Training Children from Infancy
1-4. What evidence is there that a young child has tremendous capacity for learning?
THE mind of a newborn child has been compared to a page on which nothing is written. Actually, many impressions were made on the infant’s mind even while it was in its mother’s womb. And certain personality traits are indelibly written into it through genetic inheritance. But an enormous capacity for learning is there from the moment of birth onward. Rather than a single page, it is as if a whole library were waiting to receive the imprints of information on its pages.
2 A baby’s brain at birth is only one fourth the weight it will be in adulthood. But the brain grows so rapidly that in just two years it reaches three fourths of its adult weight! Intellectual growth keeps pace. Researchers say that a child’s intelligence grows as much during the first four years of life as during the next thirteen. In fact, some state that “the concepts the child learns before his fifth birthday are among the most difficult he’ll ever encounter.”
3 Such basic concepts as right and left, up and down, full and empty, as well as comparative degrees of size and weight all seem so natural to us. But a child must learn these and a host of other concepts. The very concept of speech must be implanted and established in the baby’s mind.
4 Language is rated by some as “probably the most difficult intellectual accomplishment a human being is ever called upon to perform.” If you have ever struggled to learn a new language you will likely agree. But you at least have the advantage of knowing how language works. A baby does not, and yet its mind is capable of grasping the concept of language and putting it to work. Not only that, but children of tender years living in bilingual homes or areas may even speak two languages with ease—before they have even begun to go to school! So, the intelligence is there, waiting to be developed.
THE TIME TO START IS RIGHT AWAY!
5. How soon should the training of a child begin?
5 Writing to his companion Timothy, the apostle Paul reminded him that he had known the holy writings “from infancy.” (2 Timothy 3:15) It is a wise parent who recognizes an infant’s natural hunger to learn. Babies are very observant, all eyes and ears. Whether parents are aware of it or not, little ones are busy taking in information, filing it away, adding to it, drawing conclusions. Actually, if parents are not cautious, in a short time the infant may learn remarkably well just how to manipulate them according to its wishes. So, the admonition given in God’s Word applies from birth onward: “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 first lessons, of course, are as to love, with lots of loving care and affection. But along with this must come necessary correction applied gently but firmly.
6. (a) With what kind of speech is it best to talk to a child? (b) What view should be taken of the many questions that a child may raise?
6 Talk to the infant, not in “baby talk” but in simple grown-up speech, which is what you want it to learn. When the small child learns to talk he will deluge you with questions: ‘Why does it rain? Where did I come from? Where do the stars go in daytime? What are you doing? Why this? Why that?’ On they come, endlessly! Listen to them, for questions are among a child’s best tools for learning. Stifling the questions can stifle mental development.
7. How might a young child’s questions best be answered, and why?
7 But remember, as did the apostle, that “when I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Answer the questions as best you can, but simply and briefly. When a child asks, ‘Why does it rain?’ it doesn’t want a complicated, detailed answer. Some reply such as, ‘The clouds get heavy with water and the water falls,’ may satisfy. A child’s attention span is short; it quickly moves on to other fields. So just as you give the child milk until it progresses to solid foods, give it simple information until it can understand more detailed knowledge.—Compare Hebrews 5:13, 14.
8, 9. What could be done to teach a child progressively how to read?
8 Learning should be progressive. As mentioned, Timothy was acquainted with the Scriptures from infancy. Evidently his very earliest recollections from childhood included being taught from the Bible. Surely this was progressive, much as a father or mother today would begin teaching a child to read. Read to your child. When he is an infant, take him in your lap, with your arm around him and read in a pleasant voice. He will have a warm feeling of security and joy, and the reading will be a pleasant experience, regardless of how little he comprehends. Later, you may teach him the alphabet, as a game perhaps. Then make words, and eventually form the words into sentences. And make the process of learning a joy, as far as possible.
