Train Your Child in the Right Way—And Do It From Infancy!
“The period of infancy is undoubtedly the richest. It should be utilized by education in every possible and conceivable way. The waste of this period of life can never be compensated. Instead of ignoring the early years, it is our duty to cultivate them with the utmost care.”—Dr. Alexis Carrel.
THERE is a need to program both mind and heart. Men may be awed by the dazzling achievements of the mind, but God looks at the heart. Knowledge in the head tends to puff up; it is love in the heart that builds up. Bright minds need loving hearts, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Out of this figurative heart also come acts good and bad. (Matthew 12:34, 35; 15:19; 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Corinthians 8:1) So while it is important to stimulate children’s minds, it is even more important to instill love into their hearts.
There is a built-in starter for this at birth. It is called bonding. The mother holds, cuddles, strokes, and talks cooingly to her baby. Baby, in turn, looks intently at its mother. Bonding takes place, maternal instincts are stirred, and baby feels secure. Some authorities believe that “there is a sensitive period in the first few minutes and hours after the infant’s birth which is optimal for infant-parent attachment.”
A good beginning, but only a beginning. The infant is helpless, dependent primarily on its mother for its immediate needs—both physical and emotional. Without food the baby starves; it can also starve emotionally. Cuddling, hugging, rocking, playing, loving—all stimulate the development of the brain. This stimulation has been likened to a nutrient for the brain. Without it the brain is impoverished and stunted for life. And because of this neglect it can also become hostile, delinquent, and violent. Mothering is a priority for the child and for society—more important than any worldly career!
The Father’s Role
The father is not to be excluded. If he is present at birth, the father-infant bond will begin. As the weeks and months pass, the influence of his role expands rapidly, as is shown by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a professional in the field of child development.
“Every child needs a mother and a father,” he says, “and every father can make a difference. For a baby, having an active, involved father is not the same as simply having more mothering.” He cites a report that showed the difference in the ways mothers and fathers handle children. “The mothers tended to be gentle and low-keyed with their babies. Fathers, on the other hand, were more playful, tickling and poking their babies more than the mothers did.”
But fathers give children more than just fun. “Where there is an active father,” he says, “the child grows up to be more successful at school, to have a better sense of humor and to get along better with other kids. He believes more in himself and is better motivated to learn. By the time he is six or seven, the child’s IQ will be higher.”
Jehovah God orders a close teaching relationship between father and son: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) No beginning generation gap here!
Training From Infancy
There are stages or phases in the development of infants through the years from birth to six years: muscular coordination, speech skills, emotional qualities, memory faculties, thinking abilities, conscience, and others. When the infant brain is growing rapidly and these stages arrive in their turn, that is the opportune time for training in these different abilities.
That is when the infant brain absorbs these abilities or qualities as a sponge soaks up water. Loved, it learns to love. Talked to and read to, it learns both to talk and to read. Put on skis, it becomes an expert skier. Exposed to uprightness, it absorbs right principles. If these favorable learning stages pass without proper input, these qualities and abilities will be more difficult to acquire later on.
The Bible recognizes this, so it admonishes parents: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) The Keil-Delitzsch commentary renders it: “Give to the child instruction conformably to His way.” The Hebrew word translated “train” also means “initiate” and here indicates the initiating of the first instruction of the infant. Give it according to the child’s way, conformable to his way, according to the stages of his development that he is passing through. That is the appropriate time for him to absorb it easily, and what he learns during these formative years is likely to remain with him.
This is also the opinion of most students of human development: “Nowhere in child-development research have we demonstrated a strong capacity to alter early personality patterns, or early social attitudes.” They admit it can happen, but “more often than not, remediation will not be achieved.” Many exceptions occur, however, through the power of God’s truth to effect change.—Ephesians 4:22, 24; Colossians 3:9, 10.
Language is a good example of training given at the right time. Babies are genetically programmed for speech, but for such built-in brain circuitry to function at top efficiency, the infant must be exposed to speech sounds at the right stage of development. Growth in the speech centers explodes between 6 and 12 months if adults talk to the infant often. Between 12 and 18 months this growth accelerates as the infant grasps that words have meanings.
He is learning words before he can speak them. During the second year of life, this receptive, or passive, vocabulary may go from a few words to several hundred. The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that “from infancy you have known the holy writings.” (2 Timothy 3:15) The literal meaning of the word “infancy” is “nonspeaker.” Very likely Timothy had the Holy Scriptures read to him while he was still an infant, and thus he knew many Bible words before he could speak them.
The point is, there are specific times in the development of the child at which certain things can be learned easily, almost by absorption. If those times pass without the needed stimulation, however, abilities will not be fully developed. If, for example, children do not hear any speech at all until years later, they will then learn it very slowly and very laboriously, and usually never well.
Read to Your Child From Babyhood
When do you begin? From the beginning. Read to your newborn. ‘But he won’t understand!’ When did you start talking to him? ‘Why, right away, of course.’ Did he understand what you were saying? ‘Well, no, but . . . ’ Then why not read to him?
