Disciplining Children for Life
“The reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Prov. 6:23, RS.
1. How are children admonished, and what question must be faced?
JEHOVAH admonishes children: “Keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them about your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” (Prov. 6:20-23, RS) Sometimes, though parents give the proper instruction and set the proper example, children refuse to obey. That brings us to discipline, and forces a facing of that hotly controversial question: to spank or not to spank.
2. What do many child psychologists say about spanking, but what does the Bible say?
2 Many child psychologists put a “hands off” sign on children, as did one who said: “Do you mothers realize that every time you spank your child you show that you are hating your child?” Jehovah says: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” A spanking may be a lifesaver to a child, for Jehovah says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol.” Again, “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.” It is Jehovah who can peer into the innermost parts of men and children, and at one time, typical of our day, he did this and saw: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” The remedy? “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”—Prov. 13:24; 23:13, 14; 20:30, RS; Gen. 8:21, NW; Prov. 22:15, RS.
3. Why must corrective words sometimes be followed by corrective actions, and what are the contrasting results of pampering and disciplining?
3 With some children occasions arise when words fall short, and parents may have to become men and women of action, applying the rod to preserve the child from spoiling. Though it understands your words, it may not pay heed, as Proverbs 29:19 (AT) says: “Not by mere words can a servant be trained; for he understands, but will not pay heed.” Two verses later (Prov. 29:21, AT) it says: “He who pampers his servant from childhood will in the end gain nothing but ingratitude.” That also holds true for children pampered by parents. Children have no respect for the doting or negligent or indulgent parent that withholds correction; with such they only become more demanding and disrespectful. On the other hand, discipline that is wisely, fairly and mercifully administered gains respect, as Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “We used to have fathers who were of our flesh to discipline us and we used to give them respect. . . . True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Heb. 12:9, 11, NW) Such discipline is to train, not inflict painful punishment.
4. When is discipline done in selfishness, and why must the individual child be considered in determining the form of discipline necessary?
4 In disciplining remember the proverb: “To act without reflection is not good; and to be over-hasty is to miss the mark.” To strike a blow in sudden anger is evidence of poor motive, namely, the release of the emotional pressure of a steamed-up parent. Such discipline is for selfish relief, not done out of love for the child. In many cases the solution may be found to lie between the two extremes of never spanking and always spanking. But this is not true in all cases. The temperament and disposition of the individual child must be considered. Some are very sensitive, and such drastic measures as spanking may not be necessary. Some may be so callous that such drastic measures may be ineffective. Concerning men these two proverbs are written: “On the lips of a sensible man wisdom is found; but a man without sense needs a rod for his back.” “A rebuke sinks deeper into a man of intelligence than a hundred lashes into a fool.” (Prov. 19:2; 10:13; 17:10, AT) So it is with children. Some are more sensible than others; some are meeker than others. A rebuke may discipline them more than a whipping would others who are more stubborn and in whose childish heart may be bound up a more than usual amount of folly.
5. Why should parents, of all people, be patient if their children are of a particularly unruly temperament?
5 Parents, if this is the case with your child, be patient. As unflattering, as unpalatable, as unacceptable as it may be to you, the child got it from you. In you it may be subdued, it may never have come to the surface; but it is in you somewhere, because your child did not get it from nowhere. We must face it: adults give their children a bad start. Adam and Eve gave everyone a bad start. Hence the Bible says: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”—Job 14:1, 4; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12.
USE OF LOVE AND GOOD SENSE IN DISCIPLINING
6. What must be remembered in the making and enforcing of rules?
6 This shows children need guidance; it also shows they will not be perfect. Expect neither too much nor too little. The rules of conduct should be clear to them, and fair and with merciful allowances. Remember their age, for they will act it. Do not expect them to act like little adults. Paul said that when he was a babe he acted like one. (1 Cor. 13:11) After reasonable rules are established and the child knows them, enforce them with promptness and consistency, so the child knows what to expect. But if they are spasmodically enforced according to your whim or mood of the moment, or if punishment for disobedience is long delayed, the child will be emboldened to chance violations to see how far he can go and how much he can get away with, just as adults become bold in evil-doing when retribution seems to lag: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is emboldened in them to do evil.” If discipline is not fair and consistent the very keen sense of justice possessed by children will be offended and resentment arise. So correct in fairness and firmness, tempered by love and mercy. Jehovah remembers our frame is dust; let us remember the child’s also is dust.—Eccl. 8:11, AS, margin; Knox; Ps. 103:13, 14.
