Imitate Jehovah When Training Your Children

“Don’t all parents correct their children?”​—HEBREWS 12:7, Contemporary English Version.

1, 2. Why do parents have trouble rearing their children today?

A SURVEY that was taken in Japan a few years ago revealed that about half of the adults interviewed felt that there was too little communication between parents and their children and that parents indulged their children too much. In another survey in that country, nearly a quarter of those who responded admitted that they did not know how to interact with children. This trend is not unique to the Orient. “Many Canadian parents admitted they feel unsure how to be good parents,” reported The Toronto Star. Everywhere, parents are finding it hard to bring up their children.

2 Why do parents have trouble rearing their children? A major reason is that we are living in “the last days,” and “critical times hard to deal with” are here. (2 Timothy 3:1) In addition, “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up,” states the Bible. (Genesis 8:21) And youths are especially vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, who like “a roaring lion” preys on the inexperienced. (1 Peter 5:8) Obstacles certainly abound for Christian parents, who set out to bring up their children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) How can parents help their children to grow up to be mature worshipers of Jehovah, able to distinguish “both right and wrong”?​—Hebrews 5:14.

3. Why is parental training and guidance essential for bringing up children successfully?

3 “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy,” observed wise King Solomon. (Proverbs 13:1; 22:15) To rid their hearts of such foolishness, young ones require loving correction from their parents. Youths, though, do not always welcome such correction. In fact, they often resent counsel regardless of who gives it. Parents, therefore, must learn to “train up a boy according to the way for him.” (Proverbs 22:6) When children take hold on such discipline, it can mean life to them. (Proverbs 4:13) How vital that parents know what is involved in training their young ones!

Discipline​—What It Means

4. What is the primary meaning of “discipline” as used in the Bible?

4 For fear of being accused of abuse​—physical, verbal, or emotional—​some parents shy away from correcting their children. We need not harbor such fears. The word “discipline” as used in the Bible does not imply any kind of abuse or cruelty. The Greek word for “discipline” primarily relates to instruction, education, correction and, at times, firm but loving chastisement.

5. Why is it beneficial to consider Jehovah’s way of dealing with his people?

5 In providing such discipline, Jehovah God sets a perfect example. Comparing Jehovah to a human father, the apostle Paul wrote: “Don’t all parents correct their children? . . . Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy.” (Hebrews 12:7-10, Contemporary English Version) Yes, Jehovah  disciplines his people to the end that they may be holy, or pure. We can certainly learn much about disciplining children by considering how Jehovah has trained his people.​—Deuteronomy 32:4; Matthew 7:11; Ephesians 5:1.

Love​—The Motivating Force

6. Why may it be difficult for parents to imitate Jehovah’s love?

6 “God is love,” says the apostle John. So, then, the training Jehovah provides is always motivated by love. (1 John 4:8; Proverbs 3:11, 12) Does this mean that parents who have natural affection for their offspring would find it easy to imitate Jehovah in this regard? Not necessarily. God’s love is principled love. And one Greek scholar points out that such love “does not always run with the natural inclinations.” God is not blinded by sentimentality. He always considers what is best for his people.​—Isaiah 30:20; 48:17.

7, 8. (a) What example of principled love did Jehovah set in dealing with his people? (b) How can parents imitate Jehovah in helping their children to develop the ability to follow Bible principles?

7 Consider the love Jehovah showed in dealing with the Israelites. Moses used a beautiful analogy to describe Jehovah’s love for the young nation of Israel. We read: “Just as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its fledglings, spreads out its wings, takes them, carries them on its pinions, Jehovah alone kept leading [Jacob].” (Deuteronomy 32:9, 11, 12) To teach her young to fly, the mother eagle ‘stirs up her nest,’ fluttering and flapping her wings to urge her young ones to take off. When a young bird finally dives out of the nest, which is often lodged on a high crag, the mother “hovers over” the young. If it seems that the fledgling might hit the ground, the mother swoops down under it, carrying it ‘on her pinions.’ Lovingly, Jehovah cared for the newborn nation of Israel in a similar way. He gave the people the Mosaic Law. (Psalm 78:5-7) God then watched over the nation with a keen eye, ready to come to the rescue when his people were in trouble.