With the infant in your lap, your arm around him, holding him close, he feels secure, loved. Your reading to him is a pleasant experience. It makes an impression. He associates a feeling of joy with reading. Babies are imitative, and parents are role models. He wants to copy you. He wants to read. He plays that he is reading. Later he experiences the joys of reading.
Because of this comes another big benefit—he usually becomes no television addict. He does not sit glassy-eyed watching thousands of stabbings, shootings, murders, rapes, fornications, and adulteries. He can turn the TV off; he can open a book and read. Quite an accomplishment in these days of illiteracy and TV addiction!
It Takes Time to Love a Child
Of course, it takes time to read to children. And it takes time to play with your baby, to play pat-a-cake and peekaboo, to watch it as it explores, initiates actions, seeks out novelty, satisfies curiosity, stimulates creativity. Parenting takes time. And you had better start while your children are babies. That’s often when generation gaps start; they seldom wait till the teens. Robert J. Keeshan, broadcaster to children as Captain Kangaroo, tells how it can happen:
“A small child waits, thumb in mouth, doll in hand, with some impatience, the arrival home of a parent. She wishes to relate some small sandbox experience. She is excited to share the thrill she has known that day. The time comes, the parent arrives. Beaten down by the stresses of the workplace the parent so often says to the child, ‘Not now, honey. I’m busy, go watch television.’ The most often spoken words in many American households, ‘I’m busy, go watch television.’ If not now, when? ‘Later.’ But later rarely comes . . .
“Years go by and the child grows. We give her toys and clothes. We give her designer clothes and a stereo but we do not give her what she wants most, our time. She’s fourteen, her eyes are glassy, she’s into something. ‘Honey, what’s happening? Talk to me, talk to me.’ Too late. Too late. Love has passed us by. . . .
“When we say to a child, ‘Not now, later.’ When we say, ‘Go watch TV.’ When we say, ‘Don’t ask so many questions.’ When we fail to give our young people the one thing they require of us, our time. When we fail to love a child. We are not uncaring. We are simply too busy to love a child.”
It’s true, loving your child takes time. Not just time to feed its body with food and put clothes on its back but time to fill its heart with love. Not love weighed, measured, and rationed out but an overflowing and “irrational love,” as Burton L. White, author of The First Three Years of Life, calls it. He said: “It is very unwise for working parents to transfer the primary child-rearing function to somebody else, especially to center-based care. Now, I’ve had a lot of tomatoes thrown at me because of that statement, but my concern is what is best for babies.” He is viewing this as “what is best for babies,” yet realizing this ideal is not always possible economically where one or even both parents must work.
Discipline—A Touchy Subject!
A lot of tomatoes are also thrown at the Bible because of its counsel on discipline. “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) On this verse the New International Version Study Bible footnote says: “rod. Probably a figure of speech for discipline of any kind.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines “rod” as a “sceptre, as an emblem of rule.”
Parental rule may involve spanking, but more often it need not. According to 2 Timothy 2:24, 25, Christians are to be “gentle toward all, . . . instructing with mildness.” The word “instructing” here is translated from the Greek word for discipline. Discipline is to be given with regard for children’s feelings: “And you, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
Psychologists championing permissiveness say if you spank your child you hate him. Not true. Permissiveness is hateful. It has loosed a flood of juvenile delinquency and criminality throughout the earth and caused anguish to millions of parents. It is as Proverbs 29:15 says: “A boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” Under the heading “Strict vs. permissive parents,” Dr. Joyce Brothers says:
“A recent study of almost 2,000 fifth and sixth graders—some of whom had been reared by strict parents, others by permissive ones—produced some surprising results. The children who had been strictly disciplined possessed high self-esteem and [were] high achievers, socially and academically.” Were they resentful of their strict parents? No, “they believed that parental rules had been set up for the children’s own good—and were an expression of parental love.”
White says that if you are strict with your child, you need not fear “that he will love you less than if you were lenient. Children in the first two years of life do not become detached from their primary caretakers very easily; even if you spank them regularly, you will find they keep coming back to you.”
The Best Lecture of All
It is you. Your example. You are your child’s role model. He listens more to what you are than to what you say. He hears your words, but he imitates your actions. Your child is a copycat. So, what do you want him to be? Loving, kind, generous, studious, intelligent, industrious, a disciple of Jesus, a worshiper of Jehovah? Whatever it is, be that yourself.
Hence, train your child from infancy, when its brain is growing fast, soaking up information and feelings for mind and heart. But if those crucial formative years are past and the godly personality has not been instilled in your child, then what? Do not despair. Change can still happen and is happening for millions, both young and old, by God’s power. “Strip off the old personality with its practices,” God’s Word says, “and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.”—Colossians 3:9, 10.
[Pictures on page 8]
With father: A time for reading, a time for playing
[Picture on page 10]
Bath time can be fun