How Early to Start Teaching Your Children
1. What attitude toward early education has the theory of evolution encouraged?
HOW early is “early enough” to start teaching your children? Many feel that the first few years of life are just sort of routine and that the child will more or less automatically pass through certain “stages,” and that what happens during those first years will not affect his later life very much. They could hardly be more wrong. It is now recognized that much of this idea gained popularity through the theory of evolution as advanced by Darwin. Arguing against this idea, the book Pre-School Education Today shows to what it leads. On page 30 we read: “Thus, whenever little Johnny does something ‘bad,’ the behavior [is] explained by noting that it is just a stage he is going through. Moreover, following [one evolutionist’s] parable of the tadpole’s tail—in which the hind legs fail to develop if the tail is amputated—Johnny’s unwanted behavior must not be hampered, else some desirable future characteristic will fail to appear.” Now, will you go along with such evolutionary idea in training your child or will you be guided by God’s Word?
2, 3. (a) How does the Bible teach us to view the early years of a child’s life? (b) As indicated at Mark 10:15, when should a child’s religious training begin?
2 To the exact contrary of such idea, the Bible shows that those early years are precious, vital, critical, and should not be wasted by parents. Remember that Jesus Christ said: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a young child will by no means enter into it.” (Mark 10:15) The Greek word for “young child” is pai·diʹon. It can be used of a twelve-year-old, as at Mark 5:40-42, which refers to a girl resurrected by Jesus; but it can also apply to a newborn baby, as when used of the child Jesus at the time he was visited by the shepherds.—Luke 2:17.
3 In view of Jesus’ statement, how foolish to wait until a child gets past his childhood years to begin thinking seriously about giving him vital Scriptural instruction! Why, then the parent would have to say: ‘Now that you’re no longer a little child, well, just “turn around” and become like a young child again so you can be taught about and accept the truths about God’s kingdom.’ Why not teach the child while he still has those precious qualities of a young child? Why pass up the golden period of opportunity when your son or daughter is a young child, humble, pliable, willing, even eager to learn? So, when should you begin training your child for life in God’s favor? From birth onward—there is no time to lose!
4. To what extent does a child’s brain develop in the first two years of life?
4 Is this practical? Is it realistic? It most certainly is. Granted, a newborn baby can breathe, digest food, feel, cry, yawn and sleep—but not much else. Yet already in a few days or weeks impressions are being made on its mind. Its intelligence is already beginning to function. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes parents may make is to underestimate the intelligence of children during these early years. At birth a child’s brain is only one fourth the weight it will be in adulthood. But did you know that in just two years the brain grows so rapidly that it reaches three fourths of its adult weight?
5. (a) What interesting comments have researchers made about the growth of a child’s intelligence? (b) Illustrate the intellectual capacity that children have.
5 The child’s intelligence is growing too. Researchers believe that a child’s intelligence grows as much during its first four years as during the next thirteen. Some say that “the concepts the child learns before his fifth birthday are among the most difficult he’ll ever encounter.” One of these concepts learned is language, which another source rates as “probably the most difficult intellectual accomplishment a human being is ever called upon to perform.” If you doubt that, just try learning a new language. In a short time you will realize what a marvelous intellectual feat your baby accomplishes when it learns to speak. And remember—when you take up the study of a new tongue, you already know one language and you know how language works. Your baby does not. Think, too, of children whose parents are of different nationalities, or who live in bilingual areas. Often at the age of only four or five years, these children converse in, not one, but two languages with ease, and frequently without an accent! Obviously the intelligence is there. Little children have an amazing capacity for learning—but that ability needs use, development and guidance. It needs your help; so much depends on you.
6. (a) What deserves even more attention than a child’s mental development? (b) Along these lines, what takes place during the first year?
6 As true disciples, though, you should not be concerned just with your child’s mind and its intellectual development. You ought to be far more concerned with your child’s heart and the heart’s development in providing right motivation. (Prov. 4:23) At birth a child’s heart is relatively large, but did you realize that the heart doubles in size during the first year? Thereafter it grows more slowly. Already in that first year habits begin to form. During that year a child begins to show its willingness—or lack of willingness—to respond to adult demands. Obedience, we know, is perhaps the most basic of all requirements for God’s favor. It can mean the difference between life and death. How important, then, to begin molding your child from birth onward.—Eccl. 12:13; Jer. 7:23.
