|TO TRAIN UP A CHILD
BYMICHAEL & DEBI PEARL
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The Website of Michael and Debi Pearl is
JOY where you can get their address and request a free copy
of their newsletter. We highly recommend their wisdom in training
children to all parents who love their children. Their first book,
TO TRAIN UP A CHILD is presented below in its entirety.
This book is not about discipline, nor problem children. The
emphasis is on the training of a child before the need to discipline
arises. It is apparent that most parents never attempt to train a
child to obey. They wait until the child becomes unbearable and then
explode. With proper training, discipline can be reduced to 5% of
what many now practice. As you come to understand the difference
between training and discipline, you will have a renewed vision for
your family--no more raised voices, no contention, no bad attitudes,
fewer spankings, a cheerful atmosphere in the home, and total
obedience from your children.
Any parent with an emotional maturity level higher than the
average thirteen-year-old can, with a proper vision and knowledge of
the technique, have happy obedient children. This is not a theory;
it is a practical reality which has been successfully applied many
A couple, stressed out with the conflict of three young children,
after spending the weekend with us and hearing some of these
principles, changed their strategy. One week later, they exclaimed,
"I can't believe it; we went to a friend's house, and when I told my
children to do something, they immediately, without question,
These truths are not new, deep insights from the professional
world of research, rather, the same principles the Amish use to
train their stubborn mules, the same technique God uses to train his
children. They are profoundly simple and extremely obvious. After
examining them with us, you will say, "I knew that all along. Where
have I been? It's so obvious."
To Train Up a Child
SWITCH YOUR KIDS
When you tell some parents they need to switch their children, they
respond, "I would if I could find someone willing to trade." I have
had children in my house that would be enough to give an electric
wheat grinder a nervous breakdown. The parents look like escapees
from a Second World War, Polish boxcar. Another hour with them, and
I would have been searching the yellow-pages for discount
vasectomies. While we try to sit and talk, the children are
constantly running in and out of doors, complaining of ill treatment
from the others, begging to go or stay or eat, or demanding a toy
that the other children will not relinquish. The mother must
continually jump up and rescue some breakable object. She says, "No"
six-hundred and sixty-six times in the space of two hours. She
spanks each child two or three times--usually with her hand on top
of a diaper. Other than misaligning the child's spine, it seems to
have no effect.
When we speak of consistently rewarding every transgression with
a switching (not a karate chop to the lower backbone), this mother
can only see herself as further brutalizing children for whom it
will do no good. Her discipline is just "laying down a field of
fire" to give herself sufficient cover to get through to the next
task. She doesn't hope to conquer their wills, just create enough
diversion to accomplish her own mission.
Another mother walks in with her little ones and sits down to
talk. She says to them, "Go out in the sun-room to play and don't
bother Mama unless you need something." For the next two hours we
are not even aware the children are present--except when a little
one comes in holding herself saying, "Pee-pee, Mama." They play
together well, resolve their own conflicts and don't expect
attention when one turns the rocking horse over and gets a knot on
her head. They don't come in and out--they have been told not to.
This mother never spanked her children while at my house. And she
never needed to rebuke them. She looks rested. When the children are
called to go home, one says, "Mama, can I stay and play with
Shoshanna?" Mother answers, "No, not today. We have work to do at
home." As he lifts his arms, the little fellow is picked up. Hugging
his mother's neck, he says, "I love you Mama."
This young mother said to me, "My children want to please me.
They try so hard to do everything I say. We have such fun together."
She is looking forward to more children. They are the joy of her
life. But there was a time when this was not the case.
By the grace of God and through the simple, Biblical principles
found in these pages, with determination and an open heart this
mother has trained up children who bring her joy and honor.
Training does not necessarily require that the trainee be capable of
reason; even mice and rats can be trained to respond to stimuli.
Careful training can make a dog perfectly obedient. If a seeing-eye
dog can be trained to reliably lead a blind man through the
obstacles of a city street, shouldn't a parent expect more out of an
intelligent child? A dog can be trained not to touch a tasty morsel
laid in front of him. Can't a child be trained not to touch? A dog
can be trained to come, stay, sit, be quiet or fetch upon command.
You may not have trained your dog that well, yet every day someone
accomplishes it on the dumbest mutts. Even a clumsy teenager can be
trained to be an effective trainer in a dog obedience school.
If you wait until your dog is displaying unacceptable behavior
before you rebuke (or kick) him, you will have a foot-shy mutt who
is always sulking around seeing what he can get away with before
being screamed at. Where there is an absence of training, you can no
more rebuke and whip a child into acceptable behavior than you can
the family dog. No amount of discipline can make up for lack of
Proper training always works on every child. To neglect training
is to create miserable circumstances for yourself and your child.
Out of innocent ignorance many of you have bypassed the training and
expected the discipline alone to effect proper behavior.
When headstrong young men join the military, they are first taught
to stand still. The many hours of close-order-drill are simply to
teach and reinforce submission of the will. "Attention!" pronounced,
"TENNN--HUTT!!" is the beginning of all maneuvers. Just think of the
relief it would be if by one command you could gain the absolute,
silent, concentrated attention of all your children. A sergeant can
call his men to attention and then, without explanation, ignore
them, and they will continue to stand frozen in that position until
they fall out unconscious. The maneuvers "Right flank, Left flank,
Companeeey--Halt" have no value in war except as they condition the
men to instant, unquestioning obedience.
As in the military, all maneuvers in the home begin with a call
to attention. Three-fourths of all home discipline problems would be
instantly solved if you could at any time gain your child's silent,
unmoving attention. "TO THE REAR--MARCH" translated into family
language would be: "Leave the room," or, "Go to bed." Without
question they turn and go. This is normal in the well trained
We live in a horse and buggy community where someone is always
training a new horse. When you get into a buggy to go down a narrow,
winding state highway filled with eighteen-wheelers and logging
trucks, you must have a totally submissive horse. You cannot depend
on whipping it into submission. One mistake, and the young men are
again making several new pine boxes and digging six-foot deep holes
in the orchard.
A horse is first trained to stand still and submit to being
caught. He must not fear the bridle or harness. He must stand still
while the thirteen children step in front of the iron wheels to
climb into the buggy. When stopped at the end of a driveway, waiting
for the traffic to clear, he must not exercise his own will to step
out in front of eighty-thousand pounds of speeding truck.
You must anticipate and train the horse for all potential
occurrences. This is done in a controlled environment where
situations are created to test and condition the horse's responses.
The horse is first conditioned by being taken through paces. As you
hold the bridle and lead the horse, you say, "Whoa," and then stop.
Since you have a tight hold on the bridle, he must stop. After just
a few times, the horse will stop to just the command.
The trainer establishes the tone at which the horse will respond.
If you scream "Whoa!!" then in the future the horse will not stop
unless the command is screamed at him. One such farmer trained his
horses with a wild, frantic bellow. Most of his neighbors, who speak
quietly to their horses, find it difficult to control his horses
because of their inability to raise their voices in vehemence.
SPEAK TO ME ONLY
I was logging with a fifteen-hundred-pound mule that sometimes
wanted to run away with the log. In moments of stress (actually I
was panic stricken), I found myself frantically YELLING the
commands. The owner would patiently caution me, "Speak quietly and
calmly, or he will pay no attention." I never did learn the art of
calmly saying, "Whoa" to a runaway mule pulling a twenty-five-foot
white oak log with my foot hung in the trace chain. The point to
remember is that the animal learns to identify not only the sound
but also the tone.
If you raise your voice when giving a command to your child, he
will learn to associate your tone and decibel level with your
intention. If you have so trained him, don't blame him if he ignores
your first thirteen "suggestions" waiting for the fevered pitch to
reach the point where he must interpret it to be a real command.
TRAINING, NOT DISCIPLINE
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he
will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6)." Train up, not beat up. Train
up, not discipline up. Train up, not educate up. Train up, not
"positive affirmation" up. Training is the most obvious missing
element in child rearing. Training is not discipline. A child will
need more than "obedience training," but without it everything else
will be insufficient.
Parents should not wait until the child's behavior becomes
unacceptable before they commence training--that would be
discipline. Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in
itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of
the child's mind before the crisis arises; it is preparation for
future, instant, unquestioning obedience. An athlete trains before
he competes. Animals, including wild ones, are conditioned to
respond to the trainer's voice command.
The frustration experienced by parents is of their own ignorant
making. Our problem is not "bad" children, just bad training. There
are no exceptions, the "strong willed," the hyper active, the highly
intelligent and the easily bored all need training, and training is
effective on all.
Understand, at this point we are not talking about producing
godly children, just happy and obedient children. The principles for
training children to instantly obey can be equally applied by
Christians and non-Christians.
TRAINING NOT TO TOUCH
There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and
challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of
one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.
Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach
it, maybe in a "No-no" corner or on an apple juice table (That's
where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive
for it, in a calm voice say, "No, don't touch it." They will already
be familiar with the "No," so they will pause, look at you in wonder
and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and
simultaneously say, "No." Remember, you are not disciplining, you
are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will
again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the
object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain.
It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will
learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.
PLANT YOUR TREE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN
When God wanted to "train" his first two children not to touch, He
did not place the forbidden object out of their reach. Instead, He
placed the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" in the "midst of the
garden (Gen. 3:3)." Being in the middle of the garden, they would
pass it continually. God's purpose was not to save the tree--rather,
to train the couple. Note the name of the tree was not just
"knowledge of evil," but, "knowledge of good and evil." By
exercising their wills not to eat, they would have learned the
meaning of "good" as well as "evil." The eating was a shortcut to
the knowledge, but not a necessary path.
The beauty of this is that thereafter, every time the children
pass the 'No-No' object (their "tree of knowledge of good and
evil"), they are gaining knowledge of good and evil from the
standpoint of an overcomer. As with Adam and Eve in the garden, the
object and the touching of it is, in itself, of no consequence; but
the attachment of a command to it makes it a moral "factory" where
character is produced. By your enforcement, your children are
learning about moral government, duty, responsibility and, in the
event of failure, accountability, rewards and punishment. In the
here and now, they are also learning not to touch, which makes a
child's social life a lot more pleasant.
It just takes a few minutes to train a child not to touch a given
object. Most children can be brought into complete and joyous
subjection in just three days. Thereafter, if you continue to be
faithful, the children will remain happy and obedient. By obedient,
I mean you will never need to tell them twice. If you expect to
receive instant obedience, and you train them to that end, you will
be successful. It will take extra time to train, but once the
children are in general subjection the time saved is extraordinary.
Some people say, "Child-proof your home." I say, "Home-proof your
Have you ever been the victim of tiny inquisitive hands? The very
young child, not yet walking, is keen on wanting to grab any object
of interest. There is no fault in this, but sometimes it can be
annoying. When you are holding a baby and he keeps pulling off your
glasses, you cannot explain to him the impropriety of such socially
crude behavior. The little tot is not yet moved by fear of
rejection. So, do you try to hold him in a pinned-down fashion where
he can't get to your face? No, you train him not to touch. Once you
train an infant to respond to the command of 'No," then you will
have control in every area where a prohibition is in order.
