Reliable Advice for Raising Children

“I WAS 19 years old, living far away from any family members, and totally unprepared,” says Ruth of her first pregnancy. An only child herself, she had not given much thought to being a parent. Where could she go for reliable advice?

Jan, on the other hand, now a father of three grown children, remembers: “I was very confident at first. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I was lacking in practical knowledge.” Whether parents start out feeling lost or they get lost along the way, where can they find help to rear their children?

Today, increasing numbers search the Internet. You may be wondering, though, how reliable the advice found there can be. There is good reason to be cautious. Do you really know who is giving you advice online? How much success have they had with their own children? No doubt you want to be careful when it comes to matters affecting your family. Sometimes, as the preceding article noted, even advice from the experts turns out to be disappointing. So where can you go?

The ultimate Source of advice on raising children is Jehovah God, the Originator of the family. (Ephesians 3:15) He is the only real expert. In his Word, the Bible, he provides reliable, practical instruction that really works. (Psalm 32:8; Isaiah 48:17, 18) It is up to us, though, to apply it.

Several couples were asked to share what they had learned while raising their children to be well-adjusted and God-fearing adults. Their success, they said, was primarily a result of applying Bible principles. They found that the Bible’s advice is as reliable today as it was when the Bible was first written.

Spend Time With Them

When Catherine, a mother of two, was asked what advice was most helpful to her, she immediately referred to Deuteronomy 6:7. That verse says: “You must inculcate [Bible principles] in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” Catherine realized that to follow that counsel, she would have to spend time with her children.

‘That is easier said than done,’ you might be thinking. With many families needing two incomes to make ends meet, how can busy parents spend more time with their children? Torlief, whose son is now raising a family of his own, says that the key is following the advice found in Deuteronomy. Take your children with you wherever you go, and opportunities to talk will come up naturally. “My son and I worked together on household projects,” Torlief relates. “We took trips together as a family. And we ate meals together.” As a result, he says, “our son always felt that he could express himself freely.”

What, though, if communication breaks down and conversations become strained? This sometimes happens as the children get older. Once again, spending more time with them can help. Catherine’s husband, Ken, remembers that when their daughter became a teenager, she complained that he was not listening. That is a common complaint from teens. What could he do? Ken recalls: “I decided to spend more time with her one-on-one, discussing her thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. That really helped.” (Proverbs 20:5) Ken believes, however, that the reason  this approach worked is that communication in their home was not something new. “My daughter and I always had a good relationship,” he says, “so she felt that she could speak freely to me.”

Interestingly, one recent study reported that teens are three times more likely than their parents to say that parents and children do not spend enough time together. So why not follow the Bible’s advice? Spend as much time as possible with your children​—at rest and at work, at home and when traveling, in the morning when you get up and at night before you go to bed. If possible, take them with you wherever you go. As Deuteronomy 6:7 implies, there is no substitute for spending time with your children.

Teach Them Proper Values

Mario, a father of two, similarly recommends: “Give children lots of love, and read to them.” However, it is not just a matter of stimulating your children’s mental faculties. You need to teach them how to discern right from wrong. Mario adds: “Have a Bible study with them.”

To that end, the Bible admonishes parents: “Do not irritate your children, but bring them up tenderly with true Christian training and advice.” (Ephesians 6:4, Weymouth) Emphasis on moral instruction is lacking in many homes today. Some believe that when children get older, they will be able to decide for themselves what values to accept. Does that make sense to you? Just as young bodies need proper nourishment to grow up strong and healthy, so young minds and hearts need instruction. If your children do not learn moral values from you at home, they will likely adopt the views of their schoolmates and teachers or those of the mass media.

The Bible can help parents to teach their children how to distinguish right from wrong. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Jeff, an experienced Christian elder who has raised two children, recommends using the Bible to teach children proper values. He says: “Using the Bible helps children realize how the Creator feels about a matter, not just Mom and Dad. What we noticed is the Bible’s unique effect on the mind and heart. To address wrong conduct or thinking, we took the time to find an appropriate scripture. Then, in a private location, we let the child read the text. Often the result was a tear or even tears streaming down the cheeks. We were amazed. The Bible had greater impact than anything we could have thought to say or do.”

Hebrews 4:12 explains: “The word of God is alive and exerts power . . . and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The message of the Bible is therefore not merely the personal views or experiences of the humans whom God used as his penmen. Rather, it represents God’s thinking on moral matters. This sets it apart from all other advice. By using the Bible to teach your children, you are helping them to have God’s mind on matters. Your training has greater weight, and you have a better chance of reaching your child’s heart.

