THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF TRAINING CHILDREN
By Dr. Patrick Johnston
October 25, 2015
My wife is pregnant with my tenth child, and I’ve been reminiscing how blessed we are. It’s not often parents go into double digits.
When my wife and I married, we decided we wanted as many children as the Lord would give us (reserving the right to change our mind, of course.) However, in the 17 years we have been married, it has never occurred to me even for a moment that we should stop having kids. They are our greatest blessings in life, and our greatest enjoyments.
These are my Ten Commandments for Training Children
1. Be Proactive
“Train up a child in the way he should go,” Proverbs 22 teaches. Good training isn’t primarily reactive, it’s proactive. What kind of horse-trainer would wait for a horse to disobey and then respond accordingly? The horse-trainer, through positive and negative reinforcement, trains away the little episodes of disobedience, making it unlikely to buck or kick the rider later. We should be proactive to teach obedience to our children in the small things, and not wait for disobedience to train.
Did God just set Adam and Eve in the Garden and leave them to themselves? No – He issued a just commandment, “Don’t eat of this tree,” and prescribed an appropriate penalty, “in the day that you eat thereof you will surely die.” He wasn’t reactive, he was proactive. He daily fellowshipped with them, perhaps reminding them and encouraging them, giving them reasons to obey. When they sinned, He was kept His word.
You don’t have to wait until your child grows up to train. The “terrible two’s” are a product of waiting too long to train. You can teach them the meaning of “Yes” and “No” and train them to submit to your authority long before they can intellectually grasp the concepts, long before their consciences are even functioning.
Be proactive. Don’t child-proof your home. Home-proof your children. Don’t wait for a temper-tantrum. Set one up, and train them to obey cheerfully and quickly. You’re stronger than them. You’re smarter than them. Act like it.
2. Spend time with them
I looked across the restaurant at a woman and her six-year-old sitting at a booth for dinner. The girl must have asked her mother a dozen questions, tried to show her the crayon creation she had made just for her, but Mommy wouldn’t so much as lift her eyes or fingers from her smartphone to give her the attention she craved. So sad.
In our culture, parents generally do not enjoy children. They’re nuisances, like mortgage payments and taxes, not rewards like paychecks and vacations. Parents pay doctors for contraceptives to have less children, finding nature too disconcerting to let it run its course in our marital unions. Parents pay teachers and daycares to teach their kids and raise their kids, because they have more important things to do. When the parents and the kids are finally home together, they’re in different rooms watching their own shows, talking to their own friends, enjoying their own activities. We parents, well, we just have better things to do.
God created us to fellowship with our children. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, demonstrating for us the kind of fellowship parents should give their children. According to God’s words in Deuteronomy 6, parents are commanded to spend time with their children: “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Sounds to me like parents should spend a lot of time with them.
Don’t forsake the eternal wealth of children for the crumbs of temporal pleasure and wealth. Don’t be that mother at the restaurant booth who’s glued to her cell phone, infatuated with her hobbies and her friends, and ignoring her poor daughter.
3. Ask for forgiveness
Being right is not a fruit of the Spirit. Why do parents feel like they always have to be right, like their authority is threatened if they are shown to be wrong by their kids?
I’ve heard exchanges like this in line at a department store.
“But Dad, you said I could get new shoes…”
“Shut up!” Dad retorted.
“But, you promised.”
Dad leaned toward his son over the cart and pointed his finger in the boy’s face. “Not another word out of you.”
Why do we think that screaming at them when they object to our promise-breaking, or telling them to just be quiet when they’re right and we’re wrong in an argument somehow mitigates our inconsistencies or improves our bad character? Not in God’s eyes, and not in our children’s eyes. Increasing volume, threats of punishment, angry countenances – these are not good rebuttals to sound reproofs, even if they are reproofs from our children.
Humble yourself, and tell them you’re sorry. Thank them for their reproof, and repent for our mistakes. Ask for their forgiveness. The lesson taught them will be so much more powerful than you being proven right in an argument.