Get set for training. Hold him where he can easily reach your
glasses. Look him right in the eye. He reaches out. Don't pull back.
Don't defend yourself.' Calmly say, No." If anything, lower your
voice, don't raise it. Don't sound more serious than usual. Remember
you are establishing a pattern of command to be used the rest of his
youth. When he touches the glasses, again say, "No," and accompany
your command with minor pain. He will pull his hand back and try to
comprehend the association of grabbing the glasses and pain. (I
usually just thumped their little hand with my index finger. I never
knew one to cry. They don't even know that you did it. They think it
was the glasses, or perhaps the "No" itself causes pain.)
Inevitably, he will return to the bait to test his new theory. Sure
enough, again the glasses caused pain; and the pain is always
accompanied by a quiet little "No." It may take one or two more
tries for him to give up his career as glasses snatcher, but he
Through this process of association the child will involuntarily
recall the pain every time he hears the word "No." There comes a
time when your word alone is sufficient to gain obedience.
You can also stop him from assaulting his mother with a bottle
held by the nipple. The same holds true for hair and beard pulling.
You name it, the infant can be trained to obey. Do you want to
wrestle with him through his entire youth, nagging him to
compliance, threatening, placing things out of reach, fearing what
he might get into next? Or would it be better to take a little time
to train? If nothing else, training will result in saving you time.
I know a mother who must call a baby-sitter every time she takes
a shower. You should be able to take a nap and expect to find the
house in order when you wake.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING--BITING BABIES
One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting
baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit,
she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded
babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just
conditioned. A baby learns not to stick his finger in his eyes or
bite his tongue through the negative associations accompanying it.
It requires no understanding or reasoning. Somewhere in the brain
that information is unconsciously stored. After two or three times
of biting, with the accompanying head hurting, the child programs
that information away for his own comfort. The biting habit is cured
before it starts. This is not discipline. It is obedience training.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING--BOWLS AND BABIES
The mother clumsily holds her cereal bowl at arms length as she
wrestles her infant for supremacy. When she places the bowl out of
the baby's reach, he is taught it is off limits only if it is out of
reach. To train him, place the bowl within easy reach. When he
reaches out, say "No" and thump his hand. He will pull his hand
back, momentarily look alarmed and again reach out. Repeat the
process of saying "No" in a calm voice and thumping the hand. After
several times, you can eat in peace.
When "No" and a thump occur simultaneously, several times, on
different occasions, the voice command alone soon becomes sufficient
to mold behavior. Again, keep in mind, the baby is not being
punished, just conditioned. The thump is not a substitute rod. It is
reinforcement to the obedience training.
COME WHEN I CALL YOU
One father tells of his training sessions with each new toddler. He
sets aside an evening for "booty" camp, which is a boot camp for
toddlers. The child of ten to twelve months is left alone to become
deeply interested in a toy or some delightful object. From across
the room or just inside the other room, the father calls the child.
If he ignores the call, the father goes to him and explains the
necessity of immediately coming when called, and then leads him to
the father's chair. The child thus led through these paces is being
He is returned to the toy and left alone long enough to again
become engrossed. Another call, and, if no response, the father
gives a patient explanation and demonstration of the desired
response. The parent, having assured himself of the child's
understanding, once again sets up the situation and calls the child.
This time, if there is not an immediate response the child is
lightly spanked and lectured. The father continues this throughout
the evening until the child readily and immediately responds to a
summons. Thereafter, until the child leaves home, he is expected to
drop everything and come upon the first call. As long as the parents
remain consistent, the child will consistently obey. This "obedience
training" is carried out in the utmost patience and concentration.
The spanking should not be viewed as punishment, but as
reinforcement to commands.
NEVER TOO YOUNG TO TRAIN
The parents who put off training until the child is old enough to
discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror
long before he understands the meaning of the word. A newborn soon
needs training. The child needs holding, loving and lots of
attention, but the mother often has other duties.
As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins
the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and
bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is
going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave
in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his
way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying
is counterproductive). Crying because of genuine physical need is
simply the infant's only voice to the outside world; but crying in
order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never
be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child's growing
self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially
STEPS TO OBEDIENCE
One of our girls who developed mobility early had a fascination with
crawling up the stairs. At four months she was too unknowing to be
punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to
train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command
of "No" with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a
twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.
Such was her fascination with climbing that four or five sessions
had not made her stop. The thought of further spankings was
disconcerting, so I conceived an alternative. After one more
spanking, I laid the switch on the bottom step. We later observed
her crawl to the stairs and start the ascent, only to halt at the
first step and stare at the switch. She backed off and never again
attempted to climb the stairs, even after the switch was removed.
Disciplinary actions can become excessive and oppressive when the
tool of training is set aside and one depends on discipline alone to
do the training. I have observed proud, stern fathers, ruling their
house with a firm hand and making sure everyone knows it. The rod is
swift to fall, and especially in the presence of company. The
children tremble in his presence, fearing to incur his displeasure.
I have often wondered why, if he is so firm and faithful to gain
obedience, he has not achieved it before entering the public arena.
I am impressed, but not in the way he hopes.
Except where the very smallest children are concerned, training
at home almost entirely eliminates the need for
discipline--especially public discipline. Yet, should the need arise
in public, do a flanking maneuver and administer it; then go home
and train so that it never again happens in public.
TRAINING THE ORNERY AMISH BOY
As I sat talking with a local Amish fellow, a typical child training
session developed. The father was holding a twelve-month-old boy who
suddenly developed a compulsion to slip down onto the floor. Due to
the cold floor, the father directed the child to stay in his lap.
The child began to stiffen so as to make of himself a missile that
would slip through to the floor. The father spoke to him in the
German language (which I did not understand) and firmly placed him
back in the sitting position. The child began to make dissenting
noises and continued the resistant slide. The father then spanked
the child and spoke what I assumed to be reproving words. Seeing his
mother across the room, the child began to cry and reach for her.
This was understandable in any language.
At this point, I became highly interested in the proceedings.
Most fathers would have been glad to give up the child to continue
their own conversation. It was obvious the child felt there would be
more liberty with his mother. If he had been given over to her, the
experience would have been counterproductive training. He would have
been taught that when he cannot get his way with one, just go around
the chain of command. The faithful mother, more concerned for her
child's training than the gratification of being clung to, ignored
The father then turned the child away from his mother. The
determined fellow immediately understood that the battle lines had
shifted and expressed his independence by throwing his leg back over
to the other side to face his mother. The father spanked the leg
that the child turned to the mother and again spoke to him.
Clearly, the lines were drawn. The battle was in array. Someone
was going to submit his will and learn his lesson. Either the father
would confirm that this one-year-old could rule his parents or the
parents would confirm their authority. Everyone's happiness was at
stake, as well as the soul of the child. The father was wise enough
to know this was a test of authority. This episode had crossed over
from "obedience training" to discipline for attitude.
For the next weary forty-five minutes, fifteen times the child
would make his legs move, and the daddy would turn him around and
spank his legs. The father was as calm as a lazy porch swing on a
Sunday afternoon. There was no hastiness or anger. He did not take
the disobedience personally. He had trained many a horse or mule and
knew the value of patient perseverance. In the end, the
twelve-month-old submitted his will to his father, sat as he was
placed, and became content--even cheerful.
Some will say, "But I couldn't take it emotionally." Sometimes it
is difficult and trying to set aside your plans for the sake of
child training. It does involve emotional sacrifice. Yet, what is
love, but giving? When we know it will work to the temporal and
eternal good of the child, it is a joy instead of a sacrifice.
Where our motives are not pure, where we suspect anger may be
part of our motivation, our pricked conscience causes a reluctance
to act. We fear that our discipline is an act of the ego to
dominate. We must deal with our own impurities for the sake of the
child; for if the child doesn't receive this kind of training, he
will greatly suffer.
BE ASSURED OF TWO THINGS:
1. Every small child will have one or two times in his young life
when he will decide to take hold of the reins. The stubbornness is
profound--amazing--a wonder that one so young could be so dedicated
and persevering in rebellion. It is the kind of determination you
would expect to find in a hardened revolutionary facing enemy
indoctrination classes. Parents who are trained to expect it and are
prepared to persevere still stand in awe at the strength of the
small child's will.
2. If you are consistent, this test of authority will come only
one, two, or, at the most, three times in each child's life. If you
endure, conquering the child's will, then in the long run the child
wins. If you weaken and let it pass to the victory of the child's
will, then by winning it is a character loss for the child. You must
persevere for the both of you. The household cat who, regardless of
protest, door barring and foot swinging, is occasionally allowed to
stay in the house will take the occasional success as impetus to
always try to get in. If he is consistently kept out (100% of the
time), he will not come in, even when the door is left open. The
cat, allowed to occasionally get its way, is trained, despite your
protests, to come into the house. If you kick it hard enough and
often enough, it will become sufficiently wary to obey while you
remain on guard but will still bolt through the door when it sees
the opportunity. On the other hand, dogs, thirty-five times smarter
than cats, can be trained either to come in or stay out upon
command. The key again is consistency. If the dog learns through
conditioning (consistent behavior on the part of the trainer) that
he will never be allowed to violate his master's command, he will
always obey. If parents carefully and consistently train up a child,
his or her performance will be as consistently satisfying as that
rendered by a well trained seeing-eye dog.
How many times have we observed the grocery store arena? A devious
little kid sits up in the command seat of the shopping cart
exercising his "childhood rights" to unlimited self-indulgence. The
parent fearfully but hopelessly steers around the tempting "trees of
knowledge of good and evil." Too late! The child spies the object of
his unbridled lust. The battle is on. The child will either get what
he wants or make the parent miserable. Either way, he conquers.
One father proudly told of how he fearlessly overcame by
promising the child ice-cream if he would only wait until they left
the store. Such compromises will simply confirm the child's
terrorist tactics. You are not gaining control of the child, he is
gaining control of you. All children are trained, some carelessly or
negligently, and some, with varied degrees of forethought. All
parental responses are conditioning the child's behavior, and are
Parents who purchase compliance through promise of reward are making
their child a racketeer who is paid for protection. The child
becomes the Mafia or union boss, and you, the "over the barrel"
businessman. If you are just bargaining with a terrorist for one
more day's reprieve from anguish, you may then strike a favorable
deal, but if you are training up a child, you need to reconsider
your methods. This compromise method is the making of a bitter,
undisciplined, fleshly child--and eventually, adult.
DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID?
I observed a father tell his small boy not to touch a particular
object. Having been trained to ignore mild commands, the child
picked it up. The father demanded, "Give it to me." The child
pretended not to hear. "Did you hear me? [Of course he did] Hand it
to Daddy. [With more firmness] Johnnnieee, give it to Daddy, NOW!!