8 How may Christian parents imitate Jehovah’s love? First, they must teach their children the principles and standards found in God’s Word. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) The goal is to help the young learn to make decisions in harmony with Bible principles. In doing this, loving parents hover over their young ones, so to speak, observing how they apply the principles they have learned. As the children get older and are gradually given greater freedom, the caring parents are ready to “swoop down” and ‘carry their young on their pinions’ whenever there is danger. What type of danger?

9. To what danger in particular must loving parents be alert? Illustrate.

9 Jehovah God warned the Israelites of the consequences of bad associations. (Numbers 25:1-18; Ezra 10:10-14) Associating with the  wrong crowd is also a common peril today. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Christian parents do well to imitate Jehovah in this regard. A 15-year-old girl named Lisa became interested in a boy who did not share her family’s moral and spiritual values. “My parents immediately noticed a change in my attitude and showed concern,” relates Lisa. “At times they corrected me, and at other times they tenderly encouraged me.” They sat down with Lisa and listened patiently, thus helping her to deal with what they discerned to be the underlying problem​—the desire to be accepted by her peers. *

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

10. In what ways did Jehovah set a fine example in communicating with the Israelites?

10 To be successful in training children, parents must strive to keep open the lines of communication with their young ones. Jehovah, though fully aware of what is in our heart, encourages us to communicate with him. (1 Chronicles 28:9) After giving the Israelites the Law, Jehovah assigned the Levites to instruct them, and he sent the prophets to reason with them and to correct them. He also showed a willingness to hear their prayers.​—2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Psalm 65:2; Isaiah 1:1-3, 18-20; Jeremiah 25:4; Galatians 3:22-24.

11. (a) How can parents promote good communication with their children? (b) Why is it important for parents to be good listeners when communicating with their children?

11 How can parents imitate Jehovah when they communicate with their children? First and foremost, they must make time for them. Parents also do well to avoid thoughtless comments that ridicule, such as, “Is that all? I thought it was something important”; “That is silly”; “Well, what do you expect? You are just a child.” (Proverbs 12:18) To encourage children to open up, wise parents endeavor to be good listeners. Parents who ignore their children when the children are little may find themselves ignored when the children are older. Jehovah has always been willing to listen to his people. He keeps his ear open to those who humbly turn to him in prayer​—Psalm 91:15; Jeremiah 29:12; Luke 11:9-13.

12. What qualities on the part of parents can make it easier for children to approach them?

12 Consider also how certain aspects of God’s personality have made it easy for his people to approach him freely. For example, King David of ancient Israel sinned  gravely by having an adulterous relationship with Bath-sheba. Being an imperfect human, David committed other serious sins in his life. Yet, he never failed to approach Jehovah and seek his forgiveness and reproof. Undoubtedly, God’s loving-kindness and mercy made it easier for David to return to Jehovah. (Psalm 103:8) By displaying such godly qualities as compassion and mercy, parents can help keep open the lines of communication even when children err.​—Psalm 103:13; Malachi 3:17.

Be Reasonable

13. What does being reasonable include?

13 When giving ear to their children, parents must be reasonable and reflect “the wisdom from above.” (James 3:17) “Let your reasonableness become known to all men,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Philippians 4:5) What does it mean to be reasonable? One definition of the Greek word translated “reasonable” is “not insisting on the letter of the law.” While upholding firm moral and spiritual standards, how can parents be reasonable?

14. How did Jehovah show reasonableness in dealing with Lot?

14 Jehovah sets an outstanding example in reasonableness. (Psalm 10:17) When he urged Lot and his family to leave the doomed city of Sodom, Lot “kept lingering.” Later, when Jehovah’s angel asked him to escape to the mountainous region, Lot said: “I am not able to escape to the mountainous region . . . Please, now, this city [Zoar] is nearby to flee there and it is a small thing. May I, please, escape there​—is it not a small thing?” How did Jehovah react to this? He said: “Here I do show you consideration to this extent also, by my not overthrowing the city of which you have spoken.” (Genesis 19:16-21, 30) Jehovah was willing to consent to Lot’s request. Yes, parents need to adhere to the standards that Jehovah God sets out in his Word, the Bible. Still, it might be possible to accommodate the young ones’ wishes when Bible principles are not jeopardized.

15, 16. What lesson can parents learn from the illustration found at Isaiah 28:24, 25?