7. (a) As to personality development, what do researchers say? (b) What indicates that many mothers do not appreciate this?
7 Corroborating this is an article in Science Digest of March 1969. According to Dr. Marvin Ack, studies indicate 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,” he says, “we have discovered that what they have encountered in their childhood in terms of attitudes and experiences often establishes lasting, and sometimes immutable, behavioral patterns.” Does this mean that after five years of age such patterns cannot be changed? “No,” says another researcher. “The child remains quite 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.” Not all parents appreciate this fact. In the United States alone some four million preschool-age children have mothers that work outside the home. Perhaps some mothers are forced to do this. But many evidently assume that there is little they could teach their children during those early years anyway. What a tragic error!
8. Explain how home environment affects a child for good or for bad.
8 The environment you provide your child during those early years plays a very large part in the molding process. It is not just the house you live in, but the kind of home you make of that house. Is it clean, neat, orderly? Is it a peaceful home, free from quarreling, shouting, anger? Are you parents respectful to each other? If not, can you reasonably expect your little child to be different and show respect to you? Do you parents admit mistakes? If a child never hears his father or mother express humility, how can humility become his standard? There is this danger too: If the parents give the idea that they are never wrong, the child may feel that he can safely do whatever they do and it will always be right. If the parents tell what they might view as “little” lies, perhaps to a neighbor or a bill collector, the child will feel that he can tell “little” lies of his own. And if parents do not agree on matters of child discipline, or if they are always uttering warnings but seldom fulfilling them, the child will quickly observe this and his respect for the rules they set will rapidly weaken. Never doubt it—these things make strong, almost indelible impressions on a youngster’s tender mind. The child’s natural innocence and inborn sense of honesty and fairness will inevitably receive blows as life goes along. But, please—see that those blows do not come from you.
USING THE BIBLE ITSELF—“FROM INFANCY”
9. Why is use of the Bible itself important in child training, and how early should this begin?
9 Vital as it is, however, example is not enough. The child needs to know why his parents hold to the standards they do and why they require him to hold to the same discipline. This means using the Bible, and again this should be from infancy. To Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote: “You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and that from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.”—2 Tim. 3:14, 15.
10. Does the Greek word that Paul used here really mean “infancy” or is it simply referring to ‘childhood’?
10 Does the Greek word breʹphos, which Paul uses here, actually mean a mere infant? Yes, it does. In fact, it is generally used of an unborn child, as at Luke 1:41, 44, where, in relating Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the record says that the ‘infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped’ when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting. But breʹphos can also mean a newborn child, an infant or babe, as when used at Acts 7:19, 20 of the three-month-old baby Moses. Paul, then, does not say that Timothy had known the holy writings simply from his ‘youth’ or ‘childhood’ but actually from infancy. How could this be?
11. How could Timothy have known the Scriptures from “infancy”?
11 Well, Paul evidently was saying that, no matter how far back Timothy’s memory could reach, he could not remember a time when he had not been receiving instruction from his mother and grandmother in the inspired Word of God. (2 Tim. 1:5) Timothy’s earliest recollections of his infant consciousness included memories of the holy writings and their teachings. Timothy could say to Jehovah as did David at Psalm 22:10: “From the belly of my mother you have been my God.” Will your child be able to say that? What Timothy’s mother and grandmother did, you parents today can do and you can properly hope for fine results, as in Timothy’s case.
12. (a) Who is to do the instructing of children in the home? (b) Why is it important to spend time with one’s children, giving them personal attention?
