The Mystery of Child Training: Where to begin?

“A wise woman builds her house, and a foolish woman with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14: 1

Cole Thomas: Home in the Woods

Often, in my conferences, I have said, “In order to build a house, you must have an architectural plan or the house will not stand. There are many ways to build a home and many kinds of homes.”

“One can build a small shack or a grand estate, but all begins with a plan. It all depends on how big your vision for your plan is–you can build generations of legacy or a small sphere of influence because of having no imagination or Biblical plan in place. ”

As I meet women all over the world who have broken hearts about the ways their children have left the Lord and walked away from their values, often times I find that they never had a plan–they just let their families happen. I have also so often heard, “I just followed what I was told or what I read and too late I realized that the formula I was following didn’t work.”

None of us is perfect and so we will never have a perfect plan, but we must have one in place and expand and build on it! There are several foundational principles that Clay and I followed.

1. God designed the family and children and he called them a blessing–so he must have something in mind. Starting out with scripture, reading Genesis 1, pondering how God Fathers us, observing how he influenced His disciples, –these principles giveus a starting place. God is relational and loving and provides and pursues and protects and wants to communicate.  And so I pattern my life after His. In order to build a Biblical home, and not just something built on the advice of contemporary or “Christian” dogma,  must determine to be women of the word and a student of Christ, who is the exact representation of God, according to Hebrews 1. I have gotten so much mileage in my life out of hours in the word observing His ways with his own disciples.

2. We are building generations–a legacy of messages, values, traditions, convictions. Parenting is not primarily focussed on behavioral goals, but on heart values and messages–those purposes that inspire, capture a child’s imagination, give those in the family a sense of belonging and hope. (God has called the Clarksons to say, “In our lifetime, how can we love God and then pass on His kingdom messages to the world. I wonder how God is going to use your personality and gifts to touch many people in this world in ways that no one else will be able to do.” Purpose and focus on heart messages is a part of the grid that I work from every day.

3. We must have in mind what it is we are building. Clay and I partnered together to come up with values, truths, habits that we wanted to become the very core of our children’s direction book on how to live life well. The picture of the Holy Spirit comes to mind. Jesus said, “I will send you a helper and he will guide you into all truth.” We are like that with our children and as Christ was with his disciples. We are a helper who will guide them into truth.

Our 24 Family Ways is a devotional that Clay wrote for our family that would be our discipleship tool for building a plan of how we wanted our children to live life–to train them what was true, what was expected and how to practice living within the guidelines of the Clarksons. We wanted our children to know how to honor us and God; to know how to practice loving others in word and deed; to know how to cultivate strong work habits and attitudes about all of these and many other things. We attached each “way” to scripture, gave our children memory verses, and went over our ways again and again over the years so that these truths would be deep in their hearts. (you can order 24 Ways by putting your curser on the picture or going here)

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” All day long the grid I worked from was through the lens of our ways. For instance,  when a toddler was about to hit another, I would pick them up, hold the hand and say very seriously, “We never, never use our hands to express hate or anger, remember our way, “We treat others with kindness, gentleness and respect.”

If a child was older and mouthed off, I would say the same “way”, and require them to apologize or write a note to the offended person, or write out the memory verse however many times I thought would be appropriate. Our ways became an objective grid for training and building expectations in our children’s soul for Biblical ideals.

Training is constant instruction, interference with immature and inappropriate behavior, consequences of some sort, and modeling or requiring a correction of that behavior, with constant attention to the relationship. (An extravert needs time to talk and talk and to be active; and introvert needs time alone or time alone with you; a little wiggly boy needs to be understood as one who God gave testosterone to so that he could protect his family some day, a young teen girl needs grace with her hormones, –and so do boys, by the way) and so on. Love, serving, encouragement, and requiring honor in relationships was always the foundation for all child training–seeing that like the Holy Spirit in my own life, I was coming along side them, helping them, encouraging them in the path of righteousness in their own lives as one of my primary roles as a mom.