7 Some parents are always nagging at their children, harping about things that do not really matter, building up feelings of annoyance and irritation and exasperation in their children, making them rebellious and downhearted, all in violation of the following Bible instructions to parents: “You, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” “You fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21, NW) If parents follow the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah they will not be irritating and exasperating their children and making them downhearted with a lot of nagging over immaterial matters. Do not hedge the child in by numerous, needless prohibitions, but only where it really matters. Restrain when there is real reason, but never just to show authority. When possible let them make their own choices and decisions, commending the wise ones. If they do well on an assigned task or in field service, commend them as an encouragement. Does not the Bible do this, saying, “Well done, good and faithful slave”? (Matt. 25:21, NW) Sometimes control is necessary because of time or place, not because an act is wrong in itself. For example, romping during a meeting hurts the child and others. No wrong in romping, but the timing is bad. There is a time to play, a time to romp, and a time to listen, a time to learn. So watch time and place, for the good of everyone.—Prov. 29:15.
8. What variety of forms may discipline take, and how are the views of many child psychologists changing?
8 So in summing up on the matter of discipline, administer it in love, not in angry shouts or blows. (Prov. 15:1) Punishments may vary according to temperaments of meekness or stubbornness. You may punish by withholding a token of affection, or reward by giving such token. You may banish the unruly child from the company of the obedient, or deny its participation in a family pleasure, or withhold a favorite dessert or pastime, or at times you may have to use the literal rod to preserve the order of the home. To illustrate the need of different methods, consider this actual case. A small boy in Brooklyn had a dental appointment. Before his mother took him there a 4-year-old playmate told him that whenever she went to the dentist she kept her mouth shut. So when his mother took him he refused to open his mouth. Back at home, he got a good spanking. Next dental appointment he again refused to open up. A harder spanking followed, but still his mouth remained shut in the dental chair. But this youngster was a television fan. He was denied all access to the set. About two televisionless days later he announced he was ready to take on the dentist with an open mouth. But regarding the use of the rod, it may be noted that in the face of mounting juvenile delinquency many child psychologists are doing an about-face on spanking, many swinging back to the rod idea. Many have been forced to admit that the lessons learned at mother’s knee do not make as lasting an impression as those learned while stretched across daddy’s.
9. In the broadest sense, what is the rod of correction and how must it be wielded?
9 But when the Bible speaks of the rod of correction it does not necessarily mean a literal rod; in the broad sense it means parental authority. Its corrective influence may take a variety of forms. Whatever form it takes, it should always be wielded in love and mercy, never in anger or rigid justice. Never try to mete out the full measure of what the child’s conduct might justly demand. Jeremiah 10:23 has been cited, but now read what it says, along with Jer 10 verse 24 (AS): “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Jehovah, correct me, but in measure; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” So parents, when you correct your children let it be measured out in love and mercy, not in anger or full justice. As Christians you are not under strict justice but divine mercy, and must show mercy to others, especially to your children, whose imperfections and blemishes are traceable in greater or less degree to you and your forebears. And in wielding the rod of parental authority, if you have more than one child avoid showing partiality, else you may make one hated by the other. Joseph’s brothers thought their father partial to Joseph, and as a result hated Joseph. The older son showed resentment when he thought his father was favoring the prodigal son. (Gen. 37:3, 4; Luke 15:25-30) If you hold one child up as an example to another, you may make the exemplary one hated by the other.
10, 11. What is so necessary, and how is it shown?
10 Parents, it is so necessary to show your children that they are loved and wanted. Recently the New York Times reported that 34 foundlings died for no reason but a lack of mother love. A book on efficiency tells of training in modern psychology now being given schoolteachers, but adds ruefully: “Although it must be admitted that the old-fashioned school marm who simply loved children may have been much more successful in helping her pupils.” Look magazine recently said that all rules and “techniques for handling children mean far less than the general spirit and atmosphere of the home.” The new-world-society atmosphere highlighting love and Jehovah’s spirit is essential in rearing children for life eternal.