12 Timothy’s father was not a Christian. But Christian fathers will not leave the instruction of their children solely to their wives. If they do they will pay for it in decreased respect on the part of their children. The apostle’s counsel at Ephesians 6:4 says: “And you, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” One way to irritate a child is to deny it the attention children naturally crave, on which they thrive from babyhood on. Is it not true that, if you show some interest in a baby, soon that little mouth opens up in a wide grin (perhaps with a solitary tooth showing), while some simple act of attention from its father or mother can produce chuckles or chortles of glee? Older children, too, hunger for their parents’ interest in them. They may even misbehave as a means of getting it. Yes, one of the finest gifts you parents can give your children of any age is some of your time, your personal attention and interest. Just telling them or reproving them is not enough; such discipline by itself can bring irritation. The child wants and needs you to sit down with him, take the time to explain the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores,’ not just the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts.’ See that they get that help, because it is the loving thing to do.
13. What is gained when parents take time to explain what is right and what is wrong from the standpoint of the Bible?
13 Think of what you gain by taking the time to instruct your children in God’s Word. Without this, little children may feel that this matter of obedience is just a case of their parents saying, in so many words, ‘Look, we were here first and we’re bigger and stronger than you are, so what we say goes!’ But when parents take time to explain what is right and what is wrong from the standpoint of the Bible, the children come to appreciate that their parents are not just giving their own idea. It is what their Creator says; it is his will. This gives a strength to parental counsel that cannot be equaled in any other way, causing the words to sink deep into the child’s mind and heart. More than that, it is also a wonderful source of added strength to the children. It enables them to hold firmly to right principles when rough spots begin to appear in their young lives. Your children may love and respect you very much as their parents. Nevertheless, you surely must realize that respect and love for God will do far more for them in times of temptation and crisis.—Ps. 119:109-111; Prov. 6:20-22.
TEACHING THAT REACHES THE HEART
14. (a) Why do children ask so many questions, and what may result if children are made to feel that their questions are simply an annoyance? (b) To what extent did Jehovah tell the Israelites to give attention to their children?
14 Of course, once little children learn to talk they seem to become question factories with mass production. But, remember, questions are one of the most powerful tools for learning that little children have. If a child’s questions are shunted to one side, or fall on deaf ears, he may eventually stop asking them. But in doing this, parents risk having the lines of communication begin to break down. Again, what your children want and need is some of your time. Your Creator says you should give it to them, lots of it. Jehovah told the Israelites: “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.” Are you giving that kind of attention to your child?—Deut. 6:6, 7.
15. Why is it beneficial to encourage the children to ask questions during study sessions?
15 As you study God’s Word with your children you want them to get God’s Word, not only in their heads, but also ‘on their hearts.’ With that in view, encourage their questions. Encourage them to express themselves. Draw them out, find out how they think, how they feel about things, what is in their hearts.
16. What is the twofold purpose of questions found in the study material provided by the Watch Tower Society for parents to use with their children?
16 In study material that the Watch Tower Society has provided for parents to use with their children, there are generally a number of well-placed questions. These are meant to stimulate discussion. Remember, children like to be involved. Without that involvement a child’s interest quickly fades. These questions will help to maintain that interest if you stop and allow your child to express himself. But, more importantly, the questions will help you to learn what is on your child’s mind and in his heart.
17. How is personal reading beneficial for a child, but why should it not completely replace reading done with the parents?
17 In time your child will come to the point where he can read articles for himself. Encourage him to do so. The more he reads wholesome information based on God’s Word, the more the good counsel in it will be impressed on his mind and heart. But, to strengthen the bonds of affection and respect between you parents and your child, by all means read such material together regularly too.
18. As to length of study sessions, what must be considered?
18 To reach the heart, make study time pleasurable, not an ordeal. Small children are not able to concentrate for long periods of time. Even in games, they quickly tire of one game and seek another, though they may soon be back at the one they just left. By nature, infants shift interest frequently; after a while their little minds sort of shut off and turn elsewhere. When they reach that point, there is little accomplished by trying to force interest. Do not worry if your child does not get all the points the first time. Those points can be emphasized on other occasions.
19. (a) Of what value is parental enthusiasm during family study sessions? (b) How does commendation influence a child’s progress?
19 A vital ingredient for successful study sessions with children is parental enthusiasm. Perhaps you are not the demonstrative or vivacious type. But at least you can show that you really find joy and pleasure in studying with your child. Be like the father at Proverbs 23:15, 16 who says: “My son, if your heart has become wise, my heart will rejoice, even mine. And my kidneys will exult when your lips speak uprightness.” Show that joy. And by all means, commend, encourage and compliment your child whenever he or she does well in learning and applying the truths of God’s Word. This will warm his heart and help to keep it receptive to the counsel from God’s Word.
