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How to Train Up a Child

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Who’s in Charge?

It’s after 10pm and you are exhausted. You’ve not had any time alone or even time with your spouse. Your child is still up, running around. This may be fine if he or she is sixteen, but it’s not fine if the child is six and their bedtime passed two hours before. If this happens once, it’s a part of life, but if this is the norm, it’s clear, your child is in charge.

Several years ago, I was in the middle of a large crowded grocery store when I heard a mom and child bantering loudly back and forth. The girl was about 12-years-old and wanted her mom to buy her something. The mom said “No!” Once I understood what the commotion was about, I said to my son, “Let’s go watch; I bet the daughter wins.” By the time we were within view of the situation, we could see the mom and daughter in a full-blown argument. “I want it!” “You can’t have it.” “I want it! “I am not buying it!” This went on for at least another minute. Finally, the mom gave in saying, “Fine, I’ll buy it, but next time, you are not getting anything!” The child was instantly happy, she had won again and her authority had grown stronger. It was obvious, based on the exchange of words, that this was not the first episode. The child was firmly in charge of the relationship.

Pick Your Battles

My wife and I had a basic philosophy when it came to our eight young kids. We would say “yes” as often as possible, knowing we would have to say “no” way more than we said “yes.” However, when we said “no,” we did not mean maybe; we did not mean challenge me and I will give in. Usually, if we said “no,” we meant no. Jesus said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No…’”[1] If you are the parent of small children, let me encourage you to pick your battles wisely. For my wife and I, it was not a big deal if the kids didn’t finish their vegetables. It was not a battle we wanted to take on. However, if for example, I told my six-year-old son to go to bed and he refused out of defiance, then I had a battle to win. The Bible tells us, “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away.” [2] Small children tend to act out in rebellion, deceit and selfishness, testing the boundaries the parents have established. Consistently win the battles when they are very young and you will not have near as many challenges when they are teenagers.

[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 5:37. [2] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Pr 22:15.

Be Consistent

Consistency in child training is critical. If it is wrong one time, it has to be wrong every time. Jumping on the furniture cannot be funny one day and wrong the next. It cannot be right with one parent and wrong with the other. Punishment will not encumber your child if it is evenly applied. Consistency is crucial. It gives children the freedom to clearly understand their boundaries and brings a sense of peace and safety to them. They are free to have fun and explore within the established boundaries, but when they go outside those boundaries, they know punishment is imminent. However, inconsistent discipline is confusing to children, leaving them distrustful of you, themselves and the world around them.

Put Off and Put On

The Bible tells us, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[1] As Christian parents, it is our job to help our children put off deceitful, rebellious and selfish ways and to put on the ways of Christ. It is not enough to simply correct a child; they must be redirected toward that which is good. This starts when the child is less than two years old. For example, when the 18-month-old is going for the TV remote, direct them away from the device and toward their toys, or something else that interests them. Train them in this way, and when they are older they will have learned to turn away from temptation and toward the good. Ultimately, your desire is for your children to turn away from evil and toward Christ. It is much easier if they learn this life lesson at a very early age.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 4:21–24.

Spanking or No Spanking?

No matter what form of punishment you choose, consistency is crucial. That said, there is a reason the Bible advocates spanking. This does not mean beating, abusing or taking out anger on your child. The body and heart are intricately connected. Remember, foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child and it is the job of the parent to replace foolishness with wisdom through a controlled and loving swat on the bottom or hand. Hitting a child on the face or head is never appropriate. The objective is to remove the foolishness, which shows up in selfishness, deceit and rebellion. Small, yet consistent amounts of corporal punishment up to around eight years of age will most likely prevent out-of-control selfishness, deceit and rebellion through the teen years and beyond.

It is important that both parents are in full agreement regarding the form and severity of the punishment. In addition, each parent must be willing to submit and be held accountable to one another when it comes to disciplining the children. Just like our government was designed with checks and balances, it’s important each parent is watching to ensure the other keeps the discipline on a level that consistently remains within the predetermined boundaries. Remember, the idea is not to harm the child in any way. The idea is to bring correction so the child desires conformity to the ways of Christ.

Train Up a Child

The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”[1] Simply stated, train up does not mean tear down. So many parents have turned into yelling machines when it comes to their kids. Children are smart. They quickly learn the tone of your voice, which indicates when you are really serious. If that tone involves yelling, the child will pay no attention until you reach a certain tone. You have, in fact, trained the child to wait for a tone that indicates major irritation. However, if you train the child that a normal tone of voice is serious, you will save yourself and your child a lot of frustration.

[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Pr 22:6.

Whatever You Focus on is What You See

I stood in horror as I watched a dad openly call his son worthless. A few people listening attempted to stand up for the child and correct the parent in a nice way. The dad doubled down on his position. I suspect this child lived up to his dad’s expectation. Philippians tells us, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”[1] If you focus on the negative in your child, you will see the negative. However, if you focus on the positive, then you will begin to see the positive. Watch for the opportunity to catch your children doing right things and give them some affirmation. This will do you both some good.

[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Php 4:8.

Made in God’s Image

God has entrusted you, the parent, with eternal souls, created in the image of God. We call them children. Genesis tells us, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[1] Your children were created in the image of God. They have eternal souls. No matter the limitations, they have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Parents are called to value their children like the most precious and valuable commodity they will ever possess, because that is what they are. Our position is to train them up and launch them out into the world reflecting the true image of God. We fail as parents if we allow our children to grow up without proper training. This would be like allowing a garden to grow up without watering, feeding or weeding. We fail as a parent if we have not taught them in the way they should go and value them every step of the way. This means valuing and loving them even when they do not get it right.

[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ge 1:27.

Speak Life

Proverbs tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”[1] I would rather eat from the fruit of life over the fruit of death. We can choose which words we will speak into the lives of our children and we will eat the fruit thereof. If you choose to speak life into them, you will later eat the fruit of life. If you choose to speak death into them, you will later eat the fruit of death. Affirm who they are, not in their own strength or in their own esteem, but help them to see they are valued, loved and can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.

[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Pr 18:21.

Pray for your Children

Debbie and I have eight adult children. We were not perfect parents. If you do not believe us, just ask our kids. Conversely, the best thing we ever did for our kids was to bathe them in prayer. From before birth to present, we have prayed for them every step of the way. We prayed for their salvation, safety, direction and even their future spouses. When they faced challenges or began going in the wrong direction, we stepped it up a notch and battled for them in prayer. Because the enemy is out to kill, steal and destroy, we wrestle against principalities and powers of darkness even within the family. Now that all of our children are adults, we continue to pray for them, their spouses and their children. We honestly believe that prayer made the difference in our children’s lives. Today, many of them serve in the ministry in some capacity. We are proud of them all and the choices they are making.

Above all else, invest in your child through prayer. You will not always get it right as a parent and the child won’t always get it right either, but prayer will make the rough road smoother and the path of peaks and valleys, one of peace. Make your kids a priority through prayer.

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