“LOOK! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward,” states the Bible. (Ps. 127:3) It is no surprise, then, when Christian parents greet the arrival of a newborn with great joy.
Along with joy, the birth of a child brings serious responsibilities. If a child is to grow up to become a healthy adult, he needs nutritious food on a regular basis. If the child is to take a firm stand for true worship, he needs spiritual nourishment and the guidance of parents who endeavor to instill in him godly principles. (Prov. 1:8) When should such training begin, and what should it include?
PARENTS NEED INSTRUCTION
Consider the case of the Danite named Manoah, who lived in the town of Zorah in ancient Israel. Jehovah’s angel informed Manoah’s barren wife that she would give birth to a son. (Judg. 13:2, 3) Faithful Manoah and his wife were no doubt overjoyed by that prospect. However, they also had serious concerns. So Manoah prayed: “Excuse me, Jehovah. The man of the true God that you just sent, let him, please, come again to us and instruct us as to what we ought to do to the child that will be born.” (Judg. 13:8) Manoah and his wife were concerned about their child’s upbringing. They undoubtedly taught their son, Samson, God’s law, and their efforts evidently met with success. “In time Jehovah’s spirit started to impel [Samson],” says the Bible. As a result, Samson performed many powerful works as one of Israel’s judges.—Judg. 13:25; 14:5, 6; 15:14, 15.
How early should child training begin? “From infancy” Timothy was trained in “the holy writings” by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15) Yes, Timothy’s training in the Scriptures began in his early childhood.
It is wise for Christian parents to pray for direction and to plan ahead so that they can begin to train their child “from infancy.” “The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage,” states Proverbs 21:5. Before the arrival of their baby, the parents will no doubt prepare carefully. They may even have a checklist of items that the baby will need. It is also important for them to plan for spiritual activities. Their goal should be to start such training early in the baby’s life.
The book Early Childhood Counts—A Programming Guide on Early Childhood Care for Development states: “The months immediately after birth are critical in terms of brain maturation. During this time the number of synapses—the connections that allow learning to take place—increase twenty-fold.” How wise it is for parents to take advantage of this brief period in their child’s mental development to begin the process of implanting spiritual ideas and values in his mind!
Regarding her young daughter, a mother and regular pioneer said: “I have been taking her along with me in the ministry since she was only one month old. Although she could not understand what was going on, I believe that this early exposure had a beneficial effect on her. By the time she was two years old, she was confidently offering tracts to those we met in the field service.”
Early child training produces good fruitage. However, parents find that providing spiritual instruction for their children is not without its challenges.
‘BUY OUT THE OPPORTUNE TIME’
A child’s restlessness or short attention span can be a major challenge for parents. The attention of young children may move quickly from one thing to another. After all, they are curious and are trying to explore the world around them. What can parents do to help their child to concentrate on what they are trying to teach him?
Consider what Moses said. Deuteronomy 6:6, 7 states: “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.” The word “inculcate” conveys the idea of teaching through frequent repetition. A small child is like a sapling that needs watering at regular intervals. Since repetition helps adults to remember important matters, it will surely help young children!
Teaching children God’s truth requires that parents spend time with them. In today’s fast-moving world, setting aside such time can indeed be a challenge. But the apostle Paul recommended “buying out the opportune time” for essential Christian activities. (Eph. 5:15, 16) How may this be done? Striking a balance between training a child, caring for theocratic responsibilities, and doing secular work posed a challenge for one Christian overseer whose wife has a busy schedule as a regular pioneer. How could they make time to train their daughter? The father says: “Every morning before I go to work, my wife and I read to her from My Book of Bible Stories or the booklet Examining the Scriptures Daily. In the evening, we make sure that we read to her before she goes to bed, and when we go in the ministry, we take her with us. We do not want to miss out on these first years of her life.”
‘SONS ARE LIKE ARROWS’
We certainly want our children to grow up to be responsible individuals. However, our primary reason for training them is to foster love for God in their heart.—Mark 12:28-30.
Psalm 127:4 states: “Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth.” Children are thus likened to arrows that should be accurately aimed at the target. An archer can never recall an arrow once it leaves his bow. Parents have “arrows”—their children—for only a comparatively brief period of time. That time should be used to instill godly principles in the mind and heart of their children.
Regarding his spiritual children, the apostle John wrote: “No greater cause for thankfulness do I have than these things, that I should be hearing that my children go on walking in the truth.” (3 John 4) Christian parents can express similar gratitude when they see their children “go on walking in the truth.”