As you train your children, make sure that you maintain a constant fear of being an over-indulgent parent.
This is the one point out of all the rest on which you have the most need to be on your guard. It is natural to be tender and affectionate towards your own flesh and blood, and it is the excess of this very tenderness and affection which you have to fear. Be careful that it does not make you blind to your children’s faults, and deaf to all the advice that I am giving to you. Be careful that your love for them does not make you overlook their bad conduct, rather than you experiencing the pain of inflicting punishment and correction.
I am very aware that punishment and correction are disagreeable things. Nothing is more unpleasant than giving pain to those we love, and causing them to cry. But so long as hearts are what hearts are, it is vain to suppose, as a general rule, that children can ever be brought up without correction.
Spoiling is a very expressive word, and sadly full of meaning. Now the quickest way to spoil children is to let them have their own way—to allow them to do wrong and not to punish them for it. Believe me, you must not do this, whatever pain it may cost you unless you wish to ruin your children’s souls.
You cannot say that Scripture does not specifically speak on this subject, listen to God’s Holy Word:
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” [Proverbs 13:24]
“Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” [Proverbs 19:18]
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” [Proverbs 22:15]
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” [Proverbs 23:13, 14]
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” [Proverbs 29:15]
“Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” [Proverbs 29:17]
Oh, how strong and compelling are these verses! How sad it is, that in many Christian families they seem almost unknown! Their children need reproof, but it is hardly ever given; they need correction, but it is hardly ever employed. And yet this book of Proverbs is not obsolete and unfit for Christians. It is given by the inspiration of God, and is beneficial. It is given for our learning, even as the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians. Surely the believer who brings up his children without paying attention to the wisdom of these verses is making himself wise above that which is written, and greatly errs.
Fathers and mothers, I tell you plainly, if you never punish your children when they are at fault, you are doing them a grievous wrong. I warn you, this is the great mistake made by saints of God, in every age, and they have suffered greatly because of it. I beg you to be wise, and avoid making such foolish mistakes. We can see it in Eli’s case. His sons Hophni and Phinehas “made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” [1 Samuel 3:13] He gave them no more than a tame and lukewarm reproof, when he ought to have rebuked them sharply. In one word, he honored his sons above God. And what was the final result? Eli lived to hear of the death of both of his sons in battle, and upon hearing the news he fell over and died, taking the sorrow with him, down to the grave [1 Samuel 2:22-29].
See, also, the case of David. Who can read without pain the history of his children, and their sins? Amnon’s incest—Absalom’s murder and proud rebellion—Adonijah’s scheming ambition: truly these were grievous wounds for the man after God’s own heart to receive from his own house. But was he not at fault? I fear there can be no doubt that he was. I find a clue to it all in the account of Adonijah in 1 Kings 1:6, listen to the Scriptures, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” That was the foundation of all the evil. David was an over-indulgent father—a father who let his children have their own way—and he reaped according to what he had sown.
Parents, I plead with you, for your children’s sake, beware of over-indulgence. I call on you to remember, that it is your primary duty to consult their real interests, and not their whims and fantasies—to train them, not to humor them—to train them for their benefit, not merely to please them.
You must not give way to every wish and whim of your child’s mind, no matter how much you may love him. You must not let him assume that his will is all-important, and that he has only to desire something and it will be done. Do not, I beg you, make your children idols, lest God should take them away, and break your idol, just to convince you of your folly.
Learn to say “No” to your children. Show them that you are able to refuse whatever you think is not right for them. Show them that you are ready to punish disobedience, and that when you speak of punishment, you are not only ready to threaten, but also to perform. Do not threaten too much. Seldom punish, but when you do, make it sincere and firm—frequent and light punishment is truly a wretched system of discipline.
Some parents have a way of saying, “Naughty child,” to a boy or girl on every slight occasion, and often without good cause. It is a very foolish habit. Words of condemnation should never be used without real reason.
As to the best way of punishing a child, no general rule can be laid down. The characters of children are so vastly different, that what would be a severe punishment to one child, would be no punishment at all to another. I am emphatically opposed to the modern notion that no child ought ever to be whipped. Doubtless some parents use bodily correction far too much, and far too violently; but many others, I fear, use it far too little.
Beware of letting small faults pass unnoticed under the idea “it is a little one.” There are no little things in training children; all are important. Little weeds need plucking up as much as any. Leave them alone, and they will soon be large and overpowering.
Friend, if there is any point which deserves your attention, believe me, it is this one. It is one that will give you trouble, I know. But if you are not willing to put forth the effort, it will take, to discipline your children when they are young, then be assured they will give you plenty of trouble when they are old. Choose which you prefer.
By: J.C. Ryle