Previous article in this series: December 1, 2020, p. 113.
I am not a trained professional who has received a degree in child psychology or family practice. I do not have a Ph.D. in sociology or family counseling. Neither is it my life’s occupation to diagnose childhood disorders or strange behavior patterns in children. I am not saying that these practices are wrong or unnecessary. I am merely saying these are not my credentials.
My credentials are more of a practical nature. I was raised in a covenant home with believing parents, my father being a strict disciplinarian and my mother a gentle, kind but firm instructor. I am a father who has now raised a family of my own. I am a grandfather who is loved by his grandchildren though I can be pretty grumpy with them at times. Life’s experiences have taught me much in my life over the years. These are my credentials, first of all. Added to this, of course, are the many years I have spent in the pastoral ministry counseling, at times, parents with young children, but above all, expounding and preaching from many passages of Scripture about the calling of parents to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. It is my hope that these experiences will equip me to pass along instruction to young families who are immersed in the training of their little children.
In the last two articles we answered three general questions. First, when ought we to begin the nurturing of our children? Second, who are these little children we are called to nurture? Finally, whose calling is it to nurture them? With this article we begin to address the methods of nurturing our preschool children.
There is a danger we must avoid when teaching methods. The pitfall of many who teach methods is to write a handbook of exactly what to do in various situations that may arise in the life of our children. There are certain rules and regulations to follow given the circumstances. The problem with this is that circumstances will vary from one family to the next and from one child to the next. To give advice on what to do in all the particulars results in a mechanical method of nurturing our children. This must be avoided. Advice of this sort is most often tossed aside when we find it does not work. God’s people are called to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. That applies to this area of life too. Believing parents must struggle with the nitty gritty of everyday life in the home.
But there are several methods that are a given in the care of our children at every age, and now we may apply these to our little children.
The most effective way of nurturing our little children in the fear of God is by means of our example as parents. This is biblical. Paul writes a short but telling exhortation to the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 5:1, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” The term “followers” in this verse literally means “imitators” or “mimickers” of God. He then adds, “as dear children.” The idea is that little children are imitators of their parents. We as God’s dear children must therefore be imitators of God. Children mimic or imitate their mother and father. They follow after the example left them.
Little children love their parents. They not only love good parents but they love bad parents too. To them, their parents can do no wrong. A father may beat his little son until he is black and blue, but that little child will love his father, as afraid of him as he might be. The son will believe that he deserved what he received from dad. He loves his dad. A mother may lash out at her little daughter slapping her and screaming at her for every little infraction committed, but that little girl will love her mother. Again, she is convinced that she deserved what she received from mom. Now, all of this may change when a child grows up. Love may turn into hate. But when children are young they truly desire to be just like mom and dad.
The Pelagians err when they assert that sin proceeds only from imitation. Scriptures clearly teach that children inherit their depraved nature from their parents. It is true, however, that when parents walk in the way of sin, except by God’s grace, the children are prone to imitate the sins of their parents and follow in them as well. In fact, usually the next generation will carry sin one step further than their parents. For example, if parents decide sporadic church attendance is acceptable, more than likely—again, except for the work of God’s grace in the hearts of their children—their children will see little need for church at all.
On the other hand, if parents walk in the way of godliness, this too will have an effect on the way their children walk. For that reason, parents must be deeply conscious of what they are teaching their little children by way of example. To use the illustration above, by faithful church attendance children learn from their parents the importance of church. Yet, this is a small part of the training children receive by the example of their parents. The larger share takes place in the home itself. When in public among God’s saints, we are on our best behavior. But when behind the closed doors of our homes where there is no urgency to impress others, our life is different. This is natural. Parents must remember that their example in the home will shape and mold the actions, not only, but the way our children perceive the world around them and therefore the way they think. When parents care little for the things of God’s kingdom but spend their time outside of church only in earthly pursuits, their impressionable, little children are learning from them. When husbands and wives communicate with each other together showing an interest in spiritual matters, their little children are learning from them.
