The Formative Years—What You Sow Now You Will Reap Later
BABY brains are sponges soaking up their surroundings. In two years their possessors learn a complex language just by hearing it. If the child hears two, he learns both. Not only language but also musical and artistic abilities, muscular coordination, moral values and conscience, faith and love and the urge to worship—all spring from capacities and potentials preprogrammed into baby brains. They only await input from the environment for their development. Also, there is a correct timetable for this input to come for the best results, and that advantageous time is during the formative years.
The process begins at birth. It is called bonding. Mother gazes lovingly into baby’s eyes, talks soothingly to him, hugs and cuddles him. Maternal instincts are stirred as baby looks intently at her and feels secure. If at this beginning nursing occurs, so much the better for both. The baby’s sucking stimulates milk production. The touch of his skin causes a release of hormones that reduces her postdelivery bleeding. Mother’s milk contains antibodies that protect baby from infections. Bonding occurs. It’s the beginning of a love affair. But only the beginning.
The twosome soon becomes a threesome when father is brought into the picture, as he surely must. “Every child needs . . . a father,” Dr. T. Berry Brazelton says, “and every father can make a difference. . . . 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.” The babies respond to this manhandling with excited cries and screams of delight, having boisterous fun and clamoring for more. It’s a continuation of the bonding initiated at birth, ‘a love connection between parents and child that most naturally is made or missed in the first eighteen months of a baby’s life,’ says Dr. Magid, coauthor of the book High Risk: Children Without a Conscience. If missed, he says, such children may grow up to become unattached and have no capacity for love.
Mother and Father Share Bonding
Hence, how crucial for both mother and father to collaborate on strengthening this love connection, this bonding and attachment between parents and child during the formative years prior to kindergarten! Let there be hugs and kisses galore from both parents. Yes, dads too! Men’s Health, June 1992, says: “Hugs and physical affection with parents strongly predict successful friendships, marriages and careers in a child’s future, says a 36-year study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Seventy percent of the kids with affectionate parents did well for themselves socially, compared with only 30 percent of the kids with cold-fish parents; and Dad’s hugs were found to be as important as Mom’s.”
Also, hold him while rocking in a rocking chair. Read to him as he feels secure on your lap. Talk with him and listen to him, instruct him in what’s right and wrong, and be sure to be good models, practicing these principles yourselves. And all the while remember the child’s age. Keep it simple, keep it interesting, make it fun.
Your child has a natural curiosity, a desire to explore, to learn all about his surroundings. To satisfy this hunger to know, the child plies you with a running stream of questions. What makes the wind? Why is the sky blue? Why does it get red when the sun sets? Answer them. It’s not always easy. These questions are an invitation for you to influence your child’s mind, to have input, perhaps to instill an appreciation for God and his creation. Is it a ladybug crawling on a leaf that fascinates him? Or the design of a tiny flower? Or watching a spider spin a web? Or just digging in the dirt? And don’t overlook teaching with little stories, as Jesus did with his parables. It makes learning enjoyable.
In many cases both parents need to work to make ends meet. Can they make a special effort to spend evening and weekend hours with their children? Is it possible for the mother to work half days to have more time with her children? There are many single parents today, and they must work to support themselves and their children. Can they be diligent to give as many evening hours and weekends as possible to their children? In many cases it is necessary for mothers to be away from their children. Even when the reasons for being away are valid, the small child does not understand that and may feel abandoned. Then special effort must be made to buy out time for your child.
Now, just what is this “quality time” we hear about? Busy parents may spend 15 or 20 minutes every other day with their child, maybe an hour on the weekend, and call it quality time. Is this adequate for the child’s need? Or is its purpose to salve a parental conscience? Or to ease the mind of a mother who works for self-fulfillment while leaving her child unfulfilled? But you say, ‘Honestly, I’m so busy I just don’t have that kind of time.’ That is too bad and very sad for both you and your child because there are no shortcuts. Find the time during the formative years, or be prepared to reap a generation gap in the teen years.
It is not only the possible damage done to the child left in day care, but also the parents’ loss when they miss out on enjoying the child as he grows up. The child does not always understand the whys and wherefores for being left alone; he may feel neglected, rejected, abandoned, unloved. By his teen years, he may have formed attachments with peers to replace the parents too busy for him. The child may even start living a double life, one to placate his parents and another to please himself. Words, explanations, apologies—none of this closes the gap. Parental talk about love now does not come through as genuine to the child that was neglected during the years when he needed his parents the most. Talk of love now sounds false; the words ring hollow. Like faith, professed love without works is dead.—James 2:26.
