Train Your Child to Develop Godly Devotion
“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.
1. What must be reached to train a child successfully, and why?
A CIRCUS performer trying to teach her son the art of the trapeze noticed he had trouble getting over the bars. “If you will just throw your heart over the bars,” she suggested, “your body will follow.” Similarly, those who are ‘training up’ their child to develop godly devotion must motivate the heart. This is especially difficult during the teenage years.—Proverbs 4:23.
2. Why are the teenage years difficult, and how can parents help?
2 “For years it was not hard to find out what was going on deep inside my boys,” stated a Christian father in Germany. “But that changed like a bolt of lightning as soon as they entered puberty.” During this time of transition to adulthood, many new and exciting desires, fueled by body and hormonal changes, affect a young person’s heart. Yet all too often such years are marred by painful mistakes. Even faithful Job bemoaned facing “the consequences of the errors of [his] youth.” (Job 13:26) Emotional pressures can create “anxious care in the heart” of a young person. Proverbs 12:25 says that this will cause the heart “to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” How can you help your child with good communication during these critical years?
3, 4. (a) How did the counseling approaches of Elihu and of Job’s three “friends” differ? (b) What will hinder heart communication?
3 Consider the contrast in the counseling approaches of Elihu and of the three “friends” of Job. This will make clear what will, or will not, promote communication. Elihu was a good listener. While the others remained aloof, never acknowledging their own human frailties, he said: “Look! I am to the true God just what you are; from the clay I was shaped, I too.” He urged Job to ‘reply,’ speak his heart, and not to be terrified. (Job 33:5-7) On the other hand, the three “friends” put on an appearance of sympathizing with and comforting Job, but they listened with minds already made up. “Hear, please, my counterarguments, and to the pleadings of my lips pay attention,” implored Job without effect. (Job 13:6) Yes, their approach had raised a barrier.
4 If not careful, a parent can raise similar barriers without realizing it. So hear your child out. (Proverbs 18:13) Think over carefully how your reply will come across. “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) True, at times the attitude and/or words of a youngster can irritate. But remember, behind such “wild talk” may be a heart laden with turmoil. Thoughtfully use your tongue to heal.—Job 6:2, 3.
5. (a) What will help a parent to draw out the intentions of the child’s heart? (b) How can referring back to the Society’s publications help?
5 Attentive listening, which includes tactful questions, will help draw out the child and make it easier for him to talk about what is bothering him. (Proverbs 20:5) “A lot of times my son would start a conversation at a seemingly inappropriate time and just say one or two sentences, perhaps about an incident in school,” observed the mother of an 18-year-old. “But it was up to me to kindly ‘draw up’ what was in his heart with questions such as, ‘Then what happened?’ Or, ‘How did you feel about it?’ Or, ‘What did you do or say?’ This is what he was looking for, and he opened up with his problem. But this took a lot of time!” Take such time with your child! Perhaps during long walks or while relaxing together, get to know what is on his mind. Many parents have found that, by referring back to information provided over the years in the Watch Tower Society’s publications, they are helped to understand their youngsters better and to have meaningful discussions with them. As a result, heartfelt dialogue has increased among family members. However, more than good communication is needed to develop godly devotion.
Promote Spiritual Nourishment
6, 7. What did Timothy’s mother accomplish, and how can parents imitate her?
6 Timothy’s mother was not passive regarding the spiritual matters that meant life for her son. Of him it was written: “From infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation.” (2 Timothy 3:15) Similarly today, those parents whose children develop godly devotion are intensely concerned about their children’s spiritual nourishment. They teach them to do personal study at an early age.
7 Have you seen to it that your child has his own Bible literature and prepares for the congregation meetings? Do you strongly encourage him to schedule time to dig into the treasures of the Word of God? (Proverbs 2:1-5; 1 John 2:14) While at the meetings, do you sit with him to provide encouragement for his mind—and heart—not to wander? Is he urged to participate? (Hebrews 10:23-25) Do you maintain a regular family study that provides knowledge relevant to your child’s specific needs? Give thought to these questions.—Proverbs 24:5.
“Make Jehovah Real”
8. Where does Deuteronomy 11:18, 19 show that godly devotion must start, and how can parents apply this with a child today?