[Another decibel higher--hasty--angry] JOHNNY!! Am I going to have
to SPANK YOU?" By this time the father became aware of his
embarrassing tone. He calmed his voice, and in an attempt to bring
it to a conclusion he leaned way out and extended his hand, making
it easier for Johnny to comply. Because of the angry voice and
burning eyes, Johnny assumed the temporary posture of, "Oh well,
there will be another day." But, instead of meeting the humbled,
groping father, he held the object in his general direction but down
close to his body, forcing the father to advance even farther to
retrieve it. The father, looking like a poor peasant receiving his
necessary food from some condescending royalty, submitted to the
child's humiliation and reached to retrieve the object. And then, in
a display of weakness, the father placed it out of the child's
What has Johnny learned from this episode? He has had his
conviction reinforced that it is never necessary to obey a command
the first, second, third, or fourth time. No one expects him to. He
has learned it is permissible to grab anything within reach and to
continue possessing it until the heat gets too great. He has learned
not to respect authority, just strength (the day will come when he
is the stronger one). By the father's example, he has learned how to
use anger. By the father's advance to take the object from his hand,
he has learned how to "get in the last shot" and maintain his
defiance. That father was effectively training his small child to be
What has the father learned? That little Johnny is just a "strong
willed" child; that children go through unpleasant stages; that it
is sometimes a very miserable, embarrassing thing to be a parent;
that one has to watch a kid every minute and put things out of his
reach; that the only things kids understand are force and anger? All
of which are false. The father is reaping the harvest of his "mistraining."
After we take a look at the nature of a child, much of the rest
of this book will describe many positive training techniques.
(Understanding a child's natural development)
"BEHOLD, THE SECOND WOE"!
Just last night while sitting in a meeting, I looked over to see a
young mother struggling with her small child. He seemed determined
to make her life as miserable as possible--and destroy her
reputation in the process. She had the "Why me?" look on her tired
face. He kept defiantly throwing his bottle on the floor (assisted
by her picking it up and handing it back to him) and making angry
noises that forced the preacher to scream louder and louder. With
threats of increasingly embarrassing displays, he forced her to put
him down on the floor where he proceeded to audition for circus
clown while insisting on procuring a neighbor's property. When she
tried to prevent his thievery and rescue the stolen goods, he kicked
his feet like an eggbeater and screamed his protest.
It was enough to make you believe the Devil started out as an
infant. I am just thankful that one-year-olds don't weigh
two-hundred pounds, or a lot more mothers would be victims of
homicide. It causes one to understand where the concept of a "sinful
The mother knows the child shouldn't be acting like this; but due
to the child's limited intellectual development, she feels helpless.
Older children and adults have their actions constrained by many
mental and social factors. This child is not affected by
peer-pressure, threat of embarrassment or rejection. His life is one
of unlimited, unrestrained self-indulgence.
The parents are waiting for the child's understanding to develop
so they can correct "bad" behavior. They helplessly watch while
selfishness and meanness of spirit grow behind a wall of undeveloped
What is the driving force in this child, and how can it be
conquered? We need to understand some things about the nature of a
child in order to institute appropriate training.
For the purpose of moral development, God created us to exist in a
constant condition of need and dependence. The needs are most
apparent in the small child. He needs food, warmth, companionship,
entertainment, and a dry diaper. God has endowed him with strong,
involuntary compulsions to taste, smell, hear, with eyes to see, and
a desire to touch and feel.
The desires and passions in the infant are not yet complete. As
he matures, he will find himself possessed of ever-increasing
natural desires for things "pleasant to the eyes," things "good for
food" and for those things that will "make one wise." His growing
humanity will give way to a desire to build, to know, to be
appreciated, recognized, to succeed, be a lover, and to survive in a
As infants grow, they learn to manipulate their surroundings to
their own gratification. A smile, a grunt, kicking the feet, rolling
and shaking the head, crying, screaming--"Pick me up--Feed me-Just
look at me--Doesn't anyone realize I have urgent needs?--What could
be more important than 'me'?"
The infant's world is no bigger than his needs. It is the only
reality he knows. He soon learns that his "wants" can be just as
readily satisfied. The infant cannot think in terms of duty,
responsibility or moral choice. He has no pride or humility--only
desire. He comes, he sees, he takes. He is created that way. By
nature, he is incapable of considering the needs of others. The baby
doesn't know you are tired and also in need of comfort.
The self-centeredness of infants and small children has all the
appearances of a vice. But they are acting on natural, God-given
impulses to the meeting of natural needs. They "go astray as soon as
they be born, speaking lies (Psalm 58:3)." Yet, God does not impute
the lie to them as sin. God reckons as if they had no moral
character, and therefore no responsibility. They do not possess the
intellectual and moral maturity to say "No" to appetites. They
cannot yet be deemed blameworthy. They begin life in innocent
TO BLAME OR NOT TO BLAME
As the child gets older, say eight- to twelve-months, the adults
begin to pay less attention to his demands, and a weaning process
begins. The child is made to wait, told "No," and given boundaries.
He must learn that he cannot always be first. If by now training has
not already subdued the manifestations of his "selfishness," the
child may come to be what we called "spoiled."
Guilty, frustrated parents are manipulated by the child's whining
and crying. The sparing begins. The kid gets jerked around.
Resentment builds. The adults begin to blame him.
The child feels the tension, but does not lessen the demands. He
connives, calculates and resorts to angry tantrums. I have seen a
two-year-old take a weapon and angrily strike his mother. The young
child is not matured to a point where he can understand
responsibility, weigh values and make conscious decisions based on
moral or social worth; but he sure can mimic the criminal mind.
What is happening? A short time ago, the adults around this child
would have given him anything he wanted, including their own
life-sustaining food; but now they are beginning to expect a little
giving on his part. He doesn't want to give. Taking has been his way
of life from conception. The arrangement suits him just fine.
We adults, sensing the capabilities of children, expect them to
give-and-take at a level appropriate to their maturity. When they
fall behind our expectations, we become irritated. They NEVER make a
smooth transition from the utterly self-centered "give me, give me"
mentality to assuming responsibility for some of their own needs.
We are delighted when the three-month-old grabs food from our
hand and stuffs it in his mouth; but let a three-year-old try it and
it is not so cute. We are delighted when a three-year-old interrupts
our conversation with a tale of his own, but a nine-year-old is
expected to say "Excuse me" and wait for an appropriate time to
participate in the conversation.
When we believe a child has matured to the point of being capable
of responsible action, we automatically expect it of him. If he is
slow to assume his duty, we become irritated with him for not
"acting his age."
The beasts of the earth, in contrast to man, never need make a
decision to deny natural drive. They are within their intended
bounds living to self-gratification. But the growing child, as well
as the adult, who doesn't rise above self-indulging desires is
fallen from God's intention and design. The root of all sin is found
in the runaway indulgence of God-given desires. Though, due to lack
of moral development, the child is not held accountable, the
unrestrained indulgences of his desires will be the very root that
will one day result in his sinfulness.
A SPIRITUAL FETUS
Life is designed by God to be a spiritual womb, a place where the
work of creation continues. Yes, the physical creation is complete
and He is rested from it; but the moral creation goes on. Men are
not born wise, righteous, experienced, or developed in
Adam and Eve were never incomplete physically or morally. The
rest of us must grow through different stages to reach viability. A
four-month fetus, still in the mother's womb, is a living soul.
Though all the tiny members appear viable, the baby is an incomplete
creation needing further growth before becoming distinct from its
mother. In like manner, a three-year-old child has all the tiny
features of a morally responsible adult--a knowledge of right and
wrong, a sense of justice, accountability, conscience, duty, guilt,
shame, etc. Yet, none of the moral faculties are developed to the
point of being fully operative. The child is not a morally viable
soul. He is an uncompleted moral being. He is not accountable.
Morally, the three-year-old is still in the womb. As the child
grows, he slowly makes a transition from no moral understanding to
complete accountability. There are vast differences of opinion as to
when God deems them accountable for their own actions and thoughts.
Without any basis, twelve years old has been the traditional age.
Biblically, it will be sometime before twenty years of age (Deut.
1:39 with Num. 14:29-31).
One thing I do know is that it is not an "age of accountability,"
but a "state of accountability" (James 4:17; Lev. 5:3). Maybe as
early as five for some children. Maybe as late as fourteen for
others. I don't know.
The dilemma parents face is: How do we relate to the child during
this transition period from no moral understanding to complete
accountability? When the child is 30% morally cognizant and 70%
morally naive, how do we relate to him? How do we know to what
degree he is responsible? We know as far as judgment is concerned,
God will not deem him blameworthy until all moral faculties are
completely operative--until he becomes a morally viable being. But
if the parent waits until the child can understand the need to
exercise self-control, by then he has developed both a history and a
habit of indulging his flesh to the full. The problem the parent
must address is that the natural drives function a great while
before the reason. The child's first learning experiences occur in a
parent-supported, self-indulgent environment. It could not be
The parent does not want to destroy the child's natural drives,
but we would like to instill moderation. Yet, at an early age the
child is incapable of choosing moderation.
Here is where we come to the crux of this whole chapter and the
background for this whole book. It is important to understand:
PARENTS MUST ASSUME THAT PART OF THE CHILD'S MORAL DUTY WHICH IS NOT
YET FULLY DEVELOPED. The parents' role is not that of a policeman,
but more like that of the Holy Spirit. When the child has his sails
full of wind (strong drives), but no compass (moral discernment),
the parents must be the navigator. When they are as yet incapable of
conviction, our training and example will be their "standards."
Before they can DECIDE to do good we must CONDITION them to do good.
There was a time when the mother breathed for the child, ate for the
child and handled his waste. Likewise, in the moral realm, until the
child's reason and moral faculties develop to the point of
independent operation, the parent must be the voice of his yet
unborn conscience, his initiative and his set of values.
Each day he gets closer to his birth into moral individuality.
Someday his spiritual heart will function without you. He will leave
the protection of your sanctification and stand alone in the light
of his own conscience (1 Cor. 7:14). Until maturity, the only
moderation the child will know is what the parents instill.
The parent must understand his role in the moral weaning of the
child. One day, he or she is going to be able to choose. No amount
of training is going to override the certainty of sin developing;
but the training we give can make it easier for repentance to follow
In the infant and young child, we do not deal with their
"selfishness" as sin, but we are aware of where it is headed.
Drives, which are not in themselves evil, nonetheless form the
occasion to all sin. Our training must take into consideration the
evil that a self-willed spirit will eventually bring.
We parents cannot impart righteousness to our children, but we
can develop in them a firm commitment to righteousness. We cannot
write the law on their hearts, but we can write the law and gospel
on their consciences.
Anticipating this development and its consequences places an
urgent sense of responsibility upon us. The world is an undertow
pulling our children to destruction. Looking at statistics alone,
the probability is against their moral survival. The training we
give and the wisdom we impart can make all the difference in the
outcome. You hold an eternal soul in your hand. You cannot afford to
give in to indifference, laziness, or careless neglect. It is the
parents' responsibility to determine what level of understanding a
child has and to hold him accountable at that level.