11 Parents, this love is not shown by gushing sentimentality or baby talk or indulging every childish whim or acceding to every material want. Love is not pampering. It makes the child feel wanted. Children are spoken of as an inheritance from Jehovah, likened to tender olive plants around the table. They need tender care to grow up and bear fruit. They are the fruit of the mother’s womb. Jehovah’s Word tells us the fruit of our lips should praise him, and the fruit of the womb should do likewise. (Ps. 127:3; 128:3; Heb. 13:15) Do your children praise Jehovah? If you will, they usually will. Help them, show them the way, direct their steps, give good instruction, set right examples, correct when necessary, and guide them to eternal living with the New World society. Be examples they can have pride in claiming and find happiness in following. As Manoah prayed for guidance from Jehovah in rearing Samson, you pray for his guidance in rearing your children.—Prov. 17:6; 20:7, AT; Judg. 13:8.
A WORD TO THE CHILDREN
12. What may children now be thinking, and why can we properly look to animal examples for instruction?
12 Well now, what are all you children thinking? That here is a big crowd of grownups ganging up on you, thinking up more ways to hem you in and make your life miserable? No, we are not ganging up on you, but ganging up for you, to be strong to protect you, to keep you in our midst, serving God and safe from Satan. All who love Jehovah must gang together to help one another do God’s work. If you children have been the subjects of our discussion, it is because you are the objects of our affection. All right, you say, but if you grownups are so fond of us what is all this talk about discipline, and especially spanking? Well, with you children that does touch a tender spot, does it not? But to help us get to the bottom of the matter let us look at the animals that you children love. Jehovah’s wisdom is reflected in his creations, so to look to animals for instruction is not to lower our thinking to their level, but to lift it to God’s thoughts. We are told to go to the ant to learn industriousness, to consider the locust for an example of unity; so we are on no unscriptural side trip when we look at the training some animals give their young, which springs from God-given instinct.—Rom. 1:20; Prov. 6:6-8; 30:27; Joel 2:7, 8.
13. What examples show training should be gradual, recognizing the limitations of the young?
13 When animal parents train their young they are aware of the limitations of their young, that at the start the little ones cannot do big things. So they start their young out in what might be called an animal kindergarten, and work up. For example, barn swallows catch insects on the wing. That is too hard for young birds, so the parent birds catch the fast-flying insects, hover near the nest or perch of the young birds, drop the insects, and the youngsters fly out and catch the slow-falling bodies. Soon they can snatch their own food out of thin air. The mother fox, after the young are weaned, brings captured mice and other food into the den. Later she leaves it at the entrance, and as the babies get bigger she leaves it farther and farther away, to teach her young to hunt for their food. Toward the end of this training the parent fox even hides the prey beneath leaves and rubbish, thus forcing the young to use the sense of smell as well as the sense of sight. In these and many other cases, as the young learn more the parents do less. So with you children. You need to be trained by your parents, and as you learn more and gain experience you will be allowed to do more and more. As you increase in ability parental control will decrease.
14. What example shows discipline when the young persist in annoying the old?
14 But what about discipline in the woods? Well, we just have to face the fact that these animal mothers are old-fashioned and seem not to have read any modern books on child psychology, because they surely do spank their young. A mother tiger was annoyed when one of her babies kept pawing at her. She tried to ignore these advances, but finally took the youngster’s whole head in her mouth, squeezed and shook it, while the startled baby whimpered. You children probably have never had your mother take your head in her mouth, but you have probably got a shaking when you have annoyed her and not stopped when told to.
15, 16. What examples show correction for restlessness and venturesomeness?
15 Did any of you children ever get in trouble for not sitting still, maybe during a meeting? You should go to the fawn, you restless ones, and consider its ways, and be wise. A mother deer will conceal its baby or fawn and instruct it to freeze motionless, and it will remain without moving for hours. Rarely do fawns disobey and move, but if they do they get a spanking from sharp mother hoofs.
16 Did you ever get a spanking for being too venturesome, for doing something in your playing that mother thought might result in your being hurt? If you did, you have company in your plight. A young koala, that is, the little bear that looks just like the toy teddy bear, was in captivity with its mother. There was a tree in the cage, and the baby would go out on small limbs where the mother could not follow. At the first opportunity she nabbed him and spanked him so hard his cries were heard a long way off. After that he stayed off the small branches.
17. What illustrates the use of discipline to preserve life?
17 Some years ago in Sequoia National Park, in the western United States, garbage was dumped in an opening in the forest and bears would come there in large numbers to eat. Once a mother bear came out of the forest with two cubs, but before she came on down to where the grown bears were eating she sent her babies up a tree. One came down, and the mother rushed over and gave it a good wallop with her paw and sent it rolling. It scurried up the tree in a hurry, and both of them stayed there till she had finished her meal and returned to the foot of the tree and signaled them down. Remember the scripture that appeared earlier in this study, where it told the parent to spank the child, that spanking would not kill it but would deliver it from the grave? Well, that is just what this mother bear was doing. She spanked the cub; that did not kill it, but it saved it from death. Had it gone down where the big bears were eating a large vicious male might have killed it.