Proverbs says if you do not spank your kids, you do not love them. The Bible says not to spare for their crying, but spank them, and in so doing you will deliver their souls from hell. (Proverbs 13:34, and 23:13-14).
Our children are designed to take the path of least resistance. When they reach for something they want, they reach in a straight line. When they have an uncomfortable obstacle, they go around it. These natural tendencies are why spanking works. It is our job as parents to make sure the path of least resistance is the path that’s best for them.
If our discipline appears ineffective, it is because the resistance is insufficient, or it is because of inconsistencies and contradictions. A child doesn’t have to love a parent to respect and obey them any more than a Marine in boot camp has to love his drill sergeant to respect and obey him. It is a matter of consistent training.
It is so much easier, however, to love someone you respect. Too many parents treat their children like friends, aiming primarily to win their affection and love. Mom, Dad – it’s not about you. Stop being selfish in how you treat your children. Godly love is sacrificial and does what’s best for another; it has nothing to do with feelings. It may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to spank your children, and the short term consequences may result in your rebellious children expressing ill will toward you, or disobeying more. But it’s not about you. Your training should prepare them for life, and for eternity. Your training teaches them to subject their fleshly desires to their will and mind, and to submit to a higher authority. You’re preparing them for submission to their God. That’s more important than your comfort and convenience.
Kids are not commanded to love their parents, but they are commanded to obey them. If you allow your children to disobey you, all for the sake of winning their affection, you are preparing them for a short life, and eternal damnation thereafter.
As a physician I have said this many times. Not spanking your kids is the most prominent form of child abuse today.
5. Do not spank when angry
Ephesians 6 warns parents not to provoke their children to anger. Obviously, their unjustified anger is a fault of their own character, and not ours. But how many parents, through their harsh or excessive corporal punishment, provoke their children to justified anger, or to godly anger?
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If you have lost self-control in disciplining your children, your have sinned. Not just against your child, but against God, who loves your children as His own. God hates the violent man (Psalm 11:5). If your discipline is an act of rage and violence, you are wicked and know not God. Godly discipline is self-controlled, patient, and careful.
If your discipline has not been godly, you should repent to God, and then confess your sin to your children, asking them to forgive you. Even if they deserved punishment, an excessive or harsh penalty will earn you the disrespect of your child and the wrath of your Creator.
6. Do not scream at your kids
I watched a brief clip of a birthday party of one of my children, and blushed when I heard me scream some command unnecessarily loud. I totally ruined the video! Unfortunately, I sounded like my parents who screamed too often at me and my brothers when we were growing up. Like me, your habit of screaming could be a learned habit. You may scream like your angry not because you’re angry, but because you grew up with screaming, and don’t realize how pathological a form of communication it is.
I have been in homes where screaming is the norm. Parents scream at the kids. The kids scream at each other. Sometimes, the kids scream back at the parents. The kids are not any more deaf than the parents are, so why are they screaming at each other? If you have to scream to get your kids to obey, then you’ve trained them that way. Quit!
What if a horse-trainer only gave a command when he was screaming, or jerking the reins hard to the left or the right? This would train the horse not to obey till its rider is screaming or over-pulling the reins. A well-trained horse obeys soft whistles and gentle nudges.
Screaming is often birthed out of a reluctance to punish quickly enough. The child disobeys the first command, so we scream it a little louder, as if to let them know that we really mean it now. Don’t think of screaming as an explanation point on a command. It’s a sign of weakness, not strength. If they don’t obey with a gentle command, deliver the punishment. Don’t scream it a second and a third time. If you do that, you’re training them not to obey until you’re screaming. What disorder that is!
Save your screaming for urgent commands that justify it, like “Get out of the road!” or “Run!” or “Stop!” Not for ordinary commands. Too much screaming is like inflation. If there’s too much of it, it loses its power when you need it, like, for example, when you’re telling a kid to “Duck!” because something’s coming at his head.
You need to reset normal. Speak softly, and when they disobey, deliver the consequence calmly without screaming. In short order, they’ll obey your softly spoken commands, and there will be so much more peace in your house. Your days will be a breath of fresh air compared to the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard cacophony that resonates throughout your home now.
