I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.
Love should be the golden thread that runs through all your actions in dealing with the child. Kindness, gentleness, tolerance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys—these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily—these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.
Most persons, even among grown-up people, are more easily led than they are to be pushed. There is that in all of our minds which rises up against compulsion; we straighten up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very thought of a forced obedience. We are like young horses in the hand of a trainer: handle them kindly, and they will learn quickly, and in time you may guide them with a piece of thread; but treat them and use them roughly and violently, and it will be many months before you get mastery over them—if at all.
Now children’s minds are cast in much the same mold as our own. Sternness and severity of manner causes them to be unresponsive and to back away. It shuts up their hearts, and you will wear yourself out trying to find the door. But only let them see that you have an affectionate feeling towards them—that you really desire to make them happy, and do them good—that if you punish them, it is intended for their good, and that, like the pelican, you would give your heart’s blood to nourish their souls; let them see this, and they will soon be yours to mold and shape. But they must be wooed with kindness, if you ever hope to win their attention.
And surely reason itself might teach us this lesson. Children are weak and tender creatures, and, as such, they need patient and considerate treatment. We must handle them delicately, like frail objects, lest by rough handling we do more harm than good. They are like young plants, and need gentle watering—often, only a little at a time.
We must not expect everything at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal—not to be forged and made useful all at once, but only after a succession of little blows of the forger’s hammer. Their ability to understand what we are teaching them is like the small opening of a wine bottle: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or else most of it will be spilled and lost. Our rule must be, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, a little here and a little there.” The hard stone used to sharpen knives does its work slowly, but frequent rubbing will bring it to a fine edge. Truly there is a need of patience in this training of a child, for without it nothing can be done.
Nothing will compensate for the absence of this tenderness and love. A minister may speak the truth as it is in Jesus, clearly and with all authority; but if he does not speak it in love, few souls will be won. Likewise, you must set before your children their responsibilities to God—you can command, threaten, punish, and try to reason with them—but if love is missing in the way you treat them, then your labor will be all in vain.
Love is the one great secret of successful training. Anger and harshness may frighten them, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he often sees you angry and harsh, you will soon cease to have his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan, saying. “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?” [1 Samuel 20:30], that father who speaks like this cannot expect to retain his influence over that son’s mind.
Try hard to maintain your child’s affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything is almost better than the coldness and bitterness that will come between you and your children, because they are afraid of you. Fear puts an end to openness between the parent and child—fear leads to concealment—fear sows the seed of hypocrisy, and leads to many lies. There is a great deal of truth in the Apostle’s words to the Colossians: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. [Colossians 3:21] Do not ignore his advice.