9 One couple, for example, would read aloud with their three-year-old child, pointing out each word for the child to follow as they went along. At certain words they would pause, and the child would supply the word, such as “God,” “Jesus,” “man,” “tree.” Gradually the words he was able to read increased, and at four years of age he was reading most of the words. Along with reading comes writing, first individual letters, and then complete words. To write his own name thrills a child!
10. Why is it wise to aid each child to develop its own potential?
10 Each child is different, with a unique personality, and should be helped to develop in harmony with its individual inherited potential and gifts. If you train each child to develop its inherited strengths and abilities, it will not need to feel envy at the accomplishments of other children. Each child should be loved and appreciated for itself. While helping it to overcome or control wrong inclinations, you should not try to force the child into a predetermined mold. Rather, guide it to the best use of its own good personality traits.
11. Why is it unwise to compare one child unfavorably with another?
11 A parent can foster a spirit of selfish competition by implying either the superiority or the inferiority of one child as compared with another. Whereas little children early in life show signs of inborn selfishness, they are initially free from ideas of rank, superiority, and feelings of self-importance. That is why Jesus could use a little child as an example to correct the spirit of ambition and concern for personal importance his disciples showed on a certain occasion. (Matthew 18:1-4) So, avoid comparing one child unfavorably with another. The child may take this as a rejection. First it will feel hurt, and if this treatment continues, it will likely turn hostile. On the other hand, the child presented as superior may become haughty and incur the dislike of others. As a parent, your love and acceptance should never be dependent upon how one child compares with another. Variety is delightful. An orchestra has many different kinds of instruments to add variety and richness, yet all are in harmony. Different personalities add flavor and interest to the family circle, yet harmony will not be impaired when all pattern themselves after their Creator’s right principles.
HELP YOUR CHILD TO GROW
12. What facts about adults demonstrate that a child needs proper direction?
12 God’s Word says that ‘it does not belong to man that walks to direct his steps.’ (Jeremiah 10:23) Men say it does. So they refuse divine direction, accept human direction, walk into one difficulty after another, and end up proving God true after all. Jehovah God says there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12) Men have long taken the way that seemed right to them, and it has led to war, famine, sickness and death. If the way that seems right to a grown, experienced man ends in death, how can the way that seems right to a child end elsewhere? If it does not belong to man that walks to direct his steps, how can it belong to the child that toddles to direct his way of life? The Creator provides directions for both parent and child through His Word.
13, 14. How might parents instruct children, in harmony with the admonition found at Deuteronomy 6:6, 7?
13 To parents, God says: “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) At any and all times, whenever suitable opportunities present themselves, instruction should be given. If the family breakfasts together, even though for many the morning may be a rush time with getting ready for work or school, an expression of thanks for food will direct thoughts toward the Creator and can include other points of spiritual value to the family. Time may allow for some comment about the day’s coming activities or about school and sound counsel on coping with problems that may likely arise. Bedtime, “when you lie down,” can be a happy time for little children if parents give them some extra attention then. Bedtime stories can mean a lot to little ones and can be a fine means of teaching. The Bible is filled with material that only needs some parental ingenuity and warmth to make it very enjoyable to the child. Personal experiences from your own life will have special appeal to your children and can bring home some fine lessons. And though it may seem a challenge to find new stories to relate, often you will find that the child likes to hear the same ones over and over again. You may find that, by taking this extra time, the lines of communication with your children will be made far more open. Prayer with little ones at bedtime can also help establish early communication with the One who can do the most to guide and protect them.—Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 4:6, 7.
14 Wherever you are, ‘sitting at home’ or traveling ‘on the road,’ there are opportunities for you to train your child in ways that are interesting and effective. For children, some of this can be in the form of a game. One couple gave this account of how this worked out in helping children recall points from a meeting for Bible study:
‘One evening we took a little boy with us who is six years old and usually not very attentive at the meetings. While going to the hall, I said: “Let’s play a game. On the way home let’s see if we can remember the songs sung and some of the main points covered in the meeting.” Going home we were amazed. The youngest boy, who is usually inattentive, was given first chance to talk and he recalled many of the points. Our children then added their comments and finally we two adults commented. Instead of work, it was fun to them.’
