Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
This is a very well known Scripture verse, especially when we are talking about how to train your children. I have heard a few different ideas of what this verse is teaching, and I think there is validity to each of them. Let’s start with the definition of “train up” from the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:
A primitive root; properly, to narrow (compare chanaq); figuratively, to initiate or discipline — dedicate, train up.
With that definition in mind, here are two interpretations of this verse that I’ve heard:
- The parents are to train their children in the way they feel is best, according to the Bible. The result will be that the children will stay with what they were trained when they are older. I believe that this is, with some further depth and understanding, the primary teaching of this verse.
- The parents are to train their children in the way God is leading that child to be. I have also heard that “the way he should go” should be translated “the way he is bent.” I’m in favor of changing the words in Scripture. Sometimes, however, we do need clarification about what the words mean. I believe that there is validity to this truth, although, I don’t think the wording of the verse needs to be changed. I’ll talk more about this later.
Going back to our definition of “train up,” there are several key parts that work together. If one part is left out, I believe that part of the training process is lost.
- “To narrow” – Some people think that Christians “brainwash” or “indoctrinate” their children, forcing them to live a severely strict lifestyle. Whether or not you think they take it too far is not the issue. The issue lies more with the fact of teaching their children why they do what they do (what they say, how they act, what they wear, etc.). Being narrow is necessary: it help protect your children, especially while they are young. But as they grow older, they need to learn the reasons behind what they are being taught.
- “To initiate” – This part of the definition indicates that training is a life-long process. As parents, we are just starting the process: we’re initiating it. The beginning of any teaching is critical, since all teaching afterwards is based on those foundational principles.
- “To discipline” – Discipline is more that punishment for wrong doing (which is a common usage of the word). Discipline is to “train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” So the purpose of discipline is to help the other person better understand and follow certain practices, only part of which is punishment. One of the key responsibilities of any authority is to help those under their authority to become better – to become the person God wants them to be.
- “Dedicate” – The process of dedicating something is reserving it for only a particular use. In this context, we are talking about dedicating our children to God for His use. We should first dedicate ourselves to God, but, as parents, we are to give our children to God as well.
And she [Hannah] said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.
1 Samuel 1:26-28
Our responsibility to “train up” our children means that we to begin their life-long training in living the life that God desires for them.
This process of training involves several key elements, some of which are missed or overlooked:
1. Know the destination
Steven Covey popularized the idea of starting with the end in mind. This is a principle that is found throughout Scripture. We cannot effectively get to our destination if we don’t know what or where it is.
2. Start where they are
MapQuest, Google, and many other apps help people to get from point A to point B. You have to know both the destination (see point 1 above) and the starting point. It is only after you know both of these that you can plot out a course to follow. Yes, there may be detours along the way; but you have a plan to follow.
When working with children, it can be easy to understand where they really are.
My wife and I can be talking with our kids. They will stop us and ask us what a certain word means. My wife and I look at each other, and we are struggling to find a way to define it for them. It’s a word that is so easy and common for us, but we fail to remember how we got to the place of understanding it.
Take time to work with your children. That’s the only way to really know where they are. No two kids are at the same level, even at the same age. My son barely spoke until we was three, while my daughter was talking in simple sentences at two. Each one is different, so you have to figure out where they are so you can know how to move forward.
3. Demonstrate what is expected
“More is caught than taught.”
Kids pick up on what you do much more than they do from what you say.
You can tell them everyday that they shouldn’t smoke; but if you smoke, you’re sending a mixed message to them, and they’ll tend to think that smoking is okay.
You can tell them to clean their room, but if you never worked with them on it, how will they really know what is expected? Take time to show them step-by-step what they need to do, explaining everything as you go.
Not only do you need to show them how to do it, but you need to be a continual example. If you tell your kids to clean their room, but your room is a mess, what kind of message are you sending them?
4. Give them an opportunity to practice
After you demonstrate and explain how to do what they need to do, they need to try it themselves.
And the best time for them to do it is right away!
The closer the application of the lesson is to the teaching, the better they will be able to catch on. This applies to everyone, not just children.
You also need to remember that this is “practice.” They will not get it right every time. In fact, they will probably mess it up more than they get it right.
They need the opportunity to fail.
And this can be discouraging for everyone involved:
- You get discouraged because “they didn’t get it”
- They get discouraged because they want to do it right, but let you down instead
Some children are affected more by this than others. My son gets so discouraged when he misses something or doesn’t do something right, that he lets his anger come out. My daughter tends to cry with disappointment.
Help your child to deal with the disappointment, learn from the mistakes, and try again.
5. Praise them
We all need encouragement and praise. Even if your child doesn’t do everything right, find something to complement him on. If you’re paying attention close enough, see how he improved over the last time.
This time of praise should come quickly and often, especially for younger children. They need the affirmation, approval, and encouragement to keep trying.
6. Give appropriate correction
Spending time praising your child for his successes, however small, is only part of the practicing time. There also needs to be instruction and correction for the things that were done incorrectly or incompletely.
Kindly and gently show them what they missed and how to correct it. If possibly, give them the opportunity to try it again right away, so they can apply the lesson practically.
Sometimes, however, it may be better to allow some time to pass before trying it again. When you do allow time in between, you’ll need to start at the demonstration step again. You’ll probably be able to go through it more quickly, but it’s important that they can see it and refresh their memory (especially for younger children).
Remember, this is a life-long process. You’ll be repeating these steps over and over. Hopefully, your child will learn as they get older, and then you’ll be training them on something new.