“You should know well the appearance of your flock.”—PROV. 27:23.
1, 2. (a) What were some of the responsibilities of an Israelite shepherd? (b) How are parents like shepherds?
SHEPHERDS in ancient Israel led a rigorous life. They not only had to endure heat and cold but also had to protect their flocks from predators, both animal and human. Shepherds inspected the sheep regularly and treated any that were sick or injured. They gave special attention to the lambs because they were delicate and lacked the strength of full-grown sheep.—Gen. 33:13.
2 In some respects, Christian parents are like shepherds, displaying qualities that are valuable to literal shepherds. They have the responsibility to raise their children “in the discipline and admonition of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Is that an easy assignment? No! Children are faced with an onslaught of satanic propaganda as well as with their own imperfect inclinations. (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 John 2:16) If you have children, how can you help them? Let us consider three things you can do to shepherd your children—know them, feed them, and guide them.
KNOW YOUR CHILDREN
3. What does it mean for parents to ‘know the appearance’ of their children?
3 A good shepherd carefully examines each sheep to make sure that it is healthy. In a figurative sense, you can do the same for your children. The Bible says: “Know well the appearance of your flock.” (Prov. 27:23) To do this, you need to consider your children’s actions and also their thoughts and feelings. How can you accomplish that? One of the best ways is to have frequent conversations with your children.
4, 5. (a) What practical suggestions may help children open up to their parents? (See opening image.) (b) What have you done to make it easier for your children to talk to you?
4 Some parents have noted that communication is more challenging when their children become teenagers—they may tend to withdraw and feel awkward about revealing their thoughts and feelings. If that is true of your children, what can you do? Rather than force your son or daughter into long, serious discussions, try to take advantage of casual opportunities. (Deut. 6:6, 7) You may need to put forth extra effort to do things together. You might go for a walk or a drive with them, play a game, or work together on some chore around the house. Such informal settings may help adolescents feel at ease and more inclined to open up.
5 What if your child still seems to be reluctant to talk? Then you might try a different approach. For example, rather than asking your daughter how her day went, you could comment on how your day was. She might well respond with observations about her day. Or to find out what your child’s opinion is on some topic, ask questions that shift the focus away from her. You could ask her how one of her friends feels about the subject. Then you could ask her what advice she would give the friend.
6. What does it mean to be available and approachable?
6 Of course, if your children are to open up to you, they need to view you as available and approachable. When parents always appear to be too busy to talk, youths in the family are likely to keep their problems to themselves. And what about being approachable? More is involved than simply saying the words, “You can come to me anytime.” Your teens need to sense that you will neither discount their problems nor overreact to them. Many parents set a good example in this regard. Nineteen-year-old Kayla says: “I can talk to my dad about anything. He doesn’t interrupt, and he doesn’t judge; he just listens. Then he always gives me the best advice.”
7. (a) What balanced approach might a parent take on such a topic as dating? (b) How might parents unwittingly irritate their children?
7 Even when talking about delicate subjects—dating, for example—be careful not to put so much emphasis on warnings that you neglect to teach your children the proper way to deal with the matter. To illustrate: Suppose you went to a restaurant and discovered that the menu contained only warnings about food poisoning. You would likely leave that place and look for another restaurant. Your children may react similarly if they come to you for advice but all you have on the “menu” is a list of stern warnings. (Read Colossians 3:21.) Instead, aim for a balanced approach. A young sister named Emily observes: “When my parents talk to me about dating, they don’t make the subject seem negative. They emphasize the joy of getting to know someone and finding a marriage mate. This has helped me to feel comfortable talking to them about it. In fact, I want to involve them in any relationship I have rather than hide it from them.”
8, 9. (a) What benefits come from listening without interrupting? (b) What success have you had in listening to your children?
8 In line with what Kayla said, you can show that you are approachable by patiently listening to your children. (Read James 1:19.) “In the past,” admits a single mother named Katia, “I was very impatient with my daughter. I didn’t give her a chance to finish what she was saying. I was either too tired to listen or just didn’t want to be bothered. Now that I have changed my behavior, my daughter has changed hers. She has become much more cooperative.”
9 A father named Ronald had a similar experience with his teenage daughter. “When she told me that she was in love with a boy at school, at first I was very angry,” he says. “But when I reflected on how Jehovah is patient and reasonable with his servants, I thought that it would be better for me to give my daughter a chance to express her feelings before I tried to correct her. I’m glad I did! For the first time, I understood my daughter’s feelings. When she finished, I found it easier to speak to her in a loving way. Surprisingly, she was very receptive to my counsel. She expressed a sincere desire to change her behavior.” Frequently talking with your children gives you greater access to their thoughts and feelings. That, in turn, will help you to have a greater influence on the decisions they make in life.*
FEED YOUR CHILDREN
10, 11. How can you help your children not to drift away?