This is an almost impossible task if you depend on your intellect
alone. If you are the principal caretaker of your child, your heart
will be able to discern the world from his perspective. When the
child believes it is wrong, it is wrong (James 4:17). Where there is
moral understanding and he disobeys, he should be punished with the
rod. Where there is lack of understanding of the moral quality of
his actions, he should be trained and conditioned. Sometimes the rod
is used in training. More will be said about this later.
WHEN DRIVES ISSUE IN SIN
When does this innocent, natural selfishness of a child become sin?
In other words, when is a child to blame? Keep in mind that a youth
will not come under condemnation until his moral faculties are fully
As the child's reason and moral faculties develop, gradually
there evolves an understanding of moral responsibility and duty. At
some point (as moral perception grows to a point where one can be
held fully accountable), every youth faces his own "tree of
knowledge of good and evil." (See Deut. 1:39.) So far, everyone
(except Jesus) has "eaten" (personally violated his own God-given
understanding of right and wrong) resulting in personal
Though God will not condemn a child until he is completely
matured morally (grows into a state of accountability), that does
not mean that the developing child is incapable of moral judgments
and responses. When a child sins against his conscience, he is
guilty. The degree to which his understanding is developed is the
degree to which his actions can be called sin. Again, the sin is not
imputed until the child becomes a fully functioning moral being. An
unfinished clock, still in the making, may have moving parts, but it
will not keep time until every last piece is properly installed.
WALKING AFTER THE FLESH
The cause of this consistent failure to obey the law of God is the
flesh-body in need of gratification. [After indulging in sin, it is
called "sinful flesh (Rom. 8.'3),"--that is, flesh "full" of sin.]
As the body of flesh was the occasion of Eve's sin and the occasion
of Christ's temptation, so it is the occasion of your child's
development into selfishness--which, at maturity, will constitute
When the child's conscience is partially operative, he must be
trained to practice self-restraint. For, if a child is allowed to
violate his budding conscience, and continues to do so as it grows
to full maturity, he will find himself already fully given over to
his flesh on the first day of his awakening into accountability.
That part of the child that is awakened to moral duty should be
brought into complete subjection to parents, and the child should be
led to worship God (1 Sam. 1:28; 3:1; with 3:7). If you allow the
flesh to run its natural course, the child will be possessed of many
unruly passions and lusts long before he is cognizant enough to
IN MY HANDS
The clay formed into a vessel of dishonor was marred while in the
potter's hand, only to be remade into a vessel of honor fit for the
master's table. If God is the potter and your child is the clay, for
a little while you are the wheel on which the clay is turned. As
Adam and Eve were given a garden to dress and keep, you have been
given loan of a little heart and mind to dress and keep.
There will come a time when your children must stand alone before
"the tree of knowledge of good and evil." As the purpose of God has
permitted, inevitably they will partake of the forbidden fruit. Now,
in the developing years, you can make a difference in how they will
respond after they have "eaten."
All the events of daily life, coupled with inner discernment, are
laying a foundation of knowledge from which your child will make
judgments about right and wrong. Somewhere on that road, each child
will round a bend and, with the dawning, perceive his or her
responsibility, duty and accountability to God. They will then be
A DIVINE CALLING
With this understanding, we can better appreciate what is taking
place in our developing child. Just as the child Jesus grew in
wisdom and knowledge, so your child is going through a growth of
understanding. The holy Scriptures are able to make him "wise unto
salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). "You must prepare your child to save
himself from this "untoward generation (Acts 2:40)." God has a
prototype for the finished product. It is that we might be
"conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29)." We parents work
with God toward the day when our children will be conformed to "the
measure of the statue of the fulness of Christ (Eph. 4:13)." The
promise of God is still operative: "Train up a child in the way he
should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov.
NO MORE CHANCES
As I was working on this book, a young mother said to me: "I get so
angry sometimes; I treat the children so badly. They just upset me.
Johnny is always picking on Mary and making her whine. I have to
just stay on top of them all the time to prevent them from doing
something they shouldn't. What can I do to overcome my anger?"
Previously, the parents rewarded disobedience by saying, "Now
Johnny, I have told you not to do that. I am going to give you one
more chance and then I will have to spank you." As he continued to
disobey, her frustration mounted.
The parents had effectively taught their child that he could
disobey until the parent's frustration reached a certain level. When
he perceived that they had had all they were going to take, he knew
it was time to back off for a while. He could return to his
disobedience as soon as they cooled off. Sometimes, miscalculating,
he pushed her too far, and she would "go off" before he could
The mother's anger could be overcome if she would remove the
cause of her anger. No, not the children, but their disobedience.
Eventually, she always got them to obey. It was the long dragged
out, tense and competitive prelude to their eventual obedience that
was stirring her ire. The children were actually responding quite
predictably. She had trained them not to obey until she got angry.
I gave her a copy of some child training material that I had
written. Reading it, she decided to make some changes. She made it
plain to her son that he was not to tease his smaller sister. She
told Johnny that if he disobeyed he would be spanked for the first
offense. The first spanking was a shock to Johnny. Mother was not
waiting until she got mad. No warnings, no threats--she seemed to
expect him to obey the very first time!
After two days of consistently rewarding every transgression with
a spanking, Johnny turned to his mother and said, "But Mother, you
are not giving me any more chances!" The mother said, "That's right,
you don't get any more chances. From now on you are to always obey
the first time." He had been using his "chances" to purchase
disobedience. After two years he now obeys the first time, and
Mother no longer gets angry.
LICENSE TO DISOBEY
When the State Fish and Game Commission issues permits allowing you
to catch five trout, but no more, they are not preventing trout
fishing, they are advocating it. These parents had issued their
children a license to be disobedient five times, but punished them
for the sixth offense. So every day the children went fishing for
trouble, but always with an eye on the "warden." They would try to
anticipate when to stop short of the real "last chance."
When Mom reduced the disobedience limit to zero and outlawed
disobedience, little Johnny had to test the lawgiver to see if it
was just another permit. When the "Warden" (Mama) proved to be
serious, he decided that he didn't love "fishing for trouble" enough
to pay the fine for what he caught. Little Johnny started obeying
all laws the first time.
If State Troopers ceased writing tickets and instead started
nagging and threatening, it would be tantamount to abolishing the
speed limit. Picture a trooper pulling a speeder over and then
explaining how sad it makes him feel for them to be going so fast.
Can you see a trooper sitting on the side of the road shaking his
fist and turning red in the face as cars speed by? After the sixth
time of motorists being told, "Now I am not going to tell you
again," all law would break down into "and every man did that which
was right in his own eyes."
Parent, you can not blame your children if you have caused them
to understand that disobedience is only unacceptable after several
warnings and then a threat topped off by an ultimatum, and finally a
gesture of force.
Parent, you have trained yourself not to discipline immediately, but
to wait until your irritation builds into anger. You have allowed
your motivation to be anger. "But how can I stop being so angry?"
Simple. Discipline them immediately upon the slightest disobedience.
Don't wait until it becomes a personal affront to you.
The children perceive in your anger and frustration that the
discipline is a personal matter, a competition of interest. You are
viewed by the child much as they view a bigger child who is bullying
them in order to get his own way. They are not being made to respect
the law and lawgiver; they are simply being made to give in to a
superior force. They feel as if you are committing a personal
transgression against them--violating their rights. They see you as
just protecting your own rights and trampling on theirs. You have
lost the dignity of your office. As they say, "You are not
Presidential enough." Where there is no unwavering rule of law with
consistent enforcement, in the child's mind there is no law at all,
just competition for supremacy.
You have taught yourself to be motivated only by anger. And you
have taught your child to respond only to anger. Having failed to
properly train your child, you have allowed the seeds of
self-indulgence to grow to ugly proportions.
I MADE A CHILD THAT I DON'T LIKE
The reason you are angry toward your children is that you don't like
them. "Oh! I love my children very much." I didn't say you didn't
love them. I say there are occasions when you just don't like them,
for the simple reason that at such times they are very unlikable. It
is impossible to like a whining, selfish, self-centered, spoiled
We cannot help approving of that which is good and lovely, and
despising that which is ugly and unwholesome. God himself has such
feelings (Ps. 11:5). We are involuntarily very fair about it. When
we think we are ugly in spirit we equally dislike ourselves.
You must face the fact that there are times when you just do not
like your own child. I have observed the sometimes intense dislike
of a mother for her teenage daughter or son. You may say, "But no
one else dislikes the youth." If they had to live with him on the
same terms as the parent, they would.
Now, why is your child unlikable? You will not like the answer:
You made him that way through your training techniques. You may say,
"But, I have not instituted any training techniques. I just scold
them when it gets to be too much to bear." Precisely.
All children are trained. Their responses and actions are a
reflection of their association to their principal caretakers. To
neglect careful nurturing and training while trying to keep them in
line through threat, intimidation, nagging, anger, and an occasional
outburst of spanking is the most negative of training exercises.
Most automobile drivers are aware that the radar patrolman will
usually allow motorists to go four-miles-per-hour over the speed
limit without issuing a ticket. Consequently, most motorists will
drive four or five miles-per-hour over the speed limit. When you
allow your children to be disobedient four or five times before
applying discipline, you are training them to disobey.
There is nothing cute or lovable about a whining "brat." To allow
a child to whine and disobey is to mold a personality and character
that you will eventually find hard to like. By taking control and
teaching them to control their emotions and to instantly obey, the
child will be cheerful and pleasant. Then the mother will like her
daughter as well as love her. The child reciprocates the mother's
delight by loving and honoring her even more. They can both enjoy
each other's company. The mother is rested and refreshed by spending
time with her children.
Talking with a mother concerned about the attitude of her
fourteen-year-old, it became apparent she just did not like her own
child. The mother's disapproval and frequent criticism had caused
the daughter to become morose.
Actually, she was a very good and obedient daughter. She was
cheerful with others, but sullen with her mother. The mother was
wondering if she should use the rod to correct bad attitudes. She
was afraid she had lost all control and influence. The mother had a
very stormy youth and was anxious to prevent her daughter from the
same fate. The more irritated the mother became and the harder she
pushed, the more ground she lost.
I knew this family when the daughter was a child. I recall that
even then the mother didn't like her daughter. Taking her own ugly
attitude to Christ, the mother found cleansing and healing. The
teenage daughter quickly showed tremendous improvement.
Sometimes in the areas of talent and personality, parents have
narrow expectations for their children and are critical when they
fall short. But, more prominently, where the parents are poor
trainers, they come to dislike the child they have produced. If you
have painted a picture that you don't like, don't blame the canvas.
Get out the brushes and paint over the mess.
MANY STRINGS MAKE STRONG CHORDS
There is a mystical bond between caring members of a family. I can
look at each of my children and feel that union. It is as if we were
joined by many strings of mutual love, respect, honor, and all the
good times that we have had together. The more good experiences we
have together, the more strings that unite.
Where two or more people are living together, their interests,
opinions and liberties sometimes clash. The strings that unite are
often cut by selfishness, indifference, pride, self-will and the
like. Where there is not a constant tying of new strings, family
members soon find themselves separated by suspicion, distrust and
criticism. The gap can grow so wide that the two can become virtual
When this happens between parent and child, it is a serious
crisis. Unless new strings are tied, the two will increasingly grow
apart. When a youth says something like, "My parents don't
understand me," or "They don't care," it is testimony of a complete
cutting of all strings.