When fathers reveal improper behavior towards their wives, such as constantly cutting them down by snide remarks and insensitive criticisms, their children are learning from them. When fathers sit in front of the television all night or play on their cell phone virtually ignoring the family except to give out an occasional shout at the children for being too noisy, their sons are watching and believe that when they grow up they may act the same way. A mean father often produces mean sons. On the contrary, a loving father who shows attention to his wife and her needs, speaking words of encouragement to her, showing her affection in the home, helping her even when she does not ask for help, is teaching his sons what they too must do to love their wives when they marry. Such fathers are teaching their daughters what they must look for in a husband.
Now, there may be fathers who are thinking, “What is this guy trying to teach, that we ought not to be men? Being a man implies rough and tough. It implies pursuing our own interests! The family must center in me!” These fathers must be reminded of two commandments of Scripture. One is in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” The second Paul gives in Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Do I need to explain what is involved in loving your wife? Do I need to explain what it means not to provoke your children to wrath?
The point is, when fathers deal with their family in this way, they are teaching by means of their example their young impressionable sons and daughters what they will become when they grow up. Think of that, fathers, the next time you do something in your home with your little children around you. They are watching you! What are you teaching them by your actions and words?
When mothers are kind and gentle, looking well to the ways of their household, when they are of a meek and a quiet spirit, giving of themselves to their family, such mothers are teaching their daughters by their example. On the other hand, when little children witness mother arguing heatedly with father, undermining his authority in the home, this too has an effect on the impressionable hearts of little daughters. When mothers are sharp and critical of their daughters, seldom encouraging them in their seemingly insignificant play, daughters will grow up acting the same way. Little girls are learning. If you want to witness what they are learning, mothers, just observe your little girl’s treatment of her dolls when she is at play.
What also falls into the category of example is this: when we as parents wish to be alone or get something done, we give our children to the ‘babysitter.’ I am not referring here to one we might hire for an evening to watch the kids while we are gone. I am referring to the television set. Let’s face it, when the children are underfoot and we are at wit’s end with their incessant squabbling, the easiest thing to do is put them in front of the television to watch cartoons or some animated feature. When we do, suddenly all is quiet! Ah! Now I can read my book! Now I can get something done in the kitchen! Now we as father and mother can visit quietly for a time! Listen! The kids are actually giggling together over something they are watching! They are discussing the movie together! Wow! This is wonderful! The ‘babysitter’ is doing such a good job of taking care of the kids! Sound familiar? When they get home from school, we let them watch TV. They hurry to finish their homework to be rewarded by watching TV. Sad to say, some parents even skip family devotions in order that the family can gather around the television rather than the table while they eat.
We forget as parents that in the place of our example we are allowing our children to learn from the example of the wicked world. They are taught the godless lifestyle of the world—vanity, permissiveness, feminism, swearing, the innate power of man to do what he wants, lawlessness (as in the Disney film “Frozen”—“It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free.”), and the list goes on. It is frightening to consider the godless example of the ‘babysitter’ that is teaching our small children. The media is antichristian even in its ‘innocent’ cartoons. Perhaps we need to reexamine what example we leave as parents by allowing our children to follow the example of the world around us. Perhaps we need to look for another ‘babysitter,’ such as a good book, playing in the backyard, crafts, or constructive toys. Certainly, we as parents must be the example our children follow and not that of the media. The very holiness of our children and of the future church is at stake.
If there is anything that plagues the church today, it is a lack of godliness. This stems from the home. This is why we ask: What kind of an atmosphere do we establish as parents in the home? Is it one in which we as husbands and wives converse together about spiritual goals and desires? Do we sing the songs of Zion? Will our children learn to pray by seeing us in prayer? Life in the home is so important because there our little children watch and follow after their parents—whether that be our good habits or bad. Our example is perhaps the most important “method” of nurturing our preschool children in order to mold them for their lives in this world.
We end on this note: parents must by their example reveal to their children what sin is and the need for the cross of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished in part when our children see that we as parents confess our sins and daily look to the cross. Our children will see in us a life of thankfulness in the way we live in the home and church. They will see in us the fear of God, and they by God’s work of grace in their hearts will seek to walk in that same fear.
In our next article we will examine a second important method of nurturing our preschool children, that of discipline.