Catherine, mentioned earlier, agrees. She says: “The more difficult the situation, the more we sought guidance in God’s Word​—and it worked!” Can you make greater use of the Bible in teaching your children how to discern right from wrong?

Be Reasonable

The apostle Paul points to another important principle that is helpful in child rearing. He urged fellow Christians: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) Surely that includes letting our children see our reasonableness. And remember, reasonableness reflects “the wisdom from above.”​—James 3:17.

 How, though, does reasonableness relate to training our children? While we give them all the help we can, we do not control their every action. For example, Mario, quoted earlier, is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he recalls: “We always held out baptism, the full-time ministry, and other spiritual goals to our children. But we made it clear that this was their choice to make when the time came.” The result? Both their children are now serving as full-time evangelizers.

The Bible warns fathers at Colossians 3:21: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” Catherine appreciates that verse. When a parent’s patience wears thin, it is easy to get angry or demanding. But, she says, “don’t demand as much from your child as you expect of yourself.” Catherine too is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she adds: “Make serving Jehovah enjoyable.”

Jeff, mentioned earlier, makes this practical observation: “As our children grew older, a good friend mentioned to us that he realized how often he had to say no to his children’s requests. That frustrated them, leaving them feeling oppressed. To avoid this, he recommended that we look for ways to say yes.

“We found this to be good advice,” Jeff says. “We then looked for opportunities for our children to do things with others under circumstances that we approved. So we would approach them and say: ‘Did you know that so-and-so is doing this or that? Why don’t you go too?’ Or if the kids asked us to take them somewhere, we pushed ourselves to go even if we were tired. We did it just to avoid saying no.” That is the very essence of reasonableness​—being fair, considerate, and yielding without compromising Bible principles.

Benefit From Reliable Advice

Most of these couples are grandparents now. They enjoy seeing these same Bible principles help their children succeed as parents. Can you benefit from the Bible’s advice?

When Ruth, mentioned at the outset, became a parent, she and her husband sometimes felt all alone. But they were not. They had the superior advice of God’s Word, the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced many excellent Bible study aids that can help parents. These include Learn From the Great Teacher, My Book of Bible Stories, Questions Young People Ask​—Answers That Work, and The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. Torlief, Ruth’s husband, says: “Today there is a wealth of Bible-based advice right at the parents’ fingertips. If they only take advantage of it, they can have help in dealing with all areas of life as a child grows up.”

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What the EXPERTS Say . . . What the BIBLE Says

On Showing Affection:

In The Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928), Dr. John Broadus Watson urged parents: “Never hug and kiss” your children. “Never let them sit on your lap.” More recently, however, Drs. Vera Lane and Dorothy Molyneaux pointed out in Our Children magazine (March 1999): “Research indicates that young children deprived of physical touch and displays of affection often fail to thrive.”

In contrast, Isaiah 66:12 refers to God as showing his love for his people through expressions of parental love. Similarly, when Jesus’ disciples tried to stop people from bringing young children to Jesus, he corrected them, saying: “Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them.” Then “he took the children into his arms and began blessing them.”​—Mark 10:14, 16.

On Teaching Proper Values:

In a 1969 New York Times Magazine article, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim stressed that a child has the “right to form his own inner opinions, influenced not by [his parents’] authoritative [preaching], but only by his own direct experience with life.” Almost 30 years later, though, Dr. Robert Coles, author of The Moral Intelligence of Children (1997), acknowledged: “Children very much need a sense of purpose and direction in life, a set of values” approved by their parents and other adults.

Proverbs 22:6 urges parents: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” The Hebrew word translated “train” also means “initiate” and here indicates the initiating of the first instruction of the infant. Parents are thus encouraged to start teaching their children proper values from infancy on. (2 Timothy 3:14, 15) What they learn during these formative years is likely to remain with them.

On Discipline:

Dr. James Dobson wrote in The Strong-Willed Child (1978): “Corporal punishment in the hands of a loving parent is a teaching tool by which harmful behavior is inhibited.” On the other hand, in an article adapted from the seventh edition of the popular book Baby and Child Care (1998), Dr. Benjamin Spock said: “Spanking teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right.”

With regard to discipline, the Bible states: “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom.” (Proverbs 29:15) However, not all children need physical punishment. Proverbs 17:10 tells us: “A rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.”

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Use the Bible to reach the heart

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Wise parents organize recreation for their children