Building up believers and the New Testament church

Training Children

Training, Moving Towards a Goal

To train, we must move consistently towards a goal. What do we want to accomplish? What trait are we seeking to establish? Will we know it when we see it? Are we sure we are expecting the right thing for the right age? Our children cannot perform as adults overnight.

Neither should they be left to drift. We are engaged in a process that will take twenty years or so, and we must not move ahead or lag behind. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the discernment that we need, the wisdom, and the ability to be consistent day by day. It is a demanding labor and casts us upon our knees before the Lord. Yet in Christ we can do all things.

Generally speaking, we can say that the following elements are part of any training:

1) Establishing the goal

2) Giving instruction

3) Showing by example

4) Specific commands under supervision

5) Commands that are checked after completion

6) General commands that are monitored periodically

1) Establishing the goal: We must know what we are aiming at. What are we trying to build? The most important are proper attitudes and character traits. They must be clearly defined in our minds, and only the Holy Spirit can define them for us. We must see, with the seeing that comes from God in our relationship with Him. The goals will come out of what God is requiring of us. They must be brought down to the maturity level of our children and applied in their lives so that they can respond. Our primary goal is not skill but character.

For example, we may be teaching a daughter how to sew. This is good, but the character traits that are built while we are teaching sewing are far more important--patience, willingness to be corrected, the importance of doing a job carefully, how to handle interruptions, and so on. These are applicable to any job. Learning to sew is secondary. Your daughter can get through life without sewing, but she needs those character traits.

2) Giving instruction: Depending on the age, we need to lay some foundation through instruction. With young children, we do not begin with explaining why we are commanding something. We say to a young child, "Do not touch that knife." It is enough that we gave the command. To try to explain is impossible at first, and can actually work against what we are building. Our children are not in the judge's seat, to evaluate whether our commands are correct. They are in the seat of the learner. As they grow older, we should take opportunities to instruct our children, but not at the time we are commanding.

The instruction for understanding (as they are able to comprehend) comes either before or after the command, but not at the same time. The older the child, the more instruction they are able to comprehend. Most of us make the mistake of depending too much on instruction at too early an age. There is a point at which they must know why, but they must obey our commands long before they know why. In this, it is the same as with us and the Lord. We obey first, and then comes the knowing (John 7:17).

3) Showing by example: Our instruction needs to be interpreted. It may be very clear to us, but not to them. We must show what we mean. Telling your child to be careful is one thing, but showing them how to be careful in a given situation is another. We need to be attentive all through the day for natural situations which arise to give opportunities to teach by example. Sometimes we may be able to create situations, but more often they arise naturally, and if we are attentive we will recognize the opportunity and use it.

For this to happen, we must see what is most important. Is it sewing, making a dress, or teaching patience? Is it cleaning the house, or teaching orderliness? Is it baking cookies, or teaching how to follow instructions? If we have the wrong goals in mind, we will chase the children away and do the job ourselves, just when we should stop what we are doing and use the opportunity at hand to instruct, demonstrate, and show by example.

4) Specific commands under supervision: After we have laid the groundwork through instruction and example, we need to give specific commands while our children are directly under our supervision: "Do such and such, while I watch." In so doing, we are giving them an opportunity to exercise what we have been talking about. We are also teaching a much greater area of working under pressure. Our presence will bring pressure, but they need to be able to work under that pressure. They will need correction, and we must be present and attentive to correct. Attention to attitude is imperative at all times. Obedience with an improper attitude is not obedience.

Again, it is not the skill we may be teaching that is of utmost importance, but the character developed while teaching the skill. Our main aim is character, not skill. If children develop character, they can learn any needed skill. This is also true in schoolwork. It is not so much the reading and writing--they will learn those things. It is the character traits learned while learning to read and write that are important. If our children learn to read and write but do not learn the character traits, we have failed.

5) Commands that are checked after completion: Once an initial task has been demonstrated, and the initial instruction has taken place, the child knows what is expected. At this point, close detailed supervision is not required, but checking is required. The command is given, to go and clean up the room and then call you to check. In so doing, you are teaching accountability. God requires accountability. Again, getting the room cleaned is an opportunity to teach accountability. By calling you to check, you are setting boundaries on the command. It is specific, and obedience can be measured.

Don't command and then fail to check. This is one of the greatest areas of failure--the command is given, but it is not followed up. Obedience may be good the first or second time, but unless we uphold the standard with alertness, obedience will not be complete. Then what are we teaching? --That obedience is not important. "Mom and Dad don't really care if I obey or not. If they really cared, they would come and check, but because they don't check, it must not be important. I can do what I want to." Though we think we are teaching responsibility by our instruction and intention, we are actually teaching disobedience and irresponsibility because of our irresponsibility in the matter of commanding. We teach by what we do, not by the intentions of our minds.

6) General commands that are monitored periodically: After a period of time, commanding as outlined above, we will bring our children to a place of responsibility in which they can be trusted to carry out a general command such as "Keep your room clean." Even in this, however, we must not neglect in following through. We must monitor progress, oftentimes silently and unobserved. If the standard begins to slip, steps must be taken to bring the standard back up. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom, because overly close supervision at this point will have a negative effect.

If we have worked properly, the child will now be aware of the area, aware of our standard, and out of love desire to please us. Obedience must come out of love. Our training should instill in the child a desire to please us. This will carryover into other areas, where they will begin to study our mind, know what we want, and begin to move ahead of us instead of waiting for detailed instruction. All of this takes time, and we must not think we will arrive overnight.