“No, not that way, but this is the true way.” over and over and over again, gently, lovingly, firmly, consistently. Always be ready to praise for good choices and say, “You are growing so strong inside, and I see you making such wise choices.”

Also, remember will training, Will training is what we see in Deuteronomy–”See that I have set before you life and prosperity or death and adversity, so choose yourselves today, what you will do.”

We do not want to control our children because we are bigger and louder and can create havoc in their souls with our anger. Instead, we want to train them and motivate them, but to help them to understand early that they have the capacity to decide how to behave. If they respond to our wills and desires, with our encouragement, then they will be blessed. If they do not respond, then they are choosing to be disciplined in some way–they have a choice to make. This way, we honor their own ability to choose to be wise and we train them that choices have consequences. I cannot make you strong–only you can decide how strong and how excellent you want to become. But I believe God has created you to be a wise or strong or valiant (fill in the blank) person, and I can’t wait to see His plan for you. So, I am hoping that you will choose to obey mommy, so that you can be blessed and happy.”

Children who are controlled by anger or spanking may learn to obey when their parents are present, but they will rebel when their parents are not there.

Children who learn to use self-discipline and develop a sense of their own worth and strength and understand how to take ownership for their lives, will obey and be strong because they desire to build their own character.

Always more to be said, but these are some starters for building a plan and following the plan. I spoke these things even to my toddlers and babies when I was carrying them around my home, and talked and talked to all of my children about truth, God, love, our ways, all day long. Now they all joke about the mantras they remember me saying over and over again. They have all joked that whenever they are far away from me in another state, they still hear my voice in their heads.

Off to my day. Blessings!

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  1. says

    I’m beginning Clay’s book today–I’m still reading Ministry of Motherhood and devouring the bible daily–I feel like a sponge soaking it all in and my eyes are being opened more and more to my role as mother and wife–my ultimate goal for my kids has shifted in the process and I’m so thankful for the resources, the Word, and your advice and mentoring ways. Thank you.

  2. says

    I love the concept of “the ways.” I have encouraged parents to come up with their principles and values and to be able to articulate them in a phrase short enough to put on a coffee mug! Those quick words of wisdom can really take root in our children (and grandchildren’s) lives. Hope you’ll check out to see how we are encouraging grandparents to be part of this process. Our Grandparent’s Guide will be out in mid-August.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this today…even as my toddlers have been hitting each other, and yelling ugly things, and destroying the house, and I’m crying to my husband “what do I do with them?!?”.

    You’re writings are such an encouragement to me and I feel like they’ve been the only voice in my life that’s holding out grace and hope and real help for me as a mother. Thank you for encouraging me that this is a process of continual training, that I need to be firm in my expectations of them, yet give them grace and come along side them in training them, that I don’t need to just “spank it out of them” but find ways to inspire them to make good choices for themselves. That the real issue is not behavior, but their hearts.

    I read almost ever article that you post on facebook…they keep me going on rough days! Thank you Sally!

  4. says

    Every time I read your mama posts, my heart melts with confirmation of exactly what God is speaking to me about how to parent my sweet girl. Thank you, for being HIS vessel of such grace and gentleness and wisdom. My husband is a children’s pastor and I have been using so many of your books and posts as references for so many parents! God is using you to change little (and big) lives. :)

  5. Cyndy says

    I was dealing harshly with my kids yesterday and I really needed this today. Sometimes in the midst of the arguing and fighting, I lose track of the ultimate goal in an effort just to get them to stop. I am so thankful for your words of encouragement. Wish I’d found your writings earlier. I have some serious work ahead of me. I’m so glad the Lord has been patient with me… I need to do the same with my children. :)

  6. erika says

    Another great post, thanks for this! As a mother of two toddlers, I appreciate your continual reminders that being harsh is NOT the answer, but instead gently walking them in the path of truth. Thanks again!

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