15. How might a child be encouraged to better his accomplishments?
15 As a child grows older he will learn to express ideas, draw things, do some work, play some music on an instrument. He feels a sense of accomplishment. His work is, in a sense, an extension of himself. It is very personal to him. If you look at it and say ‘Well done,’ the child’s spirits soar. Find something in his work that you can sincerely praise, and he will be encouraged. Criticize it bluntly, and he will likely wilt and lose heart. Raise a question about a certain aspect of it if need be, but do not let it come as a rejection of his work. For example, rather than taking his own drawing and redoing it, you might demonstrate some improvement on another piece of paper. This allows him to adjust his own drawing if he wishes to. By encouraging his effort you encourage his growth; by harshly criticizing him, you may dishearten him or smother his desire to keep trying. Yes, the principle at Galatians 6:4 can also apply to children: “Let him prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” A child, especially for his first efforts, needs encouragement. If the project is good for his age, praise it! If it isn’t, praise the effort, and encourage another try at it. After all, he didn’t walk on his first try.
HOW SHOULD I EXPLAIN SEX?
16. In view of what the Bible says, what kind of answers should be given to a child’s questions about sex?
16 You answer your child’s questions and encourage him to communicate. But then you are suddenly asked about sex. Do you answer frankly or do you give some misleading answer, such as saying that a little baby brother or sister was obtained at the hospital? Will you give correct information or let the children get poor, even wrong, answers, perhaps in an obscene context, from older children? The Bible contains frank references to quite a number of things relating to sex or the genital organs. (Genesis 17:11; 18:11; 30:16, 17; Leviticus 15:2) When instructing his people regarding gatherings where his Word was to be read, God said: “Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones . . . in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn.” (Deuteronomy 31:12) So the little children would hear any such references in a serious, respectful atmosphere, not in the form of “street talk.”
17-19. How might explanations about sex be given progressively?
17 Really, the explaining of sex need not be as difficult as many parents imagine. Children become aware of their bodies very early, discovering the various parts. You name them for the child: hands, feet, nose, stomach, buttocks, penis, vulva. The little child is not embarrassed, unless you suddenly change and become “hush-hush” about the genital parts. What appalls parents is that they think they are going to have to explain everything, once the questioning starts. Actually, the questions come piecemeal, as the child reaches different stages of his development. As different stages are reached, you need only supply the proper vocabulary and very simple, general explanations.
18 For example, one day you are asked, ‘Where do babies come from?’ You can just answer simply by saying something like: ‘They grow inside their mothers.’ Usually, that’s all that is needed, for now. Later on your child may ask, ‘How does the baby get out?’ ‘There’s a special opening for it.’ And that usually satisfies, for now.
19 Some time later the question may come, ‘How did the baby start?’ Your answer may be: ‘A father and a mother want to have a baby. A seed from the father meets an egg cell in the mother and a baby starts to grow, like a seed in the ground will grow into a flower or a tree.’ So, it is a continued story, each segment being sufficient to satisfy the child for the time being. Later the child may ask, ‘How does the father’s seed get into the mother?’ You may simply say: ‘You know how a boy is. He has a penis. The girl has an opening in her body that it fits into. The seed is planted. People are made that way so that babies can be started and grow in the mother, and finally come out as a baby.’
20. Why is it good for parents to be the ones who give their children explanations about sex?
20 This honest approach is certainly better than false stories or a “hush-hush” reaction that makes the subject seem like something distasteful. (Compare Titus 1:15.) It is also better for the child to hear the facts from its parents, who can accompany their explanations with reasons why babies should properly come only from married persons who love each other and who have accepted the responsibility to love and care for the baby. This puts the subject on a wholesome, spiritual plane, rather than its being learned in a setting that makes it all seem unclean.