Recently, a father told us of a victory in this area. His first
grader came home from school and became preoccupied drawing and
cutting out paper hearts. The father and son were close and often
did things together. Seeing the boy's smitten condition, the father
lightly poked fun at his activity. The child didn't see anything
amusing. He turned away and continued his labor of love. Over the
next several days, the boy would conceal his endeavors from the
father. The father became aware that a confidence crisis had
occurred. The child was withdrawn and resisted all overtures to
fellowship with his father. The strings had been cut.
If, at this point, the father had accepted this wall as just a
"stage"--or worse, become irritated and contributed further to the
breach--this would have been the beginning of a breach that would
have grown wider with the years. But the father was wise and took
positive action. After school one day, he said to his son, "Hey
Jessie, you want to go out to the shop with me? We will cut out
wooden hearts." Jessie reservedly looked up and seemed to be
cautiously analyzing his father's intent. After a moment, his facial
expressions changed to believing delight, and he said, "Sure Dad,
that would be great." As they worked together creating a wooden
heart to be given to Jessie's friend, the wall came down and
camaraderie was restored.
It is important that sons and daughters can trust their parents
with personal, intimate knowledge. If there is a barrier in this
area, when the time comes that the young man needs counsel, to whom
shall he go? The feelings of a child are just as important and
sacred as those of an adult. Always treat your children with
respect. Never ridicule, mock or laugh at your child's ideas,
creations or ambitions. The trust you desire to have when they are
older must be established and maintained when they are young. If you
have an older child with whom you have failed in this area, it is
not too late to apologize and reestablish that trust. It may take a
while to earn their confidence, so get to it.
I would say that most parents have allowed the strings to be cut and
have not made a responsible effort to tie new ones. It is most
critical that you understand and take care in this area. When the
strings are all cut, there can be no effective discipline or
training. Without that mutual respect and honor, further discipline
only angers and embitters the child.
I talk with many parents who have lost contact with their child.
For every one string that might tie them together, there are two
situations to cut it. Not only is there no longer a bond, but there
is a cloud between them that obscures understanding. The parent
takes the child's withdrawal and resentment as rebellion (which it
is) and brings out the whip lashes of the tongue and rod. Like a
wild animal the child further withdraws into his own world of
suspicion and distrust. Similar to the control of a warden over his
prisoners, the rod can force outward compliance, but it will not
mold character or tie the strings of fellowship. The parent feels
the child slipping away, sometimes into the fellowship of bad habits
or undesirable company. The parent's anger or broken-heart will
never stitch up the breach.
The parent who resorts to sympathy tactics: "If you loved me," or
"You hurt me so much," or "Why do you do this to me?" may elicit
token compliance, but will only cause the youth to yearn for the day
when he or she can get away and be free. Many parents have thus
driven their young daughter into the arms of an unwholesome lover.
The small child is often neglected and mishandled with little
concern on the part of the parent because the child doesn't possess
the means to manifest his hurt. By the time the parent is forced to
admit there is a problem, there is a war zone of obstacles between
them. What a child is at four he will be at fourteen, only many
times magnified. Your two-year-old whiner will be a twelve-year-old
whiner. The intemperate five-year-old will be an intemperate
STRINGS LEFT UNTIED
A mother came to us concerned for her fourteen-year-old daughter.
She had been reared in a very protected environment and was
outwardly obedient, but the parents felt that there was a breach in
the family ties. When given a chore, the girl would obey, but with a
sullen attitude. It seemed to this mother that her daughter was
tolerating the family and was not at all pleased with the company.
There were periods of withdrawal. She seemed to have her own little
world. With no outward disobedience, there was nothing for which to
reprimand the teenager. This mother had lost fellowship with her
daughter. The strings had long ago been cut. Rebuke or discipline
would be fruitless, even harmful, until the strings of mutual
respect and trust were tied.
THE THREE-YEAR-OLD TRUCKER
As my wife sat talking, an altercation developed between the young
mother's two sons, one and three years old. They both began to
scream while tugging at opposite ends of the same toy truck. The
mother hollered, "What is wrong with you two?" "He is trying to take
my truck," cried the older of the two. "Billy, give Johnny back his
truck," she yelled. After further peace-shattering threats and
screams of protest, he reluctantly handed over the truck.
The younger child then defeatedly left the yard and stumbled into
the house to stand beside his mother--thus punishing the other
brother by the loss of his company. (It is an adult form of
retribution, but children must learn it sometime.)
After the chastisement of loneliness had done its work, the older
brother became repentant. Picking up his truck from the sand pile,
he made his way into the house where he found the offended younger
brother now sitting in his mother's lap being consoled for his
losses on the battlefield. With a smile of reconciliation, he held
his truck out to the younger brother. As the younger brother was
about to accept the sacrificial peace offering, the mother turned to
see the grinning child dribbling sand from his truck onto the floor.
"Get that thing out of here!" she commanded.
Being engrossed in her company, she was not thinking of her
children as human beings with complex feelings. She just saw another
cleaning job to further add to her burden.
At this point a psychological transformation occurred in the
child. He had just experienced a "repentance" that had cleansed him
of anger and selfishness. Weighing his right to possess the truck
against his brother's company, he had found that he valued his
brother more. He was learning important social lessons about
give-and-take. He was learning to share and how to control his
possessiveness. His heart was surrendered and vulnerable. He had
gone the second mile; and when he got to the end of it, he was
shocked to find that no one cared. It really didn't matter. He had
laid down his guns, and now he was being fired upon. If he was not
going to be allowed to surrender, if they didn't care enough to
accept his offering, he was not going to stand there exposed,
grinning like a fool, while being unjustly blasted.
He didn't understand what all the row was about. Who could be
upset about a little sand on the floor? After all, he had been
playing in sand all morning--he loved it. As he studied the
threatening face before him, you could see the little mental wheels
Immediately the smile left and was replaced by wonder, then
puzzlement, finally defiance. Suddenly, an idea came to him. It now
being clear she was mad about the sand being dribbled on the floor,
he raised his truck to examine it, then defiantly dumped the full
contents onto the floor. To his satisfaction it worked. She came
apart. She had hurt him and he had successfully retaliated. "Just
look at her red face. That will teach her to attack me. Boy, I won
This mother had missed the opportunity to accept the surrender of
this rebel leader. Instead she had driven him back into the
countryside to practice his civil dissent in defiance of the
established authority. Like many rebels, he had no alternate plans
for the future. He lived to be a rebel because of his hatred for the
authority that he hoped to punish for perceived injustices.
Now, you may think that I am over-dramatizing the child's
feelings. It is true that he could not tell you what he was
thinking. Nor will he be able to understand these same feelings when
at fourteen it becomes apparent he has serious problems. But, at
three years old, the child's actions all demonstrate the root
bitterness of a rebel.
If the parents don't change, when the boy becomes a teenager they
will throw up their hands and say, "I don't understand that boy. We
have raised him right, taught him right from wrong, taken him to
church; and he acts like we are the enemy. We have done our best. It
is up to the Good Lord now."
This mother is failing to tie strings of common respect. The
seeds sown at two years of age come up at fourteen.
Parent, if you are having problems with your children, just know
that you are not alone. They are also having problems with their
parents. One party is going to have to adjust in order to help the
other. Since you are reading this book, and not the child, and since
you are the more experienced of the two, and since God didn't say,
"Children, train up your parents," the responsibility is completely
I remember looking into the face of one of my boys and knowing that
the strings had been cut. It was a sad thing to see him slip from
the mooring and drift away. At the time I had not formulated the
terminology, nor even recognized the principle; but I could see that
there was a breach. A fault line was widening the gap. The fault was
mine. I had pushed him too hard, demanded too much, and then been
critical when he had not performed to my expectations. When, like a
turtle, he withdrew into his shell, I could see that he had
dismissed me. He had decided to live without me. There was too much
pain in association with his father.
I didn't know how to define it, but being fully responsible for
the training, I knew that it was my responsibility. I immediately
apologized, lightened up, revised my criticism, found the good in
what he had done, and suggested an exciting outing. It took several
days of me being sensible, fair, just, and kind to restore the
strings of fellowship; but children forgive quickly and are restored
if we will let them be.
GOD HELP THE FATHERS
"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them
up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)." A father
who teases his children to anger can expect them to do the same to
others smaller than themselves. On more than one occasion, when
scuffling with my boys, I have found myself having fun at their
expense (That was when I was bigger than they). They remind me to
play by the same rules to which they are bound.
Don't laugh this off, fathers. If you make your little boy mad
while you are having fun, you have created a bully. After all,
weren't you bullying him? The wrath you provoked in him will be
stored up until he can release it on one weaker than himself. That
wrath can only be put away by his forgiving you. He cannot forgive
until he sees your repentance.
If the child is rooted in bitterness, you have a healing and
restoration ministry ahead of you. Your heart and life must be fully
surrendered to God or you are wasting your time. You will just have
to try to stay out of his way. He will be rearing himself. His
chances are not good, but don't increase his bitterness by playing
the hypocrite. It is hard enough to make it in this godless world
when you have good support; but for a kid filled with bitterness,
facing it alone, there is not much hope. Maybe the mother can make a
difference. Often a boy just shuts out a father for whom he only has
disdain and relates to his mother in a manner that may bring him
along in an average way.
Father, if you care for your child's soul more than your pride,
then humble yourself, ask his forgiveness (even if he is just two
years old). Then become a patient father and husband. Spend time
with your children doing things that are creative--that give them a
sense of great adventure or accomplishment. You can't lead your
child closer to God than you are yourself.
WHAT CAN I DO NOW?
Tie some strings. You must be knit together with your child before
you can train him. Confess your failure to God and to your child.
Ask your child to forgive you for anger and indifference. At first
they will suspect it is just a manipulative ploy on your part and
will keep their distance; so you must begin rebuilding.
Don't barge in and overpower them with emotion or a new
philosophy. Be a friend. Do with them the things they enjoy doing.
Be caring. Be more ready with your ear than you are with your mouth.
Be very sensitive to their concerns. Tie strings until you have
earned their respect and honor. If they sense that you like and
enjoy them, they will respond in kind. When they like you, they will
want to please you and will be open to your discipline.
The strongest chord of discipline is not found in the whip;
rather, it is the weaving together of the strings of mutual love,
respect, honor, loyalty, admiration, and caring. It is the
difference in being "led by the spirit" and being "under the works
of the law." The law gives us direction, but only the spirit of
grace gives us power. If you will cultivate fellowship with your
child, you will have such cooperative compliance that you will
forget where you last left the rod.
