What Can Parents Do to Help?
“THE story is told of the child psychologist who began his practice with four theories and no children,” reports psychologist Dr. Bruce Narramore. “Some years later he found he had four children and no theories!”
Yes, theories about child rearing come and go. Bringing up a child is no simple task. However, you have only one opportunity to rear your child. Which way is best?
In the midst of conflicting opinions, one source has provided child-rearing guidelines that have been consistently successful. It is the Bible. In the following pages see (1) what it recommends, (2) why it is presently helping millions worldwide to be better parents, and (3) how its advice can be applied in your home.
Do Not Parents Show Love by Feeding, Clothing and Housing a Child?
Yes, and it often means years of sacrifice for parents. Yet a parent may be able to supply only meager provisions, “a dish of vegetables,” for the family. However, if such are provided “with love,” then, as the Bible shows, they are better “than the best beef served with hatred.” (Prov. 15:17, Moffatt) Love outweighs good food. Children thrive on affection—a few words of sympathy over a bruised knee, a warm hug, a pat on the back, or a simple ‘I’m so proud of you!’ Children must see, in a way their young minds can understand, genuine warmth and parental concern.
But How Can You Love a Child Who Misbehaves?
It is not easy. However, the Bible stresses “fellow feeling.” (1 Pet. 3:8) There may often be underlying reasons for a child’s misbehavior. For instance, one youngster began acting up in school. His concerned father, who talked for hours with the boy, said: “We continued to show him that we cared about him. Then he told us what was wrong.” Other children teased him because of his hearing aid, so he acted up in class to gain their approval.
The father had “fellow feeling” and, after several more warm discussions, the boy’s conduct improved. Years later the boy wrote his parents: “I know I did some things that displeased you, but thank you for not giving up on me.” Often frustration, jealousy, repressed anger, fear and insecurity can prompt bad conduct.
What if Your Child Is Born with Some Bad Traits?
Perhaps you see the same weakness in yourself or your mate. This should create “fellow feeling” as well as give you background to offer discerning counsel. For instance, one mother noticed that her nine-year-old was just as withdrawn as she was as a child. “I talked with him about it,” she said, “and mentioned that the way he’s feeling, the things that are going on inside of him, also affected me when I was young. ‘I know how you feel, Rowland, because I’m still working on it,’ I would say. As a result we have drawn much closer together and he opens up more.”
How Can a Parent Know When Something Is Really Troubling a Child?
The feelings and thoughts of a child, his real intentions, lie in his heart like waters at the bottom of a deep well. Hard to get out! “Counsel [one’s purpose or intention] in the heart of a man is as deep waters,” admits the Bible, “but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” (Prov. 20:5) Some probing questions may ‘draw up’ such feelings. It takes DISCERNMENT to evaluate when a child is deliberately rebelling and when he is acting out of frustration.—Prov. 24:3.
Does the Way a Parent Talks to the Child Really Matter?
Yes, it truly does. To illustrate: A startled interviewer asked a five-year-old girl, “Why do you want to be dead?” The sad-eyed tot replied: “Because it would be so peaceful. Mommy wouldn’t be screaming at me all the time.” Children have feelings. A parent’s thoughtless remarks can be devastating. A proverb states: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” It hurts! But “the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18) Build up your child’s self-esteem by genuine commendation. Praise his accomplishments, no matter how small.
If a child thinks he will get ‘screamed at’ because of his feelings, he will not reveal them. Especially difficult is it for him to discuss his sexual feelings. The youth may feel ashamed. However, even if the thinking of a child is wrong, he should feel free to express himself. One parent said: “Sometimes you feel like exploding inside when the child pours out his heart. But you don’t dare show it or they clam up.”
Try to get into your child’s world, into where his feelings are. Spend five minutes with him as you put him to bed. Talk to him about the things that have made you feel happy, sad, upset or scared. It is important to share not only experiences but also feelings. Above all, listen as your child bares his feelings.
Does Love Mean Letting the Child Always Do What He Wants?
Many think so. They want to be loved by the child. “I’ll love you,” says the child intimidatingly, “if you give me a lollipop.” Later it may be, “If you let me stay up as late as I want,” “eat what I want” or “run with my own friends.” Parents bend. What are the results? A generation of uncontrolled, insecure youngsters. The Bible recommends: “The one loving [his child] is he that does look for him with discipline.” Discipline means instruction that molds or corrects. It builds character and gives security.—Prov. 13:24.
What if a Child Does Not Listen to Discipline?
“Chastise your son and he will bring you rest and give much pleasure to your soul,” recommends the Bible. (Prov. 29:17) Chastisement involves punishment. It may be a literal spanking or the denial of a cherished privilege. This will teach him a vital lesson—respect for authority. God sets an example as to how the punishment should be meted out, saying: “I shall have to chastise you to the proper degree.” Still, he reassured those same individuals, saying, “for I am with you.” He still loved them. So Jehovah set loving, yet firm, boundaries regarding acceptable behavior. Parents, do the same!—Jer. 46:28.