TRANSMITTING LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS
21. In view of what tendency in children is it important for parents to set a good example for their offspring?
21 Jesus once likened people of his time to “young children sitting in the marketplaces who cry out to their playmates, saying, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we wailed, but you did not beat yourselves in grief.’” (Matthew 11:16, 17) The children’s games were in imitation of grown-ups and their festivals and funerals. Because of the child’s natural tendency to imitate, parental example plays a powerful role in a child’s training.
22. What effect may the conduct of parents have on their children?
22 From the time of birth, your baby is learning from you—not just by what you say but how you say it, by the tone of voice you use in talking: to the baby itself, to your mate and to other persons. It observes parents’ ways of dealing with each other, with other members of the family and with visitors. Your example in these things can begin to convey lessons far more vital than your child’s learning to walk or to count or the ABC’s. It can lay a foundation for the knowledge and understanding that lead to genuine happiness in living. That example can make the child receptive to the communication of righteous standards when it is old enough to be taught by speech and reading.
23, 24. If parents want their children to measure up to certain standards, what must they themselves be willing to do?
23 “Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love,” is the apostle’s exhortation to Christians. Just before this, he showed what imitating God called for, saying: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you. Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children. . . . ” (Ephesians 4:31, 32; 5:1, 2) If the voices that an infant hears, or the actions that it sees, convey lessons in irritability, as do loud and shrill talking, whining complaints, arrogance or explosive anger, an imprint is made that is hard to erase. If you are kind and considerate to all, if your moral standards are high and your principles are good, then your child will tend to imitate you in this. Act the way you want your children to act, be the way you want your children to be.
24 Parents should not have two sets of principles, one to preach and the other to practice, one for their children and the other for themselves. What good is it to tell your children not to lie, if you lie yourself? If you break your promises to them, can you expect them to keep their promises to you? If parents are not respectful to one another, how can they expect their child to learn respect? If the child never hears his father or mother express humility, how can humility become his standard? A serious danger of a parent’s conveying the idea of his being always right is that then the child may feel that everything the parent does is right—even when the parent does things that manifest an imperfect, sinful nature and are wrong. To say but not do is to be like the hypocritical Pharisees, of whom Jesus said: “All the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.” So, parents, if you do not want little Pharisees in your family, do not be big Pharisees!—Matthew 23:3.
25. How should children be taught about love?
25 Children first learn about love by seeing it and they learn to give love by receiving it. Love cannot be bought. Parents may shower gifts upon their children. But love is primarily a spiritual matter, of the heart and not of the pocketbook, and gifts alone can never substitute for genuine love. To try to buy love cheapens it. More than material gifts, give of yourself, your time, your energy, your love. You will receive in like measure. (Luke 6:38) As 1 John 4:19 says about our love for God: “We love, because he first loved us.”
26, 27. How might children be taught the joy that comes from giving?
26 Children can learn about giving by receiving. They can be helped to learn the joys of giving, of serving, of sharing. Help them to see that there is happiness in giving—to you, to other children, to grown persons. Often adults do not want to accept gifts from children, mistakenly thinking it shows love to let the children keep for themselves the gifts they would give. One man stated:
“I used to refuse when a child offered me some of his candy. I thought I was being kind, not taking what I knew he liked so much. But when I refused and let him keep it all for himself, I didn’t see the joy I thought the child would show. Then I realized that I was rejecting his generosity, rejecting his gifts, and rejecting him. Thereafter I always accepted such gifts, to let him know the joys of giving.”
27 Parents in one family wanted to help their small son to become like those described in the Bible at 1 Timothy 6:18, “liberal, ready to share.” So, when attending a place for Bible study they would take the money they were going to contribute and give it to their son, letting him drop it into the contribution box. This helped to impress upon him the value of giving support to spiritual matters and of helping to supply whatever material needs these may involve.
