Love and correction go hand in hand in the struggle to raise good children in an evil and permissive age.
Children change so very quickly. A newborn baby begins to crawl, then walk, and then, finally, run—and, looking back, it all seems to happen overnight. As they go through each stage, our little children bring us joy and laughter. Their look of amazement as they realize that they are standing all by themselves on their chubby legs is priceless, and their excitement in a simple game of hide and seek with Mom or Dad can seem like the very definition of pure fun.
But the job of parenting is not always pure fun—at least, not if we take it seriously. How we teach and train our children will set the course of their future, and this is a sobering realization for any parent. Though we might prefer to share only laughter with our children, a wise parent will not shrink from the challenging parts of the job. And one of the most challenging is developing the skill of correcting a child, a responsibility God’s word instructs us not to shirk. We’re told, “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:17).
Every parent knows the feeling that sometimes all we are doing is saying, “no, no, no”—yet we can’t avoid our duty simply because it is unpleasant at times for both child and parent. But why should we correct our children? And if correction is needed, how should we go about it?
God speaks through the book of Proverbs when He says to us, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11–12).
When we correct our children, we must be motivated by love, not by selfish reasons. If we’re not careful, we might speak harshly to them if they’ve inconvenienced us. Perhaps they want to play catch or show us a game they’ve learned, but our minds are on “more important” tasks and we find their innocent insistence annoying. When we say, “Don’t you see I’m busy? Don’t bother me now!” we are correcting selfishly.
And sometimes we correct children for embarrassing us. Maybe, as we’re in the grocery store checkout line, they reach for candy bars on the shelf and we exclaim, “Don’t touch those!” That’s fine, but what if they are so distracted that they don’t hear us and keep on exploring the shelves—and other customers notice? If we unleash a verbal barrage at a child who has ignored us, are we really correcting in love, or are we mostly communicating anger over being embarrassed in front of the cashier and other customers?
By contrast, a wise parent will teach children when it is appropriate to try to get a parent’s attention and when it is not. Instead of lashing out with “I’m busy; don’t bother me!” a wise parent will teach that there are times not to interrupt a parent’s activity. And caring parents will teach their child that “don’t touch” means “don’t touch” long before it becomes a matter of public embarrassment. Learning lessons of obedience may someday even save a child’s life—and those lessons are learned best when a child sees that they are motivated by a parent’s love.
How do we go about correcting children so they can have safe, healthy, and godly lives? Consider these three points.
First, teach. Moses was commanded to teach God’s laws to the Israelites, but parents played a vital role: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Here, God taught the Israelites when to teach their children: take advantage of teaching moments throughout the day. When do we talk with our children? Do they spend more time with us or with the Internet? Are we letting devices—and, therefore, other people—be the primary influences on our children? Children learn by example, and if parents don’t teach their children how to act, talk, and think, someone else will. The lessons to be taught change from the time our children are infants to the time they are teenagers, but the fundamental point is the same: The right way of acting, talking, and thinking has to be taught, explained, and reiterated. Children will certainly learn by example, but for them to make sense out of the world around them requires thoughtful, proactive teaching. Children are constantly soaking up information from their surroundings—what are they learning from the environment we give them?
Next, successful parents train. We read, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Practice makes perfect. Whether the child is two years old or ten years old will obviously affect the way a lesson is taught, but while teaching is vital, it is not enough—the next step needs to be, “now let’s practice.” A parent can even make a game of “practicing sharing,” among other social and moral skills, with a child.
But it can’t be just a game. For practice to be most successful, it must be regular and consistent. For the musician, 30 minutes of practice per day is better than trying to practice for three hours on one day each week. The same applies when working with children. In addition, minimize distractions. Trying to practice anything with lots of distractions is a recipe for failure. And don’t demand perfection every time. Don’t allow training to become a war of wills with your child—sometimes it’s better to stop an activity and find another time for a fresh start.
Finally, test. Remember that trip to the grocery store? It certainly wasn’t a good time for teaching or training—there are far too many distractions in the checkout line for any lesson to sink in. And we only go there once a week or so, while teaching and training require daily time. But it was a test—and we encounter “tests” all the time as our children experience life outside the familiarity of home. Perhaps one of our children wants to get our attention while we’re in a conversation at church. Have we taught and trained the child to wait respectfully until we turn our attention from the conversation? Or will the child impatiently shout demands and try to distract us? How they act will show us how effective our teaching and training have been.
If children don’t do so well on their “tests,” what should we do? Re-teach! They’ve simply made a mistake, and now we know that we need to have more practice. Or, perhaps they didn’t understand how to apply the lesson in a particular context. No problem—re-teach and practice some more.
There is no greater joy for a parent than to see his or her child grow up to become a successful and happy adult. As parents, we want our children to embrace the values and way of life that we hold dear. If we love them, we’ll devote ourselves to teaching and training them, doing our best to apply wise and skillful correction when they are young.
If this is our consistent approach, we will reflect God’s vision for tomorrow’s families, today: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1–4).