About What Matters Should a Parent Be Firm?
Be firm that a child eats nutritious food, for serious deficiencies could stunt his physical growth. At the same time, do not let your child feed his mind on “garbage” in the form of TV shows, magazines and movies that feature violence and immorality.
Yet the greatest threat to your good instruction is your child’s associates—his peers. If a child becomes a companion to those whose habits are corrupt, be assured that he will usually “get familiar” with such conduct and be ensnared. (Prov. 22:24, 25) You have a duty to break up such bad associations. This takes discipline, but when a parent replaces bad associates with good ones, or makes his own family activities more interesting, the job becomes much easier.
How Soon Will a Child Develop a Sense of Right and Wrong?
On his own, he may never do it. The Bible indicates that a young child does not know “how to reject the bad and choose the good.”—Isa. 7:16.
How Can a Child Be Taught This?
The heart must be reached. He must develop his own inner motivation to “reject the bad and choose the good.” If not, he may simply put on a superficial shrewdness about staying out of trouble. So in addition to “discipline,” parents must ‘bring up’ their children in the “mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Eph. 6:4.
This requires putting information into the child’s mind that will touch his heart. It should motivate him in a right way and warn him of future dangers. The Bible term “mental-regulating” includes “whatever is needed to cause the monition to be taken home, to be laid to heart.”a
How Important Is It to Teach the Child About God?
One Christian elder considered closely the cases of a group of professed Christian youngsters who had got into serious difficulty, which included drug abuse, immorality and drunkenness. What was wrong? “These youngsters simply do not fear God,” he said. “Here’s the situation: It’s dark. They’re in the back seat of a car with someone of the opposite sex. All they feel is their hormones running wild. They couldn’t care less about the consequences. And they will do it week after week.” Yet some ‘rejected the bad.’ “These have had their hearts reached and established a one-on-one relationship with Jehovah,” he noted. “They view him as an all-seeing, loving Person.” So help your child to develop such a relationship.—Prov. 16:6.
A parent must have this relationship with God first. Personal Bible study and meditation are needed. Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to help. In fact, it was this Bible instruction from the Witnesses that changed the youngster mentioned in the opening article, the one who had such a bad background, into a fine parent. “The study of the Bible is what made all the difference,” he admitted.
Your conduct—either good or bad—will teach a child faster and make a deeper impression than anything else. Because of inborn sinfulness, a child will more readily imitate bad habits. (Ps. 51:5) So the first step is to take a look at yourself.
Is It Always the Parents’ Fault if the Child Goes Bad?
Neither parents nor children are perfect. Both will make regrettable mistakes. Yet, because the Bible says that a properly trained child “will not turn aside,” some parents feel solely at fault when a child goes bad. (Prov. 22:6) However, this verse has to be viewed in its proper setting. It is part of the advice given in Proverbs to parents. A parent knows whether he paid only lip service to this counsel or not.
Advice is also given to children. If they are to turn out well, they are urged to ‘listen to,’ “treasure up,” “not forget,” “pay attention [to],” “observe” and “not forsake” the commandments and discipline of parents. (Prov. 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 6:20) Over four times as much counsel is given to children as is given to parents in just this one book of the Bible!
Some children will ‘despise obedience’ to a parent. (Prov. 30:17) One exemplary father of a wayward son remarked: “I have tried and tried to reach his heart. I do not know what to do because I have tried so many things. Nothing has worked.”
A child has a responsibility to heed those verses that apply to him. If both parent and child heed Bible counsel, the general rule is that a child will not deviate. There is no need for a parent to dishearten himself with guilt over what has happened in the past. Concern yourself with what you can do now to help your child.
a Greek scholar R. C. Trench.
[Box on page 10]
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN A CHILD MISBEHAVES
Are you feeling well?
Do you feel I am being unfair? Why?
Are you having problems at school?
Do you feel under too much strain?
Do you just feel gloomy?
Are you getting along with your friends?
Do you feel I expect too much of you?
Is there some way I can help?
[Box on page 10]
WHY YOUTHFUL SUICIDES?
“They can’t take the pressure,” explained one expert. He emphasized “the need for discipline—the kind that builds character so the young won’t crack under pressure.”
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HOW SOON TO START?
One heartbroken parent said: “I kept putting off my children. I thought we had years to shape their lives, but now they’re nearly grown. We’ve let our most influential opportunity slip through our fingers.” Start from infancy!
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“TRAIN” FOR ADULT LIFE
“Train up a boy according to the way for him.” (Prov. 22:6) A child needs to be trained in adult skills such as decisiveness, showing initiative and self-control. Without such training he may fail in adulthood.
Especially delicate are teenage years—a time of transition. One moment the child may complain: “Don’t tell me what to do!” and an hour later he may ask: “Mom, what should I do now?” You can help the child to make the transition by being neither too restrictive nor too easygoing.
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Help your child develop a relationship with God by learning about the Bible together