This is an object which it is worth any labor to attain. No habit, I suspect, has such an influence over our lives as this. Parents, determine to make your children obey you—though it may cost you much trouble—and cost them many tears! Let there be no questioning, and reasoning, and disputing, and delaying, and answering back. When you give them a command, let them see plainly that you will have it done.
Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting, and faith incarnate. It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord’s people. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). It ought to be the mark of well-trained children, that they cheerfully do whatever their parents command them. Where, indeed, is the honor which the fifth commandment enjoins, if fathers and mothers are not obeyed cheerfully, willingly, and at once?
Parents, do you wish to see your children happy? Take care, then, that you train them to obey when they are spoken to—to do as they are told. Believe me, we are not made for entire independence—we are not fit for it. Even Christ’s freemen have a yoke to wear, they “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). Children cannot learn too soon that this is a world in which we are not all intended to rule, and that we are never in our right place until we know how to obey our betters. Teach them to obey while young, or else they will be fretting against God all their lives long, and wear themselves out with the vain idea of being independent of His control.
Reader, this hint is only too much needed. You will see many in this day who allow their children to choose and think for themselves long before they are able, and even make excuses for their disobedience, as if it were a thing not to be blamed. To my eyes, a parent always yielding, and a child always having its own way, are a most painful sight—painful, because I see God’s appointed order of things inverted and turned upside down—painful, because I feel sure the consequence to that child’s character in the end will be self-will, pride, and self-conceit. You must not wonder that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heaven, if you allow them, when children, to disobey their father who is upon earth.
Parents, if you love your children—let obedience be a motto and a watchword continually before their eyes.
Spoiling is a very expressive word—and sadly full of meaning. Now it is the shortest way to spoil children—to let them have their own way—to allow them to do wrong and not to punish them for it. Believe me, you must not do it, whatever pain it may cost you unless you wish to ruin your children’s souls.
Parents, I beseech you, for your children’s sake, beware of over-indulgence. I call on you to remember, it is your first duty to consult their real interests, and not their fancies and likings—to train them, not to amuse them—to profit them, not merely to please them.
You must not give way to every wish and caprice of your child’s mind, however much you may love him. You must not let him suppose his will is to be everything, and that he has only to desire a thing and it will be done. Do not, I beg you, make your children idols—lest God should take them away, and break your idol, just to convince you of your folly!
Learn to say “No” to your children. Show them that you are able to refuse whatever you think is not fit for them. Show them that you are ready to punish disobedience, and that when you speak of punishment, you are not only ready to threaten, but also to perform. Do not merely threaten. Threatened folks, and threatened faults, live long. Punish seldom—but really and earnestly. Frequent and slight punishment is a wretched system indeed.
Some parents have a way of saying, “Naughty child,” to a boy or girl on every slight occasion, and often without good cause. It is a very foolish habit. Words of blame should never be used without real reason.
As to the best way of punishing a child, no general rule can be laid down. The characters of children are so exceedingly different, that what would be a severe punishment to one child, would be no punishment at all to another. I only beg to enter my decided protest against the modern notion that no child ought ever to be spanked. Doubtless some parents use bodily correction far too much, and far too violently—but many others, I fear, use it far too little.
Beware of letting small faults pass unnoticed under the idea “it is a little one.” There are no little things in training children—all are important. Little weeds need plucking up as much as any. Leave them alone, and they will soon become giants!
Parents, if there be any point which deserves your attention, believe me, it is this one. It is one that will give you trouble, I know. But if you do not take trouble with your children when they are young—they will give you trouble when they are old! Choose which you prefer.
—J. C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents