to conform outwardly, often cease to conform as soon as they are out from under their parents' authority. It is far more important to lead them to understand the way of salvation. In order to do that, they must learn to see themselves as sinners, to see evil as ugly and repugnant, and to trust in Christ for righteousness (Romans 3:28 and 10:4).
When it comes to raising children, we need to ask God for wisdom. And, since we know that He has promised to answer that prayer, we can be certain that He will answer it. Every Christian father has a responsibility to guide the home, and we all need God's help if we are to do a good job of it.