Do Not Leave Your Child’s Heart to Chance!
IN THE hands of a skilled potter, a worthless lump of clay can be transformed into an attractive utensil. Few artisans make so much from so little. For millenniums, society has depended on the potter for cups, plates, cooking pots, storage jars, and decorative vases.
Parents too make an invaluable contribution to society by shaping the character and personality of their children. The Bible compares each one of us to clay, and God has assigned to parents the vital task of molding “the clay” of their children. (Job 33:6; Genesis 18:19) Like creating a beautiful piece of pottery, transforming a child into a responsible and balanced adult is no easy task. Such a transformation does not happen by mere accident.
Many forces are at work molding the hearts of our children. Unfortunately, some of these forces are destructive. So rather than leaving a child’s heart to chance, a wise parent will train up the child “according to the way for him,” in the confidence that “when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.
During the long, eventful process of rearing a child, wise Christian parents will have to devote time to warding off the negative influences that threaten their child’s heart. Their love will be amply tested as they patiently give the child “the instruction, and the correction, which belong to a Christian upbringing.” (Ephesians 6:4, The New English Bible) The parents’ job, of course, will be a lot easier if they make an early start.
An Early Start
Potters like to work with clay that is sufficiently malleable to mold into shape yet is firm enough to hold the shape once it has been formed. After refining the clay, they prefer to use it within six months. Likewise, the best time for parents to begin molding their child’s heart is when it is most receptive and easily shaped.
Child specialists say that by the age of eight months, the child has already learned to recognize the sounds of his native language, formed a close bond with his parents, developed perceptual skills, and begun to explore the world around him. The ideal time to start molding his heart is when he is still young. What an advantage your child will have if like Timothy, he ‘has come to know the holy writings from infancy’!—2 Timothy 3:15. *
Babies naturally imitate their parents. Beyond mimicking sounds, expressions, and gestures, they learn about love, kindness, and compassion when they see their parents displaying these qualities. If we want to train our child according to Jehovah’s laws, God’s commandments must first of all prove to be on our hearts. Such heart appreciation will move parents to talk to their children regularly about Jehovah and about his Word. “Speak of them,” the Bible exhorts, “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Francisco and Rosa explain how they do this with their two young children. *
“Apart from everyday conversations, we try to speak to our children individually for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. When we spot a problem, we spend more time—and we do encounter problems. For example, our five-year-old son recently came home from school and told us that he didn’t believe in Jehovah. Apparently, one of his classmates had made fun of him and said that there is no God.”
These parents realized that children need to develop faith in their Creator. Such a faith can be built upon their natural fascination with God’s creation. How children love to touch an animal, pick wildflowers, or play in the sand on the seashore! Parents can help them make the connection between the creation and the Creator. (Psalm 100:3; 104:24, 25) The awe and respect that they develop for Jehovah’s creation can stay with them throughout life. (Psalm 111:2, 10) Along with such appreciation, the child can develop a desire to please God and a fear of displeasing him. This will motivate him ‘to turn away from bad.’—Proverbs 16:6.
Although most young children are curious and quick to learn, obedience may not come easily. (Psalm 51:5) They may at times insist on getting their own way or on having everything that they want. Parents need firmness, patience, and discipline to prevent these attitudes from becoming entrenched. (Ephesians 6:4) This has been the experience of Phyllis and Paul, who have successfully raised five children.
Phyllis recalls: “Although the personality of each child was unique, every one of them wanted to get his own way. It was tough, yet they eventually learned the meaning of the word ‘no.’” Paul, her husband, noted: “Often, we gave them reasons for our decisions if they were old enough to understand. Though we always tried to be kind, we taught them to respect our God-given authority.”
While a child’s formative years may bring him problems, most parents find that the greatest challenge comes during the teenage years when the immature heart faces many new tests.
Reaching the Heart of a Teenager
The potter must do his work before the clay dries. To give himself extra time, he may add water to keep the clay moist and malleable. Likewise, parents must work hard to prevent their teenager’s heart from becoming unyielding. Their principal tool, of course, is the Bible, with which they can ‘reprove, set things straight, and equip their child for every good work.’—2 Timothy 3:15-17.
A teenager, however, may not accept parental advice as readily as he did when he was younger. Teenagers may begin to pay more attention to their peers, so open and ready communication with their parents may falter. It is a time for extra patience and skill, as the roles of parents and children enter a new stage. The teenager has to come to terms with physical and emotional changes. He has to start making decisions and establishing goals that can affect the rest of his life. (2 Timothy 2:22) Throughout this challenging period, he must deal with a force that can have a devastating effect on his heart—peer pressure.
