Building Your Child’s Character From the Inside Out (Part 5)


By Don Ruhl

Why does anyone succeed at life? Someone trained him or her. Watch any child grow up and succeed at life. It did not happen by accident. In some cases, it happened in spite one’s parents. However, in the majority of cases, the parents and others trained those children. Knowing of the benefit of training, those children later sought more training.

What Jesus said, found in Luke 6, of the disciple and the teacher rings true with the child and the parents. Parents who remember this truth and implement it have children who succeed at life, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40).

The most successful people in the world in any field had people who trained them. Look at the example from what Jesus said. He took twelve men and trained them. Their success no one doubts.

Proverbs 29 reveals that untrained children bring shame to their parents. Solomon did not mean so much that the parents in this case tried and their children resisted, but the parent did not try and those observing know that lack of parental training caused the problem. Therefore, it shamed the parents, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Pr. 29:15).

That being true, listen to the wisdom of Solomon further.

Proverbs 22:6 

Solomon also wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Pr. 22:6).

Many controversies and interpretations surround this verse. The controversies center on the promised result of the second half of the verse, but the point of this verse is train your children, which is the exhortation of the first half. By concentrating on the second half we may miss doing the first half. Concentrating on the first half, we discover that Solomon revealed a method of that training.

Sometimes parents forget that they arrived at adulthood by training and experience. The Bible reminds us to train our children. Common sense and observation tell us that untrained children are  like wild animals without respect for other people, destructive of much of what they touch, and disruptive of the peace. For example, we cannot let our children be devils at home and expect them to be angels in public.

The Method of Training 

We train someone according to his way, like training a vine. We train a vine on a trellis or pole according its nature. We train it in the right direction, because it does not know the most productive way to go, and it is not strong enough to support itself, unless it’s tendrils are directed to something which it can grasp, keeping itself off the ground where it would be trampled. Weaker plants need more care, but stronger ones more pruning. Some vines wind round a pole clockwise and some counterclockwise and each cannot be forced to go the other direction, against its nature. Plants are easier to train while green, and when old keep their shape. Children are no different.

Likewise, each child has his own nature, character, interests, tolerances, skills, etc. For example, when Pop Warner (A successful college football coach of the late 19th and early 20th centuries), tried to train Indian athletes to do calisthenics, they seemed lazy, but when he gave them a bag and told them to catch rabbits, the Indians excelled. One of them was Jim Thorpe (One of America’s greatest athletes).

Use the Book of Proverbs. The Book of Proverbs supplies parents with material for building their child’s character from the inside out. Use the Book of Proverbs by applying certain maxims from the Book to a specific problem. Find the right verses by meditating on one chapter for each day of the month and looking for the passages that address the point of character under consideration. Write those passages down. Think on them. Think on how you can use them with your child. Practice it for yourself first, then learn how to do it for your children. For example, children must develop self-control and self-discipline. In your reading, you will come across Proverb 25:28, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Pr. 25:28).

Paint a mental picture or tell a story of a ruined city with broken down walls, or have your young child draw a picture on a piece of paper. Help them to see how lack of self-control is like that city, open to danger. Then help them to memorize the Scripture, and one important step in building his character has been taken by helping him to lay up the word in his heart (Ps. 119:11).

Forming Good Habits Enhances Training 

Practice makes perfect. Practicing good, and giving direction in doing it repeatedly forms good habits, from which the child will not depart. A major objective of Christianity is throwing off bad habits and acquiring good habits (Ep. 4:17–32). Part of training our children in the way they should go is helping them to engage in doing good often enough that it becomes instinctive. It is lack of a regular activity that frustrates a child. When he is made to do good, like a child who rarely does math or drawing, he says, “See, I can’t do it!” Therefore, be consistent in all that you do.

Preventing Evil Influences Enhances Training 

Allowing evil influences can ruin all training. If a coach trains his athlete well, but allows him to take illegal drugs, the coach will lose an athlete. The coach’s efforts will have been in vain. A gardener who ignores aphids will soon have a ruined plant. All the time the gardener spent preparing the garden was wasted.

In the say way, Solomon likened child-rearing to vine-training, some evil can be prevented or delayed the same way a gardener can prevent weeds, which are evil influences. Gardeners use mulch to prevent many problems. To mulch, you lay down an organic layer on the surrounding ground, partly to prevent weed growth. I use grass clippings and no weeds get through. Likewise, lay down spiritual mulch to hinder the weeds of evil. Limit the exposure to evil (Lk. 8:7, 14; 1Co. 15:33). Saturate with Scripture (Ja. 1:21; Mt. 12:33–35). Cover with love (Pr. 10:12; 1Co. 13:4–7; 1Pe. 4:8). Pray without ceasing (1Th. 5:17).

Providing Opportunities to Gain Experience Enhances Training 

A parent teaches his child certain principles and cements those principles through experience, which gives a feel for what the parent has been teaching. You can explain the workings of a car, but then the student must feel or experience the power of the engine, brakes, and steering. So, we have to teach first, then allow guided experience. Allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. Hebrews 5 makes this very point. The writer used what we should know automatically in the realm of parenting, to apply it to matters in the church, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (He. 5:13, 14).

Giving Correction Enhances Training 

Every soldier, every athlete, even every plant, needs correction, lest a bad habit develops that hinders success, and children are the same way. Punishment is done not so much to the child as for the child, helping him to see the best way to go. Punishment cannot be an excuse for a parent to be angry, nor a ploy to demonstrate dominance. In the Book of Proverbs the Holy Spirit explains the proper attitude and the proper hand in correcting our children. We correct out of love for the child and his welfare. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Pr. 3:11, 12). “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” (Pr. 23:13, 14).

However, the Bible warns against overdoing correction or using it incorrectly and thus producing the opposite of the desired effect, “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Pr. 19:18). “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ep. 6:4). “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Co. 3:21). We discourage, provoke to wrath, and destroy our children when:

  • We punish out of frustration or irritation
  • We give no other guidance
  • Our expectations are too high (parents often forget their own years of experience)
  • We lack love
  • We give no approval at other times
  • We correct half-heartedly
  • We are inconsistent
  • We delay to punish as we promised (Ec. 8:11)

Providing an Environment of Love Enhances Training 

A healthy and productive vine has all the conditions favorable to it: Good weather, plenty of water, nourishing soil, and gentleness.

Do not all people do well in conditions favorable to their growth? What is more favorable than love? True, we sometimes respond better to the sharp rebuke, but overall, we want love. To receive love, we have to give love.

Ephesians 4:16 says the body of Christ grows in love. Are children different? To what did you respond when you were a child? If your parents did not love you, do you wish that they had? Do you not hunger for love? Do your children hunger for your love? What will happen if your love for them increases? Remember how the love of God helped you grow and seek to build your child in the same atmosphere. It is up to you. No else can make your home a home of love.

For this whole series I want to remind you of the words of a song. I got these lyrics from a web site by Sandy Chapin, set up to honor her dead husband, Harry. She prompted the writing of this song by things she said to her husband. She even wrote some of the words, but he completed it.

“The Cat’s In The Cradle” By Sandy and Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?”
“I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do.”
He said, “That’s ok.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
He said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?”
“I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you.
Can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later.
Can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?”
“I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?”
“I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Learn to spend time with God, and you shall learn to spend time with your children. Be the best parent by first being a son or daughter of God. We rear our children by the example we have had. If God is your Father, you have an infallible guide who has all the answers.


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