Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)
This popular Proverb is often misunderstood to mean that if parents do everything “right” the child will turn out “right.” In some Christian circles it means the child is guaranteed to follow the Lord later in life if the parents take the right steps.
On one hand there is something encouraging about parents taking the proverb seriously and investing in their children. In that there is a connection to the New Testament command for fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
The danger is in assuming a guaranteed outcome. Proverbs are not iron clad promises. They are observations that say something about probable consequences not guaranteed outcomes.
In Proverbs 22:6, “in the way” means the right moral orientation. It points to the kinds of conduct that please or displease the Lord (ESV Study Bible), such as the commandment for children to obey their parents. The training would include love and instruction but also the rod of discipline (Pro. 22:15), a concept scorned by modern culture as well as in some quarters of the church.
The take away for a New Testament Christian is to teach a child self-control and discipline pointing to the way which in a NT context means pointing to Jesus as a child learns and understands.
My grandson is about to turn four-years-old. His parents have diligently taught him self-control since he was about 6 months old. They are now doing likewise with a one-year-old daughter.
At first it was simple stuff using simple means that meant teaching him not to throw his food, scream for no apparent reason or whine when unhappy. As he has grown older he has learned more and more as his understanding has increased. No, he is not perfect, and they still have to be diligent but the results of their diligence is often obvious. I recall taking our grandson to MacDonald’s and he and I observing a boy of similar age misbehaving. My grandson (age 3 at the time) remarked, “that little boy needs a discipline.” Yes he did!
It’s hard work and means that parents must be diligent to take care of everything now as it happens, regardless of where you are. In other words do not ignore misbehavior, deal with it now, even in the middle of Target if you have to.We’re all familiar with the screaming kid at Toys-R-Us insisting on a toy while mom tried to bribe him down. Don’t be that parent!
A child that learns self-control at age 2 is more apt to learn about Jesus at age 4 than one who has no training. My grandson for example has an increasing awareness of God. He prays and learns verses in his Sunday School class and at home. Does he totally understand? No, but the ground for understanding has been prepared well.
Self-control can be taught at a very young age if the parents are willing to invest the time and energy to teach it.
Parents that take Proverbs 22:6 seriously (and in context) are often blessed with the results, obedient children, who have been prepared for the necessary heart change and reception of the gospel when they are old enough to understand it..
All this came to my mind yesterday as I enjoyed some therapy for my knee.
As my therapist worked on me another therapist was trying to work with a five-year-old boy and his mother. (I knew he was five because I over heard the therapist ask.)
The therapist was kind and patient while the child was out-of-control. He simply would not listen to her patient easy instructions as she tried to help him with what looked like a foot issue. At one point he jumped up and ran over to the mirrors and proceeded to make faces. She simply could not hold his attention for more than a few seconds.
I commented to my therapist that her fellow therapist should get some kind of extra credit. She nodded and muttered something like, “ah yes, working with children” followed by discernible sigh. I took that to mean her fellow therapist drew the short straw that morning.
My therapist was right. Children are a challenge and they take time and energy and most of all diligence and it should not be the therapist’s task to get a child to exercise some basic self-control.
During the time all this was going on the child’s mom was immersed in her cell phone, barely looking up when her precious was acting out. There was not a word of correction (that I noticed) nor any kind of gesture that would indicate that mom even cared that her five-year-old son was running rough shod over a therapist trying to help.
I felt sorry for the therapist trying to do her job and sorry for the little boy. What I saw at the clinic was a reflection of what he didn’t get at home and that is enough love that meant correction when needed. What he probably would get by the time he was in first grade was a label.
Oh, Mrs. So-and-So, your little boy is ADHD. We recommend medication.
I wonder if at that point she’ll look up from her cell phone? Probably not. It’s easier to medicate than it is to invest the time and energy necessary to train up a child.