18. Why is discipline, even spanking, so vital in the woods?
18 There is no juvenile delinquency in the animal realm, because there are no delinquent animal mothers. They do not spare the paw and spoil the young, but spank to preserve the young. They would die fighting for their young, just as your parents would die for you; yet they spank their young, just as your parents may spank you. In the woods the first mistake is often the last, and if the young animals disobeyed their mothers they would become the main course on a woodland menu and end up in another animal’s stomach. So, while it may not be pleasant for them to be spanked, it is better to be beaten than to be eaten.
19. What animalistic creature seeks to devour all lovers of Jehovah?
19 Now you children may not think so, but there is a wild, beastly creature that would like to eat you. Peter warned all of us about him, saying: “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:8, NW) That someone is you, because you love Jehovah. The Devil hates Jehovah, and would like to swallow up in the evil surroundings of his old world everyone that loves Jehovah. So just as the wild animal mothers discipline their young to keep them from being eaten, your parents discipline you to keep you from being devoured by the Devil’s world. The animal mothers train and discipline their young in accord with the instinct God gives them; your parents train and discipline you in accord with the Bible instruction God gives them.
20. What instances of juvenile delinquency does the Bible record?
20 If your parents love you theocratically they will guide you in the way taken by young Samuel, Jeremiah, Timothy and Jesus. They will steer you away from bad examples, such as the wicked boys that came with the mob at Sodom to attack God’s angels and commit immoral acts. (Gen. 19:4, 5) Your parents will guide you away from false worship, so you will not be like the children of Israel that provoked Jehovah to anger, as he said: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.” (Jer. 7:18) You do not want to jeer at Jehovah’s servants, as youngsters did at Job. He said: “Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me.” (Job 19:18) In mocking God’s servants you blaspheme him, as did the mob of children that taunted Elisha by saying, “Go up, thou bald head.” Jehovah caused bears to claw forty-two of those juvenile delinquents.—2 Ki. 2:23, 24.
21. What was the real offense of the juveniles that taunted Elisha, and what shows mere youthfulness does not save wrongdoers?
21 That may seem severe treatment for calling someone a baldhead, but more than disrespect was involved. It was the taunt “Go up” that called for divine vengeance. It was telling Elisha to go up as he reported Elijah did. (2 Ki. 2:11) It showed disbelief in Jehovah’s miracle in Elijah’s case, and was a taunt for Elisha to prove it by duplicating it. It could also indicate that Elisha should go up as did Elijah and in that way the community would be rid of him. It suggested that his presence was unwanted and for him to clear out of the territory. It is likely that adults were responsible for this delinquency, the childish taunting being a reflection of the adult attitude if it was not directly instigated by religiously opposed adults. At any rate, the children were punished for their blasphemy. As Proverbs 20:11 states: “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” Youthfulness alone does not save delinquents who blaspheme, as shown by the command given Jehovah’s executional forces at Armageddon: “Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women.”—Ezek. 9:5, 6.
22. How may children view their obedience to parents?
22 You may obey your parents because they want you to. That is a good reason, but here is a better one—obey because Jehovah wants you to. He says directly to you: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’” (Eph. 6:1-3, NW) Young animals must obey to live long; here Jehovah tells you to obey if you want to endure on earth. Do you love Jehovah? Then obey him. (1 John 5:3) He says, Obey “parents in union with the Lord”; so obey yours who are Jehovah’s witnesses. If it is sometimes hard to do, do it anyway, but look at it as obedience to Jehovah. God tells the wife to be obedient to her husband and the slave to be obedient to his master. How should the wife and the slave view this obedience to the husband and the master? The wife is told to do it “as to the Lord.” The slave is told to do it “as to the Christ.” You children, obey your parents “as to Jehovah,” working at it whole-souled for his sake. (Eph. 5:22; 6:5-8; Col. 3:23, 24, NW) So in this also you are serving Jehovah, just as when you go out in the witness work. Heeding reproof and discipline means life, whereas those “disobedient to parents” are “worthy of death.”—Prov. 15:10; 29:1, AT; Rom. 1:30, 32.