8 However, simply filling a head with facts may leave the heart and conscience untouched. To develop a good conscience, your child must see that Jehovah is a person who is dynamic and intensely interested in him and in what he does. But first a love for Jehovah must fill your own heart and move you to speak regularly of his loving care and his greatness. You must love and live the truth. When asked how her children, both full-time evangelizers, developed such strong love for God, a mother in England explained: “By speaking to them of how real Jehovah is. He has aided me so much that I could not help but make Jehovah real to them. Everything centers around him.” Train your child, also, to talk to Jehovah “with every form of prayer and supplication . . . [carrying] on prayer on every occasion in spirit.” (Ephesians 6:18) Let the child hear your earnest, heartfelt prayers and discuss with him the contents of his own.—Deuteronomy 11:1, 2, 18, 19; Proverbs 20:7.
9. How can parents use real-life examples to train a child’s conscience?
9 The youthful conscience can be powerfully influenced by real-life examples. (Compare 1 Corinthians 8:10.) From time to time you may hear of individuals who suffer because of breaking God’s laws. In a nonaccusing manner, discuss such examples with your child, thereby helping him to appreciate Paul’s words: “You can’t fool God. Whatever you sow you’ll reap.” (Galatians 6:7, Beck) For a positive example, discuss together the moving Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. You will be helping your child to gain “the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) But you have to make the accounts live! Encourage the child to visualize the dramatic scenes and to reflect on the masterful way Jesus handled matters. Select material from Bible-based publications that detail Jesus’ life and personal qualities, and to add variety, use these occasionally on your family study.*
10. How can you help your child “to know the love of the Christ”?
10 Your child must also strive to imitate Christ’s example. Only then will the youth by actual experience get “to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:19) Therefore, encourage him to imitate more closely Jesus’ hatred of lawlessness, his love of people, his zeal for his Father’s worship, his mercy and bigheartedness, and his willingness to withstand ridicule. (Hebrews 1:9; Mark 6:34; John 4:34; Luke 23:34; 1 Peter 2:23) Warmly commend your child when he responds. He must see that, though we are imperfect, the closer we follow the Master’s pattern the happier we are and the better tuned our conscience becomes. We also draw closer to God, since Jesus reflects his Father’s personality. (John 14:6-10) Always remind your child to value this relationship. As one successful Christian mother of four said: “My husband never lets a day go by without putting his arm around each one and telling them how much he loves them and how proud he knows Jehovah must be of their conduct. ‘Jehovah loves you,’ he says. ‘Don’t let him down.’”—Proverbs 27:11.
The Need for Loving Discipline
11. Why does every child need discipline?
11 Despite being taught by God “from [his] youth on,” David still pleaded, “The sins of my youth and my revolts O do not remember.” (Psalm 71:5, 17; 25:7) Yes, every child has ‘foolishness tied up with his heart.’ But “the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) This “rod” of parental authority often may be a word of correction or a firm restriction. So when the treacherous heart of your child craves to do something harmful, there is need for firmness to say no!—Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 29:17, 19, 21.
12, 13. How can you make discipline effective?
12 In disciplining, especially when punishing, follow the pattern of Jehovah who ‘corrects according to what is right.’ Isaiah 28:26-29 shows that he is like the farmer who uses discernment in determining which instrument to use for effective threshing of different kinds of grains and how long to thresh, not ‘incessantly treading it out.’ So ask yourself: Is the restriction reasonable in the light of my child’s age and progress toward maturity? Is the punishment in proportion to the seriousness of the wrong deed as well as consistent and not simply due to my mood? And does the child really know why he is being punished?—Job 6:24.
13 Unreasonable restrictions or inconsistent discipline will irritate or exasperate the child.* (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) Yet loving firmness will protect your child from circumstances that can destroy all the good teachings that you have stored in his heart. Especially is this important regarding his associations. (Proverbs 13:20; 28:7) But what if after all your effort your child gets into real trouble?
When Trouble Strikes
14. Why should a parent not give up quickly when a child becomes involved in serious trouble?
14 Painful disappointment has caused some parents to give up quickly on an erring child. While Jehovah gave fitting punishment and reproof, he was not quick to give up on the ancient nation of Israel that once was like a “son” to him. (Hosea 11:1; 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16; Psalm 78:37, 38; Nehemiah 9:16, 17) Just as ancient trainers were able to dress wounds and set fractures when an athlete got injured, parents must now strive to “straighten up the hands that hang down . . . that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed.”—Hebrews 12:12, 13.