WALKING IN THE FATHER'S LIGHT
I can remember an incident that occurred when I was only four years
old. Several of us, about the same age, were walking along behind a
row of houses when one of them suggested that we throw rocks at a
I can still remember my thought processes. As I considered doing
it, I saw my Daddy's face. He never told me not to break windows,
but I knew he would not be pleased. I had no law to go by, but I had
my father's presence to guide me. It was not fear of punishment or
scolding that motivated me. It was my fellowship with my father that
I dared not jeopardize. To please him and enjoy his favor was my
strongest impulse. I withdrew from the window breaking party and
walked in my father's light.
My father was not perfect. He wasn't even the best of Christians,
but I was not yet aware of that at four or even ten years of age. To
me, he was law and grace. As I grew older, I slowly (sometime with a
jolt) came to see him as just another struggling member of the human
race. Still, I never outgrew that desire to please him.
But, as my confidence in him waned, my confidence in God grew.
With the eventual transfer of my faith to God (as it should be), I
found myself still motivated not by the law and a fear of hell, but
by the face of my Heavenly Father. Today, I have a double lighted
Parent, above all, you must cultivate that kind of a relationship
with your child. It is a painful thing to sin against your best
buddy. If you can maintain this bond with your child you will never
have a problem child.
SEEING GOD IN DADDY AND MAMMA
When the child is young, the parents are the only "god" he knows. As
he awakens to Divine realities, it is through his earthly father
that he understands his heavenly Father. Fathers (and mothers also),
you are the window through which your young child understands God. A
child learns of the character of God through observing the parents.
The parents do not have to be perfect, just a mini-caricature
representing a balance of God's personality. All that God is in
infiniteness, the parents should display in the finite. The parents
need not be all-powerful, just the child's source of strength. The
parents do not have to be all-wise, just wise enough to guide the
child and warrant admiration. The parents need not be sinless, just
demonstrate a commitment to the good and holy. As the child sees the
parents' humble dependence on and love for God, because he loves and
respects his parents, he will love and honor the one the parents
As the child relates to the figurehead of authority (his
parents), in like manner he will later be prone to relate to God.
If, when the parents say, "No," they do not mean '"No," then the
"thou shalt not" of God will not be taken seriously either. Children
with cruel fathers usually mature with a foreboding of their
heavenly Father. Those disciplined to lovingly obey their earthly
fathers are more ready to obey their heavenly Father.
YOU CAN TIE STRINGS
If you feel the strings are cut, you will want to tie new ones. Here
are just a few suggestions on tying strings:
* First and foremost, look at your child with pleasure and smile.
* Enjoy their company and demonstrate it by inviting them to go
with you when there is no reason but their presence. For the young,
look at pictures or read a book together.
* Sit on the floor and play. Tumble and roll, laugh and tickle.
* Take them on outings of adventure, excitement and "danger."
* A ten minute trip to the tree-house to see their creations.
* Let them lead you out to the swing to show off their latest
* Make a kite or build a bird house together.
* Mother, teach your children to do everything that must be done
in the house. Make it all a fun experience. Don't use the very young
as slave labor, they will experience burnout. Let them bake cookies
at three years old. When you are sewing, let the young ones sit on
the floor and cut out doll clothes. When you are painting, let them
make a few swipes.
* Fathers, by their participation, let the boys feel they are the
protectors and providers of the house. If they can walk, they can
carry in groceries or bring in firewood. Brag on their achievements.
The idea is for them to feel that they are very special to you,
and to know that you find great satisfaction and delight in sharing
with them. If you order your life so your children feel needed, they
will desire to walk in harmony with you.
"I LOVE MY BABY TOO MUCH TO SPANK HIM"
I observed a child possessed of continual discontent. His mother was
vainly trying to elicit obedience to a simple command. He was
miserable, constantly complaining, whining and angry. The mother,
made miserable by the little tyrant's rebellious antics, was
ill-tempered toward him. But she continued to plead with him as if
she were trying to remember what it was she heard about "positive
affirmation" and not "stifling his personal expression."
As an objective observer, concerned for the child's happiness and
well being, I said to the mother, "Why don't you give him a spanking
and make him happy?" The shocked mother, replied, "Oh, he will grow
out of it. It's just a stage he is going through."
If she truly believes this is an inevitable, natural stage (a
condition for which little Johnny is not responsible), why does she
sometimes become enraged, demanding a different conduct or attitude?
The mother, while excusing him and maintaining a "patient" vigil for
the "stage" to run its course, and in spite of her verbalized
philosophy, does blame the child. Down inside, she knows he should
be--could be--decidedly different. His attitude problem is
heightened by the criticism and rejection he feels from a
disapproving mother and from the public.
We have progressed to the place where a discussion of the use of
the rod is in order. Let's talk about spankings--sometimes called
"whippings." "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that
loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24)." This seems to go
exactly opposite to the feelings of many parents and educators. The
passage clearly states that a failure to apply the rod is due to the
parents' hating the child. "No!" cries the mother, "I love my child
too much to spank him." The parent who responds thus does not
understand: 1) the authority of God's word, 2) the nature of love,
3) his (or her) own feelings, 4) the character of God, or, 5) the
needs of the child.
1. UNDERSTANDING THE AUTHORITY OF GOD'S WORD
The wise God who said: "Suffer the little children to come unto me,
and forbid them not... (Mark 10:14)," also said:
* "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare
for his crying." (Prov. 19:18)
* "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him
chasteneth him betimes." (Prov. 13:24)
* "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of
correction shall drive it far from him." (Prov. 22:15)
* "Withhold not correction from the child, for if thou beatest
him with the rod, he shall not die, Thou shalt beat him with the
rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Prov. 23: 13-14)."
* "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself
bringeth his mother to shame." (Prov. 29: 15)
* "Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shah
give delight unto thy soul." (Prov. 29:17)
2. UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF LOVE
You may have strong feelings that prevent you from spanking your
child, but it is not love. The God who made little children, and
therefore knows what is best for them, has told parents to employ
the rod in training up a child. To refrain from doing so, based on a
claim of love, is an indictment on God himself. Your actions assume
either God does not desire what is best for your child or you know
better than He.
Parent, you need to know the difference between true love and
sentiment. Natural human sentiment--often taken to be love--can be
harmful if not submitted to wisdom. Love is not sentiment. That is,
love is not the deep feelings we often have in association with
those close to us. Such feelings can, and often are, self serving.
Love is not an emotion at all. Love, in the purest sense, is
goodwill toward and good doing for your fellowman. True love is
disinterested. That is, there is no thought of personal return nor
of personal loss in the act of loving.
3. UNDERSTANDING ONE'S OWN FEELINGS
An emotionally weak mother often looks to her child's clinging
dependence for her own self-fulfillment. She finds a deep need met
within herself as she constantly dotes over the infant's every want.
Her consuming passion for the child, which she takes to be love, is
too sacred to jeopardize. Her insecurity causes her to consider only
what she perceives to be her loss in the act of spanking. She is
afraid to do anything that might cause the children to reject her.
If such is the case, she is not loving the child, she is loving
herself. Her own feelings take precedence over the child's needs.
The pitiful look of betrayal in his poor little eyes just breaks
her suffering heart. It would hurt her too much to obey God in
training up her child. Because of her fear of personal emotional
suffering, she neglects the rod. "He that spareth his rod hateth his
son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24)."
In her own need, she is so naive as to believe that her "sweet"
child will grow out of it and be a wonderful person. She thinks,
"Just give him a little more time; he doesn't understand yet."
To set aside one's own feelings for the purpose of objectively
regarding the good of the child is the only true love. If a mother
should smother her baby while kissing him, she has not loved him.
Her own anger may cause her not to trust her motives in corporal
punishment. See chapter 3, PARENTAL ANGER. Then again, this distrust
of the rod may go back to the memory of a tyrannical, unreasonable
father. She may have vowed, "I will never be like my father. I will
love my children. They will not fear me the way I feared my father."
The father not only hurt her, he is now hurting her children by
causing her to react in the opposite extreme.
Sometimes images from the past cause a mother to have deep
foreboding every time the father spanks the children. Mothers who
have been conditioned to associate anger with discipline impute a
motive of anger to anyone who is spanking a child. The child
perceives the protectiveness of the mother and will whine for her
when the father attempts to discipline. Her lack of commitment to
the father's discipline prevents it from being effective and causes
deviousness in the child. It is time to stop reacting to the past
and start acting as God and sound reason dictate.
Some parents fail to use the rod because of peer pressure. They
may be in disagreement with their own parents about child training.
The modern parent is bombarded with propaganda, supposedly based on
the latest psychological research, which villainizes Biblically
based child rearing. The parents are shamed and caused to look over
their shoulder before applying discipline.
4. UNDERSTANDING THE CHARACTER OF GOD
The parent who excuses himself from using the rod based on an excuse
of loving the child too much does not well understand the character
and methods of God toward His own people.
There is a current thought pattern that has edged into the
Christian's thinking. It goes something like this: "Since God is
love, He is not discriminating, demanding, vindictive, or vengeful."
Essentially, they view the love of God as incompatible with the
justice of God. It seems to them that He must be either one or the
other. There is a vague, undefined sense that God was once vengeful,
but is now passive, tolerant and ecumenical--the Universal Father.
God is stripped of His balanced personality and defined in a
non-threatening way. Heaven is well received; hell is suspect.
"Judge not," the most popular verse in the Bible, is quoted as if
God Himself could no longer discriminate between right and wrong. As
much as God is love, so much is he holy, just, judgment and truth.
It is out of His love of righteousness that He is coming in "flaming
fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not
the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes. 1:8)." To choose one
side of God's character as a model for our actions, while rejecting
the other, can hardly be called virtue.
GOD SPANKS HIS CHILDREN
Those who out of a magnanimous sense of righteousness choose not to
use the rod are, by inference, condemning God. "For whom the Lord
loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If
ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what
son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without
chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and
not sons (Heb. 12:6-8)."
Then it says He chastens us "for our own profit, that we might be
partakers of his holiness (Heb. 12:10)." A most profound statement!
God does not have any sons who escape chastisement--"all are
partakers." And, did He stop loving those whom he chastened? Quite
the contrary, love was His motivation for the "spanking." Only
through chastisement, could His sons fully partake of His holiness.
He does it "for our own profit."
"No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but
grievous... (Heb. 12:11)." God's chastisement is a painful
"whipping." Our "fathers of the flesh... chastened us after their
own pleasure... (12: 9, 10)." The Scripture not only condones
physical "scourging," but promotes it as a means to holiness--when
ministered for the son's "profit."
The chastisement is represented as a sure sign of love: "for whom
the Lord loveth, he chasteneth. " If there is no chastisement, it is
not only an indication of not being loved, but of being a "bastard"
So we see that out of the very love of God springs chastisement.
Thus, our original passage in Prov. 13:24, "He that spareth his rod
hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. "
If God's love is expressed by the "whippings" He gives, then can
we not love our children enough to chasten them unto holiness? I
have heard a rebellious teenager say, "If they only loved me enough
to whip me."
Recently, a mother told us that after cracking down on her
children with a consistent use of the rod, one child thanked God for
making his Mama sweeter. The increased spankings had reduced
disobedience, causing the child to be more in harmony with his
mother. He interpreted this to be a sweeter mother.