15 Being reasonable includes preparing the children’s heart so that they are ready to accept counsel. In an illustrative way, Isaiah compared Jehovah to a farmer and said: “Is it all day long that the plower plows in order to sow seed, that he loosens and harrows his ground? Does he not, when he has smoothed out its surface, then scatter black cumin and sprinkle the cumin, and must he not put in wheat, millet, and barley in the appointed place, and spelt as his boundary?”​—Isaiah 28:24, 25.

16 Jehovah “plows in order to sow seed” and “loosens and harrows his ground.” He thus prepares the heart of his people before disciplining them. In correcting their children, how can parents ‘plow’ their offspring’s heart? One father imitated Jehovah when correcting his four-year-old boy. When his son hit a neighbor boy, the father first listened patiently to his son’s excuses. Then, as if to ‘plow’ the son’s heart, the father told a story of a little boy who suffered terrible hardship at the hands of a bully. Upon hearing the story, the boy was moved to say that the bully must be punished. Such ‘plowing’ prepared the boy’s heart and made it easier for him to see that hitting the neighbor boy was the act of a bully and was wrong.​—2 Samuel 12:1-14.

17. What lesson in parental correction is provided at Isaiah 28:26-29?

17 Isaiah further compared Jehovah’s correction to another farming process​—threshing. A farmer uses different threshing instruments according to the toughness of the chaff of the grain. A rod is used for tender black cumin and a staff for cumin, but  a sledge or cart wheel is used for grains with tougher chaff. Still, he will not tread the harder grains to the point of crushing them. Likewise, when Jehovah wants to remove anything undesirable in his people, he varies his treatment according to existing needs and circumstances. He is never arbitrary or heavy-handed. (Isaiah 28:26-29) Some children respond to just a glance from their parents, and nothing more is needed. Others require repeated reminders, while still others may need persuasion of a stronger kind. Reasonable parents will apply correction according to the individual child’s needs.

Make Family Discussions Enjoyable

18. How can parents make time for a regular family Bible study?

18 Among the best ways to instruct your children are a regular family Bible study and a daily Scriptural discussion. A family study is most effective when it is regular. If left up to chance or to a spur-of-the-moment decision, it is likely to be infrequent at best. So parents must ‘buy out the time’ for the study. (Ephesians 5:15-17) Coming up with a definite time that is convenient for all can be a challenge. One family head found that as the children grew older, their different schedules were making it harder to get the whole family together. Yet, the family was always together on the nights of the congregation meetings. The father therefore arranged to have the family study on one of those nights. This worked out well. All three children are now baptized servants of Jehovah.

19. How can parents imitate Jehovah when conducting a family study?

19 However, it is not enough just to cover some Scriptural material during the study. Jehovah taught the restored Israelites through the priests, who ‘expounded and put meaning into’ the Law, “giving understanding in the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8) One father who successfully helped all seven of his children to love Jehovah always retreated to his room before the family study in order to prepare, tailoring the material to the needs of each child. He made the study enjoyable for  his children. “The study was always fun,” recalls one of his grown sons. “If we were out playing ball in the yard when we were called for the family study, we instantly put our ball away and ran in for the study. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings in the week.”

20. What possible problem in bringing up children must yet be considered?

20 The psalmist declared: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) Training our children takes time and effort, but doing so properly can mean everlasting life to our young ones. What a fine reward that would be! May we, then, eagerly imitate Jehovah when training our children. However, while parents are entrusted with the responsibility of “bringing [children] up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah,” there is no guarantee of success. (Ephesians 6:4) Even with the very best care, a child could become rebellious and stop serving Jehovah. What then? That will be the subject for the next article.

[Footnote]

^ par. 9 The experiences found in this article and the next may be from lands culturally different from yours. Try to discern the principles involved, and apply them in your cultural setting.

What Is Your Answer?

• How can parents imitate Jehovah’s love described at Deuteronomy 32:11, 12?

• What have you learned from the way Jehovah communicated with the Israelites?

• What does Jehovah’s giving ear to Lot’s plea teach us?

• What lesson in correcting children have you learned from Isaiah 28:24-29?

[Study Questions]

[Picture on page 8, 9]

Moses likened Jehovah’s training of his people to the ways of an eagle with its young

[Pictures on page 10]

Parents need to make time for their children

[Picture on page 12]

“It was one of the most enjoyable evenings in the week”