20. (a) What can help you to build up your child’s love for Jehovah? (b) Why is this very important?
20 You want to build up love for God in their hearts. Make sure, then, that God and his Son are not viewed just from a negative aspect, always associated with “don’ts” and “shouldn’ts.” Help your child to appreciate God’s goodness, his kindness and generosity. Then you truly will be building up love for God in your child’s heart. As John writes: “We love, because [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) It is so important that your child should come to want to serve God out of love, not merely know that he has to serve him. (Ps. 110:3; 112:1) If love is not the basis, the child’s service will never become an enduring or a rewarding one. By putting the emphasis where it belongs—on God’s goodness and mercy—your child can learn to trust in God, to pray to Him, confidently, with that perfect love that “throws fear outside.”—1 John 4:17, 18.
21. Additionally, if children are to become true disciples of Jesus, what must they learn as to their dealings with other people?
21 Along with love of God goes love of neighbor. Little children have an innocence that is charming, endearing, delightful. But that does not last forever, does it? It fades and the child’s life goes on. What will replace that childish innocence? You can aid your child, not only to be clean and neat, but also to be respectful toward all, considerate, kind, helpful to others. These are qualities that are far more endearing than mere childishness. The Bible, including the words of the Great Teacher, will help you to teach your children how vital these qualities are. (Luke 6:31; 1 John 4:20, 21) With such wisdom, and with true love for your children, you can aid them to become true disciples of God’s Son.
YOU CAN LEARN—EVEN NOW
22. How do some who did not receive the best of childhood training try to excuse their conduct?
22 Although much has been said here about helping children to learn from the Great Teacher, that learning is not confined to our childhood days, is it? Some of you young men and women who are single and some of you married persons may feel that your parents did not give you all the help you needed in your childhood days. You may see the value of some things now that they could have taught you but did not, perhaps because they were not disciples of the Great Teacher then, or simply because they did not fully appreciate the need to study with you and give you regular aid. Will you use that now as an excuse for conduct that falls short of Bible standards? When certain wrong ways are called to your attention, will you say, ‘Don’t blame me. Blame my parents. That’s the way I was brought up. I can’t help it’? Is that sound reasoning?
23. What modern-day examples show that anyone can bring his life into line with the teachings of Jesus if he really wants to do so?
23 When we read accounts in The Watch tower and the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we learn about persons, men and women, who at times had the worst of backgrounds—yet they changed. God’s Word shows that persons of all sorts, persons who have practiced vile things, can change and have changed and become true disciples of God’s Son. You are not going to benefit by going through life blaming your parents for what they did not do. You have full opportunity now to learn from the Great Teacher, and he can help you to make over your personality to conform to him, to make your mind over, changing from wrong ways, developing a pure heart and a new spirit. (Ps. 51:10) The only question is, Do you really want this?
24. What help has God provided for those who really do want to make the changes needed in order to gain eternal life?
24 The wisdom you can receive through God’s Son is ample for solving whatever your problems are, and God’s spirit is powerful enough to aid you to win out over an unfavorable background, ingrained habits and wrong ways of thinking and wrong practices. Remember, the ‘one finding wisdom will certainly find life, but the one missing wisdom is doing violence to his soul.’ Show that you love life, not death, by seeking that wisdom with all your heart. Every day, continue to learn from the Great Teacher.
“Listen, O sons, to the discipline of a father and pay attention, so as to know understanding. For good instruction is what I certainly shall give to you. My law do not leave. For I proved to be a real son to my father, tender and the only one before my mother. And he would instruct me and say to me: ‘May your heart keep fast hold of my words. Keep my commandments and continue living. Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding.’”—Prov. 4:1-5.
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A child’s heart doubles in size the first year; the brain reaches three fourths of its adult weight in two years. Proper training then has a big effect on later life. Are you using those years well in training your child?
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God’s Word makes it clear that “from infancy” children can be beneficially taught about the Creator and his works