Such pressure rarely comes in one easily identifiable event. Rather, it is usually expressed in a series of weakening comments or occasions. These attack what is for many a weak spot—a deep-seated fear of being rejected by other youths. Struggling with self-consciousness and wanting to be accepted, a youth might start to endorse “the things in the world” that other youths advocate.—1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:2.
To make matters worse, the natural desires of the imperfect heart may reinforce the message of his peers. Such exhortations as “Have fun” and “Do your own thing” may sound very appealing. María recalls her experience: “I listened to fellow teenagers who believed that youths have the right to enjoy themselves to the full, regardless of the consequences. Since I wanted to do what my school friends did, I almost got into serious trouble.” As a parent, you want to help your teenage child overcome such pressure, but how can you do so?
By your words and actions, assure and reassure him that you care. Endeavor to find out how he feels about things, and try to understand his problems, which may well be much more difficult than the problems you faced at school. At this time particularly, your child needs to view you as someone in whom he can confide. (Proverbs 20:5) By his body language or his moods, you may notice his distress or confusion. Respond to his silent cries, and ‘comfort his heart.’—Colossians 2:2.
It is important, of course, to exercise firmness for what is right. Many parents have found that they occasionally face a battle of wills, but they cannot give in when their decision is well-founded. On the other hand, make sure that you understand the situation clearly before deciding whether to administer loving discipline and how to do so if it is needed.—Proverbs 18:13.
Even From Within the Congregation
An earthenware vessel may look finished, but unless it has been fired in the kiln, it may be vulnerable to the very liquids it is designed to hold. The Bible compares trials and difficulties to such a firing process, since they demonstrate what sort of people we really are. Of course, the Bible is speaking particularly of trials of our faith, but in a general way, the point is also valid as to other trials. (James 1:2-4) Surprisingly, some difficult trials young ones face may come from within the congregation.
Although your teenage child appears to be in good spiritual health, inside he may be struggling with a divided heart. (1 Kings 18:21) For instance, Megan faced worldly ideas stemming from other youths who came to the Kingdom Hall:
“I came under the influence of a group of young ones who saw Christianity as boring and as an obstacle to having fun. They said things like: ‘The minute I am 18, I will leave the truth,’ or ‘I can’t wait to get out.’ They shunned young ones who said anything to the contrary, calling them holy ones.”
It takes only one or two with a bad attitude to egg on the rest. Individuals in a group usually do what the majority does. Foolishness and bravado may trample on wisdom and decency. In many countries, there have been sad cases of Christian youths getting into trouble because they followed the crowd.
Of course, teenagers need a certain amount of enjoyable association. How can you as a parent provide it? Give serious thought to their entertainment, and plan absorbing activities with the family or with a mixture of youths and adults. Get to know your child’s friends. Invite them for a meal, or spend an evening with them. (Romans 12:13) Encourage your child to pursue a wholesome activity, such as learning to play a musical instrument or mastering another language or a craft. To a large extent, he may be able to do this within the safe environment of the home.
Schooling Can Be a Safeguard
A teenager’s schooling can also help him to keep entertainment in its place. Loli, an administrator for 20 years in a large school, says: “I have seen lots of young Witnesses go through school. Many were praiseworthy in their conduct, but some were indistinguishable from the other students. The good examples were invariably the ones who took an interest in their studies. I would strongly advise parents to take an active interest in their children’s academic progress, to get to know their teachers, and to convince their children that a good report matters. Some will excel, but all can reach satisfactory levels and gain the respect of their teachers.”
Such schooling can also help teenagers to progress spiritually. It can teach them good study habits, mental discipline, and a sense of responsibility. Their ability to read well and to grasp ideas will doubtless encourage them to be better students and teachers of God’s Word. (Nehemiah 8:8) The requirements of their schoolwork and their spiritual studies can help to put recreation in its proper place.
A Credit to You and to Jehovah
In ancient Greece many vases bore the signatures of both the potter and the decorator. Comparably, in the family there are usually two who share in molding the children. Both father and mother share in shaping a child’s heart, and figuratively your child bears both “signatures.” Like a successful potter, and/or decorator, you can feel proud of your work in shaping a young person of worth and beauty.—Proverbs 23:24, 25.
The success of this grand endeavor will largely depend on the extent to which you have molded your child’s heart. Hopefully, you will be able to say: “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps will not wobble.” (Psalm 37:31) The condition of a child’s heart is too important to leave to chance.
^ par. 8 Some parents read the Bible to their newborn baby. The soothing voice and this enjoyable experience may stimulate appreciation for reading during the rest of the child’s life.
^ par. 9 Some names have been changed.