5. UNDERSTANDING THE NEEDS OF THE CHILD
The very nature of the child makes the rod an indispensable element
in child training and discipline. We will summarize the previous
comments on the nature of a child (chapter 2) and then draw some
important practical applications.
SUMMARY: "They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies
(Psalm 58:3)." The infant, through natural drives for food, cuddling
and bodily comfort, soon learns that by falsely representing his
need he can gain excessive indulgences. But due to his immature
reasoning faculties, God does not count the lie as sin. "Therefore
to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
(James 4:17). Sin is not imputed where there is no law. (Rom.
5:13)." The infant, not knowing "good and evil (Deut. 1:39)," is not
held responsible for his lack of conformity to the law.
Nevertheless, infants do lie. And, children issue forth with a
multitude of other selfishly motivated thoughts and acts that will,
upon their coming to the "knowledge of good and evil," constitute a
"body of sin."
Though they are not now to blame, there will come a time when,
through the development of the understanding, the conscience will be
awakened, and for these things they will be counted blameworthy.
Your child is in a body of infirm flesh. The God-given drives
toward the fulfillment of bodily needs and appetites form a constant
and incessant occasion to lusts. The drive itself is not sin. Lust
of the flesh is natural (Deut 12.'15). But when one is "drawn away
of his own lust, and enticed," and the lust conceives with
opportunity, "... it bringeth forth sin (James 1:14, 15)."
You cannot prevent your children from the life of testing that
this body of flesh (skin, blood and bones, with all its passions and
needs) will bring. But you can train them in the disciplines
necessary to not be given over to a selfishly indulgent life. The
rod is your divine enforcer. "The rod and reproof give wisdom...
Understand, we are not suggesting that a child can be trained
into the Christian experience, only that the mind and body should be
developed to its highest possible natural discipline. This cannot do
other than aid the Spirit in convicting them of sin, causing them to
realize their need for a Savior. We are talking about the lawful use
of the law.
Understanding the development of a child helps us to understand his
Self-indulgence and an unruled spirit will produce emotional
dissatisfaction. An undisciplined child will be insecure. Lack of
self-control produces anger. A failure to get one's own way causes
self-pity. Unfulfilled lust results in restless agitation. Feelings
of being treated unfairly precipitate bitterness. Because of this,
both the child and the adult have an innate need to be governed.
Otherwise, purposelessness and lack of identity result. "A child
left to himself bringeth his mother to shame (Prov. 9:15)."
As a child develops in his sense of "oughtness," any violation of
his own standards produces guilt. Guilt is involuntary
self-accusation. It is the soul knowing itself and not liking what
it sees. The smallest child who knows he has failed in doing what he
ought suffers guilt. Although the child's soulish faculties are not
yet completely operative, nonetheless, a child who violates his
budding conscience becomes burdened with guilt and self-loathing.
A child who is so burdened will only becomes more vile when
lectured, shamed, ridiculed, deprived of some privilege, made to go
to his room, made to sit in the corner, given a painless whipping or
a jerking around accompanied by threats. This actually provokes the
child to anger. The parent, by these responses, has magnified the
problem. The child may be induced through one of these measures to
yield temporary compliance, but his heart of uncleanness is
confirmed in its evil.
For clarification, I will give my definition of "self-loathing." In
the extraordinary ignorance of modern psychology, there exists the
assumption that man's major problem is "not loving himself." This
comes from a failure to understand the association of the emotion of
self-loathing, which comes from guilt, with the supreme motivation
By creation, we naturally love ourselves. We think in terms of
what will benefit us. "For no man ever yet hateth his flesh; but
nourisheth and cherisheth it (Eph. 5:29)."
By nature, every human values righteousness and expects it of
himself. To not live up to your own standards is to experience
self-condemnation (conscience) and to suffer the pains of guilt. The
human spirit, given by God, comes equipped with a permanent,
resident, divine judge (the conscience).
The higher one values his own good (loves himself) the greater
his own despising (which is guilt) when he fails to achieve his
goals of right doing. The subsequent self-loathing is nothing but
self-rebuke for failure to benefit the person he loves the
A child or adult who is self-loathing is, due to his
self-accusing conscience, hating his own particular state or
lot--precisely because of self-love. The more one loves himself, the
deeper the self-loathing. If one truly hated himself, he would find
great satisfaction in the negative things that come upon him. When a
child is self-loathing, he is damning himself for known violations
of conscience and failure to live up to his own standards.
Again, the guilt demonstrates that by nature the child innately
knows he deserves punishment for his moral failure.
Therefore, toward understanding the nature of a child, a knowledge
of the presence of guilt is essential in the application of
chastisement. A spanking (whipping, paddling, switching, belting) is
indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very
conscience (nature) demands punishment.
Most psychological problems are rooted in guilt. Guilt only
occurs where one honestly judges himself to be worthy of blame. One
may inappropriately be convinced of blame, but the guilt is
Parents who try to shame or humiliate their children into right
behavior will see the power of a guilty conscience to curb some
actions. But obedience thus rendered will only deepen the false
guilt, putting the child further out of touch with true repentance
Guilt is never, in itself, restorative. That is, it does not tend
toward less blameworthy actions. On the contrary, the guilty soul is
a slave to every temptation. Guilt puts one out of touch with the
normal restraining factors. The despair of guilt abolishes
motivation toward right doing. The anguish of failure lowers
expectations. Guilt lowers self-esteem to the point where one does
not expect to do other than fail. This reality has caused the modem
psychologists to view guilt itself as the culprit. To address the
guilt is like dealing with the pain of a toothache, but not the
Those who suffer the consequential guilt of their misdeeds are
often seen inflicting pain or suffering upon themselves. This
self-abuse is an unconscious attempt to "pay the fiddler." The
unwritten common-law of retribution pervades all of man's thinking.
Regardless of the age, religion or lack thereof, education, or
philosophy, all intuitively know that wrongdoing deserves and can
expect punishment. This law is assumed even by those who give their
life to denying it. With the first awakenings of consciousness, a
child understands this to be the case. It remains a basic
presupposition of life.
The guilt burdened soul cries out for the lashes and nails of
justice. Your child cannot yet understand that the Creator has been
lashed and nailed in his place. Only the rod of correction can
preserve his soul until the day of moral dawning. That is why the
soul of man never rests until the conscience has been pacified by a
believing look at the bleeding, crucified, substitute of the Lamb of
God. Guilt is the law's chief witness against the sinner. Guilt is
the bars that enclose the damned in the eternal suffering of their
sins. Like a zealous prosecuting attorney, the conscience will not
drop its case until it is sure that justice has been done.
I observed a small child who, upon being caught in a misdeed,
turned her backside to the parent, pulled her diaper down, and gave
herself three slaps on the bare bottom. The offering, though cute,
was not accepted.
THE CANE, NOT THE CORNER
One young boy is not spanked when he throws a tantrum or disobeys.
It seems that he delights in doing what he is commanded not to do.
The more he rebels, the meaner and guiltier he gets. For punishment,
he is pinched or made to sit in the comer, or sometimes put in a
dark closet. When he comes out he is madder than ever. He could
intimidate a fire-eating dragon.
Sitting in a comer, he was heard to say, "Nobody likes me. I'm as
bad as the Devil. I never do anything right." This little fellow is
being reared to take his place in a jail cell. Dark corners and dark
closets breed darkness in the soul. An empty room and a pouting
child incubates guilt and anger. Only the rod and reproof bring
correction. Somehow children know the rod is their just due.
Guilt is an essential part of our natural, moral self. Without it we
would be like a smoke detector with no alarm. But, guilt is only a
means to an end, a temporary condition. It's the soul's pain, as
when we touch something hot, designed to give us warning, to change
our actions. It is a great blessing to feel guilt, a sign of life, a
healthy response. Do not follow the modem philosophy by trying to
eliminate guilt through fudging on the standards. Keep the standards
high--as high as the person of Christ. Let the guilt come, and then,
while they are yet too young to understand, absolve it by means of
the rod. When their time comes, the principles of the cross will be
easy to grasp.
THE POWER OF "ABSOLUTION."
The parent holds in his hand (in the form of a little switch) the
power to absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, instruct his
spirit, strengthen his resolve, and give him a fresh start through a
confidence that all indebtedness is paid. "The blueness of a wound
cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly
(Prov. 20:30)." "Inward parts of the belly" is a description of the
physical sensations associated with guilt.
Stripes ("scourgeth" Heb. 12:6) are said to be to the soul what
the healing blood flow is to a wound. A child properly and timely
spanked is healed in the soul and restored to wholeness of spirit. A
child can be turned back from the road to hell through proper
spankings. "Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou
beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with
the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Prov. 23:13, 14)."
Father, as high priest of the family you can reconcile your child
to newness of life. Guilt gives Satan a just calling card and a door
of access to your child. In accompaniment with teaching, the
properly administered spanking is restorative as nothing else can
Do you comfort your children with a rod? If you have not seen the
rod as a comfort to your child, you have missed its purpose. "Thy
rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). I will chasten him
with the rod...(2 Sam. 7:14). Then will I visit their transgression
with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes (Psalm 89:32)."
David, who experienced the rod of God's correction and was
chastened for transgression, found comfort in the Divine discipline.
He was comforted by the rod. It assured him of God's control,
concern, love, and commitment. Children need to know that someone is
"Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare
for his crying (Prov. 19:18)." Proper use of the rod gives new hope
to a rebellious child. The exhortation is to not let their crying
cause you to lighten up on the intensity or duration of the
spanking. A parent's emotions can stand in the way of a thorough
An unchastened child is not only restless and irritable in his
own spirit, but causes the whole house to be in turmoil. "Correct
thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight
unto thy soul (Prov. 29:17)."
THERE WAS A MIRACLE HERE TONIGHT
Recently, a young couple with five children came to us for advice.
The wife had become unresponsive to her husband and irritable with
their three children under five. "I sometimes feel like I am going
crazy. I don't want to have any more children," she blurted out.
They stayed in our home for a couple of days submitting to
scrutiny. After a little instruction, they went home and gave it a
try. Two weeks later they were in a church meeting where I was
speaking. Their children all sat on the bench with them, never
making a stir. Afterward, the father, eyes filled with wonder,
exclaimed, "There was a miracle here tonight and no one seemed to
notice." As I was looking around for discarded crutches, he
continued, "A whole service and not a peep! I can't believe it!" A
little training and a little discipline, and the children gave them
"rest" and "delight." Furthermore, the children were obviously
happier. The Mother later said, "Now, I think I would like to have
THE MAGIC WAND
Don't think of the rod as a weapon of defense or a show of force;
think of the rod as a "magic wand." The first time parents see its
restorative powers they are amazed. Picture a child of any age who
is miserable, complaining, a bully to the other kids. When you look
at him, all you can see is the inside of a bottom lip. Every device
has failed to bring relief. The kid feels that he is living in
foreign, occupied territory. He is obviously plotting the day of
throwing off the yoke. Bribed, threatened or swatted, he only gets
worse. Fail to use the rod on this child, and you are creating a
'"Nazi." I still marvel at the power of the little rod. After a
short explanation about bad attitudes and the need to love,
patiently and calmly apply the rod to his back-side. Somehow, after
eight or ten licks, the poison is transformed into gushing love and
contentment. The world becomes a beautiful place. A brand new child
emerges. It makes an adult stare at the rod in wonder, trying to see
what magic is contained therein.