15. How can a parent apply Galatians 6:1 in restoring an erring child?
15 To straighten out a child who is spiritually “lame” and to prevent his condition from worsening requires readjusting the child’s thinking. “Even though a man [or a child] takes some false step before he is aware of it,” counseled Paul, “you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) The Greek word rendered “readjust” was a medical term used during Paul’s time for ‘setting bones.’ Certainly this painful procedure required the utmost skill to prevent a broken bone from becoming a lifelong handicap. The same basic word is translated “mending” (nets) and “to make good.” (Mark 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:10) To “mend” a youngster’s heart, endeavor with the “art of teaching” to reach him. Rather than verbally fighting, follow the vital Bible suggestion: “Be gentle . . . keeping [yourself] restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed; as perhaps God may give them repentance.”—2 Timothy 2:24-26; 3:16; 4:2.
16. (a) What adjustments may have to be made to regain an erring child? (b) What should be made clear to the child?
16 To readjust a child’s erroneous thinking requires that a parent intensify his training efforts. The parent may need to make adjustments in his life-style to give the necessary attention. In a parable that shows the appropriate effort to regain “one sinner,” Jesus describes a woman who virtually dropped everything to recover her lost drachma coin. (Luke 15:7-10) A child trained in godliness can become overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and guilt when his sin comes to light, so a parent may need to confirm his love for the child. Help the child to see that it is his conduct that is disliked, not himself, and that this conduct can be corrected.—Jude 23.
17, 18. (a) How did one father restore his son? (b) What usually brings success?
17 One father, whose son was disciplined by the congregation for immorality, began to take long walks with his son several times a week, engaging in long, relaxed conversations. He also selected Bible-based publications that dealt with his son’s specific needs. The father studied these with him, in addition to having the lad share in the study that the father had with the whole family. The parent adjusted his work load as a congregation elder to give his son the full emotional and mental attention he needed. The boy was restored.
18 However, at times a son or a daughter may become totally rebellious, even ‘despising obedience.’* (Proverbs 30:17) Happily, such extreme situations are rare among God’s people. How encouraging to know that, in the vast majority of situations, when the parents—while not condoning the wrong conduct—do not quickly give up on the child but patiently try to reach him, the results are good!
Hard Work—But Worth It!
19. How can you imitate the example of Mary in caring for your family?
19 Rearing children, especially in these “last days,” is a formidable task. Parents who take such responsibility seriously are to be commended! Continually evaluate your priorities. Never let the anxiety to provide “many things” of a material nature for your loved ones prevent you from grasping spiritual opportunities with them. Remember, Jesus told Martha that only “a few things, though, are needed, or just one.” Yes, a simple meal was sufficient. Be like Mary, who enjoyed a spiritually good time with Jesus. Choose “the good portion” for your family by engaging in spiritual activities as a family.—Luke 10:38-42.
20. What rewards await successful Christian parents?
20 Some years after successfully helping her six children to love Jehovah, a parent received a card from one of them. In part it read: “Mom, I love you very much, much more than you will ever know. Thanks for giving me direction and guidance . . . You gave me the best hope in the world and that is the truth. Thanks for saving my life.” How this mother rejoiced! As Proverbs 23:24, 25 states: “You can take pride in a wise son [or daughter]. Let your father and mother be proud of you; give your mother that happiness.” (Today’s English Version) With Jehovah’s help, may such happiness be yours!
For an epitome of Jesus’ earthly life, see the article “Get a Firm Hold on the Real Life,” in the January 1, 1973, Watchtower. The article “Prove Yourselves to Be True Disciples of Christ,” in the July 1, 1977, Watchtower, considers many of his personal qualities, as does Aid to Bible Understanding (published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.), pages 927-32.
A research study involving 417 young people that was published in the journal Adolescence concluded: “A very restrictive home leads to frustration and then to aggression, while a very permissive home leads to frustration, in not knowing what the parental expectations are, which then leads to aggression, in search of norms.”
See “Questions From Readers” in the May 1, 1960, Watchtower, pages 287-8.
What Do You Say?
□ How can a parent improve heart communication with a child?
□ What will help a child to develop a good conscience?
□ What will make discipline effective?
□ How can an erring child be restored?
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Attentive listening, even when inconvenient, will encourage heartfelt communication
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It is a real challenge to assure a child of your love and to reach his heart when he has seriously erred