10 A good shepherd knows that any one of his sheep could stray from the flock. Perhaps it is attracted by grass a short distance away and then to some a bit farther away, thus separating itself from the flock. In a similar manner, a child could drift away gradually on a spiritually dangerous path, being tempted by harmful association or degrading entertainment. (Prov. 13:20) How can you help to prevent such a situation from developing?
11 When teaching your children, act quickly if you recognize potential weak spots. Work at fortifying Christian qualities that your children have but that may need to be strengthened. (2 Pet. 1:5-8) The regular period for family worship is an excellent time for you to do that. In outlining this arrangement, the October 2008 Kingdom Ministry stated: “Family heads are encouraged to shoulder their responsibility before Jehovah to ensure that a meaningful, regular program of family Bible study is followed.” Are you taking full advantage of this loving provision to shepherd your children? Trust that your children deeply appreciate your putting priority on taking care of their spiritual need.—Matt. 5:3; Phil. 1:10.
12. (a) How have young people benefited from regular family worship? (Include the box “They Appreciate It.”) (b) How have you personally benefited from family worship?
12 Consider what a teenager named Carissa said about how the Family Worship program benefited her family. “I like that we can all sit down together and talk. As we do this, we are bonding and creating good memories. My dad is consistent with our Family Worship program. It’s encouraging to see that he takes it seriously—and that makes me want to take it seriously too. It also gives me more reason to respect him as my father and spiritual head.” A young sister named Brittney commented: “Family worship has brought me closer to my parents. It shows me that they do want to hear about my problems and that they really care. It helps us to be a strong and unified family.” Clearly, feeding your children spiritually—particularly by means of family worship—is a primary way that you can be a good shepherd.*
GUIDE YOUR CHILDREN
13. How can a child be motivated to serve Jehovah?
13 A good shepherd uses a staff to direct and defend his flock. One of his primary goals is to guide his sheep to “a good pasture.” (Ezek. 34:13, 14) As a parent, do you not have a similar goal spiritually? You want to guide your children to serve Jehovah. You want your children to feel as did the psalmist who wrote: “To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is deep within me.” (Ps. 40:8) Young ones who develop such appreciation will dedicate their life to Jehovah and get baptized. Understandably, they should take such a step when they are mature enough to make that decision and have a genuine desire to serve Jehovah.
14, 15. (a) What should be the goal of Christian parents? (b) Why might an adolescent express doubts about true worship?
14 What, though, if your children do not seem to be making spiritual progress—perhaps even questioning their faith? Strive to inculcate in them a love for Jehovah God and an appreciation for all that he has done. (Rev. 4:11) Then when they are in a position to do so, they will be able to make a personal decision about worshipping God.
15 In the meantime, though, what if your children begin to express doubts? How can you shepherd them and help them to see that serving Jehovah really is the best way of life and will contribute to their lasting happiness? Try to determine the underlying cause of their doubts. For example, does your son really disagree with Bible teachings, or does he just lack the confidence needed to defend them in front of his peers? Does your daughter really have an issue with the wisdom of God’s standards, or does she just feel lonely or excluded by others?
16, 17. In what ways might parents help their children make the truth their own?
16 Regardless of the cause, you can help your child to come to grips with the root of any spiritual doubts. How? One suggestion that many parents have found practical and effective is to draw out their son or daughter by asking: “How do you feel about being a Christian? Personally, what do you find are the benefits? What are the costs? Do you find that the costs are clearly outweighed by the many benefits, both those we enjoy now and those that are promised for the future? How?” Of course, you should present such questions in your own words and in a kind, interested way, not as if you were an interrogator. During the conversation, you might discuss Mark 10:29, 30. Some youths may want to write down their thoughts, using two columns—one for the costs and the other for the benefits. Seeing this assessment on paper may identify any problems and help them to work out solutions. If we need to study the Bible Teach and “God’s Love” books with interested ones, how much more so with our own children! Are you doing that?
17 In time, your children will have to make a personal decision as to whom they will serve. Do not think that they will simply absorb your faith through some sort of osmosis. They must make the truth their own. (Prov. 3:1, 2) If it seems that a child has a problem doing that, why not go back to basics? Help him or her to reason on such questions as: “How do I know that God exists? What convinces me that Jehovah God really values me? Why do I believe that Jehovah’s standards are truly for my good?” Show yourself to be a good shepherd by patiently guiding your child or children in proving that Jehovah’s way is the best way of life.*—Rom. 12:2.
18. How can parents imitate Jehovah, the Supreme Shepherd?
18 All true Christians want to be imitators of the Supreme Shepherd. (Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 2:25) Parents in particular need to know the appearance of their flock—their precious children—and do all they can to guide them toward the blessings Jehovah has for them. By all means, then, shepherd your children by continuing to raise them in the way of the truth!
For more suggestions, see The Watchtower, August 1, 2008, pages 10-12.
For more information, see the article “Family Worship—Vital for Survival!” in The Watchtower of October 15, 2009, pages 29-31.
This aspect is further considered in The Watchtower of February 1, 2012, pages 18-21.