Applying The Rod
TO DO MY DUTY
When the time comes to apply the rod, take a deep breath, relax, and
pray, "Lord, make this a valuable learning session. Cleanse my child
of ill-temper and rebellion. May I properly represent your cause in
this matter." No jerking around. No raised voice. The child should
be able to anticipate the coming rod by your utterly calm and
At this point, in utter panic, he will rush to demonstrate
obedience. Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence.
And, unless all else fails, don't drag him to the place of
cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if
you are just beginning to institute training on an already
rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to
listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If
you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold
him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger,
tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing.
Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No
compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your
word is final.
Otherwise, tell him to bend over on the bed or couch; and while
he is in this position give some choice admonition. You have his
undivided attention. Slowly begin to spank. If you go too fast, you
may not allow time enough for the inner transformation to occur.
Use your own judgment as to what is effective. I found five to
ten licks usually sufficient. Sometimes, with older children,
usually when the licks are not forceful enough, the child may still
be rebellious. If this occurs, take time to instruct and then
continue the spanking. A general rule is to continue the
disciplinary action until the child is surrendered. A spanking is
made effective, not by its severity, but by its certainty. Spankings
don't have to be as hard where they are consistently applied. Your
calm dignity will set the stage to make it more effective.
If an older child perceives a self-defensive, competitive posture
in the parent, he will react to the spanking much as he would if
whipped by an older, bigger boy down the road. He will become
subdued and cautious but not honoring. It will control his actions
but not change his attitude.
INSTRUMENTS OF LOVE
Make it a point never to use your hand for spanking. Exceptions
should be highly justified. It is usually the impatient, personally
offended parent whose hand continually darts out like a snake. The
parent, too busy to take the time needed for training, blurts out,
"Just get off my back, leave me alone, stop bothering me." The hand
swatting is a release of the parent's own frustration.
Furthermore, where the child is concerned, the hand is for
loving, not martial arts. The hand on a diapered bottom is useless
as a spanking, but effective in causing permanent damage to the
spine. There is no surface pain to the child thus whipped. Any pain
would be deep inside, similar to a fall or a car wreck. Any
spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain, but
the most pain is on the surface of bare skin where the nerves are
located. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury
or bruising. Select your instrument according to the child's size.
For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long,
willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin)
about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives
have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle,
is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger
tree branch is effective.
A CAUTION TO RECIPIENTS OF THE MILLSTONE AWARD
There are always some who act in the extreme. Such could use what
has been said about the legitimate use of the rod to justify ongoing
brutality to their children. I can think of several right now. These
abusers of their children would not in the least view themselves as
such. They would call themselves "strong disciplinarians." "But
whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it
were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and
that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:6)."
FORMS OF ABUSE
Only a few parents are categorically abusive. But, many parents
sometimes give in to an abusive manner or employ abusive methods.
The child is rebellious. The parent suddenly loses it and screams
out. Like a whirlwind, the child is snatched up by the arm and given
several bangs on the bottom. The parent's eyes burn. The brow
hardens. The pulse rate soars. Anger is the best word to describe
the feelings. Smash! Subdue! "You will do what I say. You are not
going to do this to me little girl." Red faced, muscles tensed.
Anyone looking on the face of the parent would think there was a war
The rod should not be a vent for the parent's anger. In the daily
run of life, many people generally experience anger and feel the
need to strike out. There is no place for that selfish vindictive
streak in the discipline of children. Where the child's good is not
the supreme motivation, there will be problems.
I am ashamed to say that, in most cases, the rod is administered
at the end of an intolerance curve. The average parents (Average
parents end up with average children--the wrong end of the scale)
are quite predictable in their "discipline" reactions. They go
through several "warm-up" exercises to become sufficiently angry to
generate retaliation against the child.
"Johnny, stop climbing on the stool. You could break something. Did
you hear what I said? I am not going to tell you again. What do you
mean, 'No?' Now you do what I tell you to--right now. DO YOU HEAR
ME?!! GEEETT DOWNNN!!! I have had about all I am going to take from
you. Why are you always so hard headed? You are driving me crazy!
This is absolutely the last time I am going to tell you...
"GET DOWN!!!" Then she tell him several more times.
At this point it is a competition between the emotionally
disturbed mother and the little boy. A cauldron of anger and
resentment has built up in this mother that is momentarily at a near
killing rage. It is the exact feelings that, in greater proportions,
and in the less restrained, lead to murder dozens of times every
day. Her hostility gushes forth. Like a striking snake her arm
becomes a bungle cord yanking the child from the stool, swinging him
screaming through the air. With the other bare hand she strikes out
at his bottom in a wild spray of flat handed karate chops. The
gyrating child, his little shoulder nearly dislocated, screams his
protest of defiance. The mother has vented her anger and is ready to
resume her routine. The child goes off to plot his next escapade.
This has no more resemblance to discipline than a playground fight.
Once the parent's feelings of personal injury are expelled
through this act of violence (that's what it is in the case
described) and the kid flees from sight, or appears sufficiently
subdued not to cause the parent more trouble, the parent is
satisfied. "Forget the kid. He will not cause ME any more trouble
for awhile." A truly concerned parent is going to patiently instruct
the child for his own good. The rod must be accompanied by reproof
in order to give wisdom. By reproof, we don't mean ranting and
It is this very knowledge of their own lack of self-control that
constrains some parents from ever using the rod. Their own life is
so out of control and filled with guilt that they recognize their
inability to be objective and fair in discipline. Their
unwillingness to repent and bring their own life into balance will
cause the children to suffer from a lack of the proper
administration of the rod.
One of the marks of the unbalanced use of the rod is the lack of
accompanying instruction. "The rod and reproof give wisdom (Prov.
29:15)." Where there is just a venting of the parent's anger, there
will be no careful, patient, concerned reproof. The rod should be
viewed as an aid to instruction, in that it reinforces reproof, not
as the last resort of a frustrated superior force. Reproof without
the rod is equally unbalanced.
Philosophy of the Rod
THE TEACHING ROD
The growth of a child under the tutorship of the parents is time
spent in God's moral workshop being fitted for heavenly citizenship.
As the child develops, the parents should accurately recapitulate
the moral government of our Holy God. The rod is the parents' main
tangible aid to bring the child to understand the judgment of
God--and eventually the grace of God.
To the small child, the father and mother are the guardians of
all law, the protectors of truth and the dispensers of punishment
and reward. The parents are a window through which the child gets
his first impressions of the foundation principles of Divine
government. If you make rules and do not respect them enough to
enforce them, you will be making a statement about law in general.
Your responses to transgressions are stage-playing the responses of
God. By application of the rod they will understand their
accountability to God. Unless all transgression, rebellion and
meanness of spirit be treated as God treats sin, the child's world
view will be false.
The military uses real bullets in training the men to avoid enemy
fire. Replacing the rod with hollow threats would be to your
children like replacing live bullets with firecrackers. It would get
the men killed later on.
Therefore, the proper use of the rod is indispensable to a
complete world view, for the rod completes the concept of law and
accountability. If temporal authorities do not honor the law enough
to enforce it with punishments, how could the child believe the
great eternal authority will be any different?
THE FEAR OF GOD
A child must take seriously the moral law. "The fear of the LORD is
the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10)." In defining the root of sin,
Paul said, "There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:18)."
The proper use of the rod teaches a wholesome fear. Do not fall
victim to the modern rewriting of "fear" as "respect." For Jesus
said, "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear.' Fear him, which
after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell,' yea, I say unto
you, Fear him (Luke 12:5)." The Scripture makes a distinction
between honor, love, and fear: "Honour all men. Love the
brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1 Pet. 2:17)
Though we don't have "the spirit of fear," we who understand
eternity fear to be in opposition to the "Avenger" of all evil.
Remember, you are preparing your child for real living in a real
world and to face a real God in a real judgment of real
accountability to a reward in a real eternity. This is no game; the
rewards are great, the loss too horrible for a parent not to make
this top priority.
The end a Christian has in view is not just submission to the rule
of law, but that the child should understand the grace of God. Only
through the naked sword of the law do we understand grace. White is
invisible until it is placed against a dark backdrop. The law is
"our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal. 3:24)." God could
not show Himself on Mount Calvary until He first showed Himself on
By strictly enforcing the rules of the household through
legislation, accountability and punishment, you not only teach them
to fear and respect the Lawgiver, but you create opportunities to
demonstrate grace. What a sacred responsibility!
Having clarified some important issues on the application and
philosophy of the rod, let us return to our discussion on training.
I DON'T HAVE TO OBEY YOU
One very irritating habit of some children is their tendency toward
selective subjection. Have you ever attempted to correct a child,
only to be impudently told, "You are not my Mother, you can't tell
me what to do?" (Most likely, the mother can't tell him what to do
either.) That response demonstrates that regardless of the child's
obedience to his parents, down inside he is totally rebellious. He
is not under authority.
If the child perceived some devious intent on the part of the
adult and was resisting abduction or something akin to it, such
boldness would be in order. But don't delude yourself into being
proud of your child's actions as if it was loyalty or caution. It is
rebellion, which is as the "sin of witchcraft." Even when another
child, out of regard for the right, cautions his fellow mate, there
should be subjection.
There is by nature in every child an innate awareness of common
duty to the "good of being" in general. This unwritten code is
expressed when one small child says to another, "You ought not do
that." The conscience that is not yet seared is constantly appealing
for conformity to this innate standard. When a child rebels against
the just rebukes of his peers, he is not just rebelling against his
peers, but against the "rule of law" in general. No, the child is
not conscious (neither are most adults) of a "rule of law." He may
not even know what the word "rebellion" means, but he is nonetheless
functioning exactly as an adult functions when in a state of
rebellion. The child is violating his own conscience. He is
suffering guilt. He is building a barrier of pride, self-love, and
will become self-loathing. A child encouraged or permitted to thus
continue is destined to moral destruction.
THE OLDER SISTER
My two youngest daughters, when nine- and eleven years old, were
entertaining some children we were keeping. A two-year-old girl
picked up an item that was off limits. Her older sister, fourteen,
told her she couldn't play with it and proceeded to take it away.
The child threw a screaming fit. (That was her normal approach in
paying back her parents--they considered such behavior normal).
My nine-year-old, amazed at this bizarre behavior, came and told
her mother. Deb, upon investigating, found the little girl was mad
at her big sister whom she considered to have no jurisdiction over
her behavior. The fourteen-year-old admitted she was not allowed to
discipline her little sister. My wife immediately set up a training
session. She took the forbidden object and placed it back on the
floor in front of the child. You may say, "But that is tempting the
child!" Did not God do t