And the videos of your kids’ birthday parties won’t make you blush with shame.
7. Teach them the Bible
The Apostle Paul writes, “From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Bible says faith comes by hearing the word of God.
Having children who obey you is not the ultimate goal. Having children who trust and obey God is. What good is being a child who obeys his parents if he winds up in hell for all eternity?
Any rebel can be coerced into obedience through corporal punishment, consistently applied. I’ve seen enough football student-athletes come out of summer football camp and two-a-day’s respecting their coach more than they respect their own father. Youth thrive with strong discipline, and it breeds respect and honor. As parents, however, we should aim for more than outward obedience. We want inward righteousness. We want them to love God. To accomplish that in your children requires more than training and consistent discipline. You must teach them the law of God, which will bring conviction of sin, and teach them the Gospel, which will bring salvation. Pray with them and disciple them, and they will follow Jesus when everyone else falters.
If you do everything else right as a parent, and forget this, you are a miserable failure indeed.
8. Protect them from evil
Imagine a parent sending his 9-year-old alone into a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in a big city, or abandoning them in a wolf-infested forest? What kind of parent would send his young child into harm’s way and not protect them?
The Bible says the devil is a roaring lion who lurks about, seeking whom he may devour. Protecting our children from spiritual threats is much more important than protecting them from physical predators, because their eternal souls are more valuable than their bodies.
This is one of the main reasons my wife and I neglect Christian school as well as public school for our children. Christian school is where I first got exposed to drunkenness and fornication as a youth, thanks to the influence of fellow students who’d been kicked out of public school for misbehavior. Evil company, the Bible says, corrupt good morals. The godless atheistic science curricula and the hedonistic sex education in public schools are certainly abominable, but much worse could be the personal impact of evil fellow-students on my children.
Protecting them is not just sheltering them from bad influences via their personal contacts, but also in electronic media. A cell-phone today is like a secret Las Vegas in your pocket. Every imaginable kind of addictive sexual perversion is just a few clicks away. If you do not protect your children from such evil, through apps such as Covenant Eyes, for example, then you are a negligent parent indeed, greasing the slide for your kids’ descent into the torments of hell.
9. Love their mother
Children are the products of a foundation laid in marriage. If the foundation cracks, then what’s laid on top of it is tenuously threatened. If you want to be a good parent, cherish your mate. Date her. Pursue her. Serenade her. Be satisfied always with her. Don’t get so absorbed in your children’s lives that you forget to cultivate your relationship with their mother.
10. Nurture their tender conscience
Nothing has made me happier as a parent when my child confesses wrong-doing without getting caught. Or when they come to me concerned about the state of their soul. Sometimes that moment becomes simultaneously good news and bad news – bad news when you hear of their sin but good news when you hear of their contrition and repentance.
Just as the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner repents, so should we! We don’t discipline and disciple our children for our benefit, but for heaven’s. If their conscience is quickened through the law, the Spirit has awakened them to their need, and their hearts are stirred through the Gospel, don’t wallow in the wilderness with them, scolding them for the regrets of the past, but lead them into their Promised Land. You’ve begun the hand-off, from the earthly father to the heavenly. Be a good steward of their tender consciences, until you can give God the gift He has given you, the gift of your children’s tender hearts.
� 2015 Patrick Johnston - All Rights Reserved
Dr. Patrick Johnston is a family physician and the director of Personhood Ohio. His newest novel, Naomi’s Sacrifice, is available through his website.
Patrick Johnston and his wife Elizabeth reside in Zanesville, Ohio, with their six young home-schooled children. Patrick is a family practice physician and founder of the Association of Pro-life Physicians, which is dedicated to restoring a remnant of physicians in our communities who are convinced that life begins at conception and who will not commit nor refer for abortions (www.ProLifePhysicians.org).
He founded the Alliance to Reform Education Funding to fight public school levies and promote Christian home-schooling (www.StopSchoolLevies.org). Dr. Johnston is committed to revival in the church, and the restoration of Biblical law and constitutional government in America. Dr. Johnston is currently campaigning for State Representative for District 94 in Ohio. Their family ministry -