28, 29. How might children be taught the importance of apologizing for wrongs?
28 Just as children can learn to love and be generous if right instruction is accompanied by good example, so too they can learn to apologize when it is appropriate. One parent said: “When I make a mistake with my children, I admit it to them. Very briefly I tell them why I made the mistake and that I was in error. It makes it easier for them to admit their mistakes to me, knowing I’m not perfect and will understand.” Illustrating this viewpoint was an occasion when a stranger was visiting a family and the father was introducing the family members to him. The visitor commented:
“All present were introduced, and then a smiling little boy came into the room. The father said, ‘And this is our last son, the one with the jam on his shirt.’ The boy’s smile disappeared and a look of hurt came over his face. Seeing that embarrassment was about to bring tears, the father quickly pulled the child to him and said, ‘I shouldn’t have said that; I’m sorry.’ The boy sobbed a moment, then left the room, but soon was back, with an even bigger smile—and he had a fresh clean shirt on.”
29 Certainly the bonds of affection are strengthened by such humility. Of course, later on a parent can explain to a child how to take a balanced viewpoint of life’s problems, big and small. He can aid his children to learn not to view minor matters too seriously, to be able to laugh at themselves and never to expect perfection of others even as they do not want it expected of themselves.
GIVE A SET OF TRUE VALUES
30-32. Why is it vital for parents to start very early in helping their children to recognize true values in life?
30 Today many parents are confused as to what the true values of life are. As a result, many children are never given a set of values. Some parents even doubt their right to shape their children’s attitudes. If parents don’t, other children, neighbors, movies and television will. Generation gaps, youth revolts, drugs, new moralities and sexual revolutions—all of this frightens parents. But the truth is, the child’s personality is already quite developed before these issues begin to arise in its life.
31 Studies reported on in one scientific journal say that “the major portion of the individual’s personality is established before the onset of school. It is, of course, common knowledge that preschool children are extremely impressionable and malleable. . . . However, we have discovered that what they have encountered in their childhood in terms of attitudes and experiences often establishes lasting and sometimes immutable, behavior patterns.”
32 Wrong patterns can be changed, but another researcher explains what happens if precious years are allowed to slip by: “The child remains malleable during his first seven years, but the longer you wait, the more radically you need to change his environment—and the probability of change becomes a little less with each successive year.”
33. What are the most important concepts that children should be taught?
33 Small children have to learn many basic concepts, but those of greatest importance are the concepts of what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Writing to the Ephesian Christians, the apostle Paul urged them to gain accurate knowledge, saying, “We should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error. But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13-15) If parents are slow about helping little ones to develop a love of truth and honesty, a love for what is right and good, the children will be left defenseless against error and wrong. The preschool years pass almost before parents realize it. Don’t let them slip by; use those first few, vital, formative years with your children to give them a set of true values. You may save yourself heartache in later years.—Proverbs 29:15, 17.
34. Why are stable standards important, and what is the best source of such standards?
34 “The scene of this world is changing,” wrote the inspired apostle, and that is certainly true of its material, emotional and moral standards. (1 Corinthians 7:31) There is little stability in the world. Parents must recognize that, being human, they too can fail in this regard. If they have their children’s best interests at heart and are really concerned for their future happiness, parents will point their children to a set of standards that are truly stable. They can do this by impressing upon their children from infancy onward that, whatever question may arise, whatever problem needs solution, God’s written Word, the Bible, is the place to turn to for answers that are decisive and most helpful. No matter how confusing or obscure circumstances may at times cause life to seem, that Word will continue to be ‘a lamp to their feet, and a light to their roadway.’—Psalm 119:105.
35. How important is the training of one’s children?
35 Yes, this is your period of golden opportunity to begin building in your children a set of values that can sustain them throughout their lives. No career is greater, no job more important, than training your children. The time to start is as soon as they are born, in their infancy!
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Make learning a pleasant experience