The following bit of wisdom comes from Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
As Proverbs 3 begins, we observe this instruction is addressed to “my son.” The well-known proverb represents the counsel that children need from their parents. Sadly, parents may rely on their “own understanding” with respect to child rearing. Parents too need to trust in the Lord, which means to believe and obey whatever the Lord says. There are, as implied in the command, alternative understandings. There are ways to consider matters other than the Lord’s perspective. But we must “acknowledge him,” and we will be better parents if we do.
“Trust the Lord” is a message that must be communicated to our children. They must learn to follow the Lord’s way. God’s way will always be the right way and the best way to live.
What We Need to Teach Our Children
Proverbs 3 outlines some general principles that must be taught to our children. They must be instructed to believe, bind, and benefit. They need to believe what the Lord teaches. They must respect that what God says is “law” and “commandments” (v. 1). They must believe that certain things are non-negotiable. Dad and mom must teach their children that the inflexible rules of God will be followed in our family.
The children are instructed to “bind them about your neck.” This term is used three times in Proverbs (3:3; 6:21; 7:3). Each time it is connected with the idea of the neck, the heart, or the fingers. To bind commandments about the neck, write them on the heart, or tie them onto the fingers, means that the child must learn to incorporate the laws into his own life. He must choose to make them a permanent fixture in his own mind. He must form his independent desire to serve the Lord. He must develop his own sense of obligation to trust in the Lord. The child, who has received biblical instruction through the formative years, is encouraged repeatedly to follow what they know is right as they transition to an age of accountability.
The children must be taught the benefit of trusting in the Lord. If they consistently follow his ways (v. 2a), “peace they will add to you” (v. 2b). Oh the pitfalls that our children can avoid if we train them to trust and love the Lord! Solomon projects that children will"find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man" (v. 4). If we and our children will shun the temptation to “be wise in our own eyes,” we ought to fearfully regard God as Lord of our lives and “depart from evil.” This will be “healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” There are no serious regrets because of following God’s law.
Duane A. Garrett sums up this section by saying:
“True piety manifests itself as intellectual humility (vv. 5-8), submission of material wealth to God’s rule (vv. 9-10), and patient acceptance of divine discipline (vv. 11-12). Formally, each section is an admonition composed of commands or prohibitions followed by an explanation of the reasons for the commands (motive clause)” (The New American Commentary, vol. 14. Nashville: Broadman, 1993, p. 80).
How to Teach These Things to Our Children
Children need time and repetition. They require love and affection. They desperately need a consistent, real example. In family life, they will learn how to view themselves by the parents’ routine actions, which speak louder than words or gifts. They will learn from those who give them the most time — peers or parents. And yes, it is about quantity time — not so-called quality time. “Quality time” is a concept formulated by parents who don’t “have enough time” for their kids — an idea invented to sooth the parental conscience. It doesn’t work, at least not for the children.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger quotes the following in her book, Stupid Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kids:
“‘A 1998 University of Michigan study of 2,394 families across the nation found that fewer than half of parents said they found time for an adequate number of everyday activities with their children, such as looking at books, working on homework, talking, playing games, or preparing food. . . When parents can’t find the time to hug, encourage and develop relationships with their children. . . the damage can be enormous, affecting everything from brain development to future relations with spouses or children’” (New York: HarperCollins, 2000, p. 49).
“Basically speaking, when parents have overwhelmed themselves with demanding jobs, divorces, love affairs, serial marriages, chaotic stepfamilies and/or single parenthood, they are often emotionally neglectful of their children. Thinking that structured activities like school, day care, or organized sports make up for one-on-one parent-child family experiences is plain wrong” (p. 49).
How can we teach our children to trust in the Lord? Parents must teach them to believe what God says. They must instruct them to bind the commandments about their neck. Parents must also communicate the benefits of following the Lord.
Children are born into families, and families need time together. Nothing replaces parent-child time. Lots of time, repetitious instruction, constant love and affection, and a consistent Christian example, result in children who will trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). Successful child-rearing, according to the Bible, is not a “roll of the dice.”
How to Correct Our Children
Children need correction.At least, we used to think so.
“A major source of today’s parenting problem is the psychologizing of our culture. In Grandma and Grandpa’s time, misbehavior was viewed as a moral issue of right and wrong. . . The old solution would be punishment. The goal of the punishment was to teach accountability, self-control, the consequences of wrong choices, thinking before acting, and the important fact that they are obligated to respect the rules of authority. Then came the shrinks. The psychology community suggested that bad behavior is either the result of some psychological problem (low self-esteem is a favorite) or some biological problem (brain chemistry and food allergies are popular)” (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Stupid Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kids, New York: HarperCollins, 2000, p. 160).
Society now suffers from this exodus out of the “bondage of authority.” Contrary to trends, children do not need a parent-pal. Children deserve someone who will do the hard work of parenting. They do not benefit from mom-girlfriend who never says “no,” avoids stress through permissiveness, and provides for the child-friend’s every desire. The idea that “a happy child” (i.e., a child without restraint) will not behave badly is erroneous. A lovingly disciplined child will be a genuinely happy child and will become a well-adjusted adult.
Discipline must involve fair expectations, reinforced by real consequences. Children need to have a clear understanding of parental requirements. Parental expectations must be reasonable and right. Even children can identify unfairness or favoritism. Fathers and mothers must remember to listen to their children, and they must communicate clearly what the consequences are for rebellion. This will not be very effective without consistent follow-through.
Punishment may come in various forms. It might be a spanking on the bottom. It might be, with teens, the withdrawal of privileges (not necessities like dinner, but dessert is not a necessity). Punishment is effective when it reinforces one’s love and concern for the child.
It is a must for the parents to be controlled and disciplined themselves. Otherwise, it may appear to children that they are the target of an adult temper-tantrum. Such a parent needs to repent.
Is not spanking, however, harmful to the child’s psyche? Do professionals now consider it abuse? Ken Wilson writes about corporal punishment:
“It strikes me as outright foolishness, for so-called ‘parenting experts,’ to say that time honored and biblically mandated corporal punishment is child abuse. God never condoned child abuse, but He never condoned parental permissiveness either” (The Christian Home: By God’s Design, Fort Worth: Star, 2002, p. 67-68).
Ken Wilson offers the following principles for corporal punishment:
“Non-abusive spanking is most effective when: it is administered as a ‘last resort.’ It is administered with self-control. It is reserved for willful acts of defiance. It is administered in private (not on the face). It is always followed by love and acceptance” (p. 67).
This article is much too brief to deal with the broad subject of biblical parenting. But we have emphasized a couple of necessary principles. Children, who develop into adults who trust in the Lord, are those who learn to submit to authority. They learn to submit to God’s authority. These spiritually-nurtured individuals spend lots of time with loving parents. They benefit from a family in which the parents practice self-discipline while teaching their children about accountability, consequences, and the Bible. Reinforced with love and affection, the Lord will “make straight their paths.” Such individuals do not rely on their own understanding, nor are they self-absorbed. They have parents who trust in the Lord, and they will as well.