Of all the biblical promises on Parenting, the most familiar is found in Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV), “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” What surprises me, however, is how many parents sincerely believe they understand this oft-quoted verse—but don’t.
In this passage, God is not teaching that there is only one ironclad “way” to train all children at all times … and that all parents who adhere to this “way” are guaranteed perfect sons and daughters who never stray. The point of parenting is not to cultivate uniform perfection. “Train up a child in the way he should go” refers to understanding the unique way, the individuality, the natural bent of each child … and to encourage the growth and spirituality of your children based on their individual makeup.
Quite literally, think of parenting as being on a divine treasure hunt—as searching for the unique gifts, the individual strengths God has sovereignly hardwired into each child. Once you expose children to a variety of situations, then you watch closely to discover their natural interests and abilities. At this point, your challenge is to help them develop the character and confidence they will need to reach their full potential. That’s the job of parents, grandparents, and teachers everywhere.
Training up children is clearly a creative calling for my 40-year-old niece Kathryn—mother of five, who has the most well-behaved kids I’ve ever seen. As a committed Christian with a Ph.D. in philosophy, Kathryn homeschools her young “chicks”—ranging in age from 2 to 11.
When Kathryn and her husband, Ron, are out with their kids, it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to approach them, commenting on how respectful, how kind, and how mannerly the children are.
While working on my forthcoming book, Bonding with Your Child through Boundaries, I recently talked with Kathryn in great detail about her parenting practices. As she described the many ways she and Ron carefully cultivate a “love of obedience” in their children, I was reminded of why all five are so exceptional: They are the product of exceptional parenting.
Among the many effective tools in their parenting tool belt, Kathryn showed me their large visual called the “Virtue Flower,” created to build character and to reward good behavior. I asked her to share a photo of an actual flower in progress and explain what it is and how it works. Here’s what she told me….
The flowers, located on their kitchen wall, started as a fun art project. She bought large, colorful sheets of construction paper and then directed her kids to glue on the sheets paper flower stems and circles (representing the centers of the flowers). Next, they cut out petals—a different color for each child. For both tasks, the older children helped the younger ones.
To explain the concept of virtue, Kathryn used herself as an example. She asked her children, seated in a circle around the dining table, “Tell me the types of things you see me doing well almost all the time. Not things like cooking or solving a math problem, but things that explain who I am as a person.” One by one, the children began calling out answers:
“You hug me when I’m sad.”
“When I’m sorry for doing something wrong, you forgive me.”
“You let us get a puppy, and help take care of him.”
Kathryn offered a word describing each of these behaviors in terms of a specific virtue. Compassionate … forgiving … helpful, and so on.
Then the children took turns naming virtues they observed in their siblings. Kathryn recalls, “It was so gratifying to watch them come up with positive traits all on their own. They are learning to appreciate and praise other family members”:
“She helps me clean my part of the room.”
“She wakes up in a good mood.”
“He lets me play with his toys….”
And on it went. As virtues were named for each child, each trait was written on a separate petal and was glued to encircle the center of the child’s flower.
Then came the time to brainstorm what each family member needed to work on to become more like Jesus. “As you’d expect, the kids were very clear about areas where the others needed improvement!” It seems patience … obedience … truth-telling … follow-through … and other virtues filled the list.
Every item in the “needs work” category was also written on a paper petal. But instead of being glued around the center of the flowers, the petals are taped on the Virtue Flower’s stem. Kathryn explains, “Over the weeks and months, as each child more and more demonstrates the trait listed on the petals, we move the petals higher on the flower. Take the virtue of gentleness, for example. If one child isn’t particularly gentle but begins to demonstrate gentleness, we move the ‘gentleness’ petal up the stem each time we see this trait in action. Once gentleness becomes an ingrained character trait, it gets glued onto the flower. Whenever we break out the glue in our home, it’s time for a big family party!”
So … how can this apply to your life (or to someone you love)? Begin by praying about the Lord’s leading you to share with others the idea of Kathryn’s creative “Virtue Flower.”
Finding ways to parent positively is limited only by our imagination and each child’s individual God-given bent … “the way he should go.” Ultimately, you need to ask the Lord for daily wisdom regarding what will work best in your home … for your child. Cling to His great and precious promises for parents, remembering always, “… he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).
At Hope For The Heart, our desire is to nurture strong families. We are privileged to provide biblical hope and practical help for every family relationship and dynamic. Solutions are offered through:
- including my book Bonding with Your Teen through Boundaries
- Daily radio broadcasts—Hope For The Heart and Hope In The Night
- The monthly Biblical Counseling Institute—9 hours of teaching per topic … free!
- A biblically-trained team of Hope Care Representatives at our Hope Care Center— 1-800-488-HOPE (4673), standing by for your calls
- Biblical Counseling Keys on 100 topics … a 47-topic audio CD/booklet series, and so much more.
This ministry would not be possible without the prayers and financial support of faithful friends like you. As a nonprofit, donation-based ministry, Hope For The Heart relies on the generosity of Christians committed to strengthening families, promoting values, and transforming lives through the power of God’s Word.
If you have a heart for helping families flourish, I invite you to partner with us this month. Together, let’s nurture families in your community … and around the world. God’s Word says, “Encourage one another and build each other up …” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Yours in the Lord’s hope,
P.P.S. As I work on my newest parenting book, Bonding with Your Child through Boundaries (scheduled for 2014 release from Crossway), I’d love to hear from you! How have you used rewards and repercussions to train your children (ages 2–12)? How have you used loving boundaries to shape their character? Share your thoughts above and learn from others. You’ll may also download our Quick Reference Guide on Parenting and listen to my audio clip on helping children soar.
If you’re on Facebook, I invite you to connect with me at www.Facebook.com/June.Hunt.Hope. And if you’re not, take it from me: You’re never too old to start! See you there!