Reaping Even Now What We Have Sown
In this me-first generation, selfishness is on the rise, and it is apparent particularly in the abandonment of our children. We have them, and then we put them in day-care centers. Some day-care centers may be good for children, but many are not, particularly not for young children. Some even come under investigation for sexual child abuse. One researcher said: “In the future, without any question, we’ll have problems that make today look like a tea party.” Today’s “tea party” is already horrendous, as statistics presented by Dr. David Elkind in 1992 show:
“There has been a 50-percent increase in obesity in children and youth over the past two decades. We lose some ten thousand teenagers a year in substance-related accidents, not including injured and maimed. One in four teenagers drinks to excess every two weeks, and we have two million alcoholic teenagers.
“Teenage girls in America get pregnant at the rate of one million per year, twice the rate of the next Western country, England. Suicide has tripled among teenagers in the last 20 years, and between five and six thousand teenagers take their own lives each year. It is estimated that one out of four teenage girls manifests at least one symptom of an eating disorder, most commonly severe dieting. The 14- to 19-year-old age group has the second-highest homicide rate of any age group.”
Add to these frightening statistics the killing of over 50 million babies while they are still in the womb, and today’s “tea party” defies description. With the collapse of families in view, Dr. Elkind said: “Rapid social change is a catastrophe for children and youth, who require stability and security for healthy growth and development.” One writer on me-first selfishness cried out in protest: “But nobody’s willing to say to couples, Look, you’ve got to stay married. If you’ve got kids, stay married!”
It takes time to love a child. Years ago Robert Keeshan, broadcaster to children as Captain Kangaroo, warned of the consequences of withholding your time from your children. He said:
“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.”
Quantity Time Needed
The ideal is not simply to dole out “quality time” in measured installments; it must include also “quantity time.” The Bible, which contains far more wisdom than all the books ever written on psychology, states at Deuteronomy 6:6, 7: “And 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.” You must inculcate into your children’s hearts the true values from God’s Word that are in your heart. If you live them, your child will copy you.
Remember the proverb quoted in the second paragraph of the previous article? Here it is again: “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) It holds true only if the values training has been internalized, that is, put inside of him, made a part of his thinking, his innermost feelings, what he is deep inside. This happens only if these values have not only been taught him by his parents but also been practiced by his parents.
He has absorbed them as a way of life. It has become his personal standard that is a part of himself. To go against them now would not be going against what his parents taught him but what he himself has become. He would be untrue to himself. He would be denying himself. (2 Timothy 2:13) There is a deep-down unwillingness to do this to himself. Hence, he is far less likely to ‘turn aside from this way’ that has been instilled into him. So let your children absorb fine conduct from you. Teach kindness by showing kindness, manners by practicing them, gentleness by being gentle, honesty and truthfulness by exemplifying them.
The family unit was Jehovah’s arrangement for man from the beginning. (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-24) After six thousand years of human history, it is still recognized as the best for both adults and children, as confirmed by the book Secrets of Strong Families in these words:
“Perhaps something deep within us realizes the family is the foundation of civilization. Perhaps we instinctively know that when we come to the bottom line in life it’s not money, career, fame, a fine house, land, or material possessions that are important—it is the people in our lives who love and care for us. People in our lives who are committed to us and on whom we can count for support and help are what really matter. Nowhere is the potential for the love, support, caring, and commitment for which we all yearn greater than in the family.”
Hence, it is important to be diligent and sow fine training now during formative years so that what you reap in the future will be, for both you and your children, a happy family life.—Compare Proverbs 3:1-7.
[Box on page 10]
Which Parent Will I Be?
“I got two A’s,” the small boy cried, his voice filled with glee. His father bluntly asked, “Why didn’t you get more?” “Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,” the girl called from the door. Her mother calmly said, “Did you take out the garbage?” “I’ve mowed the grass,” the tall boy said, “and put away the mower.” With a shrug his father asked him, “Did you trim the hedge as well?”
The children in the house next door seem happy and contented. The same thing happened over there, and this is how it went:
“I got two A’s,” the small boy cried, his voice filled with glee. His father proudly said, “That’s great; I’m glad you did so well.” “Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,” the girl called from the door. Her mother smiled and softly said, “I love you more each day.” “I’ve mowed the grass,” the tall boy said, “and put away the mower.” His father happily answered, “You’ve made me proud of you.”
Children deserve a little praise for the tasks they do each day. If they’re to lead a happy life, much depends on you.
[Pictures on page 7]
Father joins mother in the bonding process
[Picture on page 8]
As imagination flourishes, a boy running with arms flung wide is a soaring airplane, a large carton becomes a home for playing house, a broomstick becomes a fiery steed, a chair is the driver’s seat of a race car