CHOOSING JEHOVAH’S WAY
23. What texts clinch the truth that parents are obligated to teach their children?
23 Jehovah’s way is for parents to be guided by his Word, and children to be trained by such parents. Do not the following texts clinch that truth? “We will not conceal it from their children, telling to the coming generation the praises of the Lord, and his might and his wonders which he wrought, when he established a decree in Jacob, and gave Israel a law, which he commanded our fathers to teach unto their children, that the coming generation should know, that children yet unborn should arise, and tell to their children, that they should set their trust in God, and not forget the works of God; but keep his commands.” “The father to the children shall make known thy truth.” “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” “Apply your hearts to all the words that I am speaking in warning to you today, that you may command your sons to take care to do all the words of this law. For it is no valueless word for you, but it means your life.”—Ps. 78:4-7, AT; Isa. 38:19; Joel 1:3; Deut. 32:46, 47, NW.
24. Why should we be unswayed by old-world methods?
24 We must let Jehovah direct our steps and choose our ways. The New World society must never be swayed by old-world methods that have filled the world with rotten fruits of delinquency and crime and death. Let them babble about not inhibiting or frustrating or stunting personalities; they are utterly blinded by the silly wisdom of the dying old world if they cannot see that the sexually immoral, the thieves and murderers, the liars and blasphemers and idolaters should be frustrated. If men do not stunt and strip off the old personality of fallen flesh and don the new personality of godliness, they and their personalities will be annihilated at Armageddon. (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10, NW) It is better to be frustrated and alive than uninhibited and dead. Those of the New World society must now be frustrating and inhibiting and outgrowing the inborn evil within them. It would be suicidal for us to be drawn into the paths of the old world, its ways, its steps. As soon as they come staggering out of one mess they go reeling into another. At Armageddon they will walk into a mess they will never walk out of. Then the wayward ways chosen by men all come to a dead end.
25. What do we say as to the old world and rearing children?
25 And as far as rearing its children is concerned, this old world has made a miserable failure. It reaps the rotten harvest of delinquency sown by its modern methods contrary to God. Yet let the old world have its way with its children, but let it keep its hands off the children of the New World society! Let worldlings choose their own way and direct their own steps. Their way ends in death, their self-directed steps lead to the yawning grave; and en route to death and the grave their way is littered with unspeakably shocking degradation and delinquency. We want none of their ways, none of their steps, none of their degradations, none of their delinquencies, and none of their share of death and none of their space in the grave! No, none of this for our new-world-society children!
26. What do we say concerning our own children and their training?
26 For our children we want right ways, which means Jehovah’s ways; right steps, which means Jehovah’s steps; and en route to the new world we want their way marked by moral uprightness instead of degraded misconduct, and by works of praise instead of misdeeds of delinquency. And in the midst of mounting godlessness we do not just helplessly sit by and wring our hands and chew our nails and worry and wishfully hope our children do not get sunk in the sordid seas of the old world. We keep them sailing along with the New World society by giving good instruction, by setting right examples, by administering necessary discipline. Let the worldly wiseacres say that if we discipline our children we hate them. Their undisciplined children will die with them at Armageddon, but our disciplined ones will live with us forever in Jehovah’s New World society. So who are the real haters of their children, and who are the real lovers of children? Who guide theirs to death, and who lead theirs to life? Why train our children in the ways of the old world just so they can die with it? We will train them in the ways of the New World society so they can survive with it forever. Forget the way that seems right to men; learn the way that is right to God. What do we care if the way that is right to God seems wrong to men? Whom are we trying to please, God or men? Jehovah God, first, last and always!
27. So what do we conclude?
27 You parents know what you must do. You children know what you must do. Jehovah knows what he will do. If we obey him, he will do things for us. If we disobey him, he will do things to us. Remember, the meek will inherit the earth; the rebellious will return to the earth. Let us try to inhabit it, not return to it. This is the day of decision. We must make our decision, the old world must make its, and eternal destiny hangs in the balance. So in conclusion we say: If it seems bad in their eyes to choose Jehovah’s way, let them choose in this day of Jehovah whose direction they will take and whose way they will choose; but as for us and all the new-world-society household, we will make Jehovah our God the director of our steps and the chooser of our ways, all to the eternal good of the thousands of children in our midst, and the thousands more who will yet be among us before Armageddon strikes, and the multitudes that will yet be born to the other sheep in the endless new world now at hand! May Jehovah help all parents in the New World society rear their children for the New World society.