Updated: May 28
Most parents have heard the verse about training up a child in the way he should go. The question is, how exactly do you train up a child? Find out how to train up a child in the way he should go, so when he is old, he won't depart from it.
Note: This is an excerpt from the book Parenting w ith Focus by Katie Ely.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it.” - Proverbs 22:6
There are two distinct parts to training a child:
Training a child's behavior
Training a child’s heart
To train up a child in Christian discipline and instruction, you need to do both. In this article, however, we’ll only discuss how to train a child's behavior.
I first started teaching elementary school in 1983. To be totally honest, for the first two years, I did not have good classroom discipline. At the time, my strategy was just to handle behavior problems as they came up. The problem was, they came up all day long. I would waste so much time each day dealing with misbehavior.
But by my third year of teaching, I finally figured out that if I would spend time at the beginning of the school year training my students exactly how I expected them to behave for each situation, their behavior improved dramatically. I called these times of instruction “Training Sessions.”
I trained my students how to politely line up, quietly work in the centers, and clean up at the end of the day. I trained them how to behave properly in the bathroom, the cafeteria, and in assemblies. I taught them exactly what they should and shouldn’t do, and then we practiced the correct behavior over and over. The result was, I had a classroom of incredibly well-behaved students.
After nine years of teaching, I had my own children. I realized then that the same basic discipline techniques I used at school would transfer to parenting. At home, I trained my boys what the correct behavior was for bedtime, clean-up time, and meal time. I trained them how to behave in a store, at church, and in a restaurant. I used the principles of training so many times, good behavior became ingrained in their minds.
It’s funny. I thought I was so smart to figure out that training was the secret to good discipline. It was only after I had my own children that I realized that’s what God had said to do all along. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
I once heard a Green Beret say he had to train for every conceivable circumstance. He would practice over and over exactly what he was supposed to do until it became second nature.
Parents can apply this same principle of training at home. You can train your children how you expect them to act in every situation: bedtime, clean-up time, shopping, mealtime, and general obedience.
With training you’re being proactive, not reactive. You don’t wait until the bad behavior happens. You train your children the correct way to behave before any misbehavior takes place. And if your children have already acquired some bad habits, you can train them to develop new, good habits.
Some critics of training argue that demanding things be done in a certain way restricts children's individual freedom and stifles creativity. But without a solid foundation of right behavior and self-control, children are not going to be free to accomplish what they really want to do. French hero General Charles de Gaulle said, "Only the disciplined are free." Think about it. Who is more free? Someone obeying traffic lights or someone who is not obeying traffic lights? How free do you want your children to be? Free to break household rules? Free to be on drugs? Free to get pregnant?
Good behavior doesn't come naturally to children. It must be taught—and preferably taught before a problem arises.
A great way to train your children in correct behavior is with Training Sessions. Training Sessions are just a time when you instruct, demonstrate, and have your children practice the correct behavior. You also clearly state the consequence for wrong behavior. Then, you have to constantly remind your children of the correct behavior. Think about how many times you’ve had to remind your kids to say please and thank you. It’s the same principle.
The first rule of a Training Session is to schedule it at a neutral time, not when the poor behavior is taking place. Plan the Training Session when you have plenty of time, and both you and your children are well rested and in a good mood. So if you’re training for bedtime, don’t do it at night when everyone is tired and cranky. Instead, have the Training Session in the morning or afternoon when your children are more receptive to learning.
Then make the Training Session fun. A Training Session involves role playing and pretending. Kids are acting out the good behavior and they love to do this.
Training Sessions don’t have to be long. In fact, if you’re training young children, make them short—but do remind them of the correct behavior frequently.
Training Session Specifics
There are 4 things to do during a Training Session.
Give Specific Instructions
The first thing to do in a Training Session is to teach your children exactly how you expect them to act for a certain activity. Be very specific. Teach your children what they should and should not do. (Think about the Ten Commandments. Some of the rules tell you what you should do; and some tell you what you shouldn’t do.)
For instance, instead of giving a vague, general statement such as, "Be good in the store," you need to tell them specifically what ‘being good’ means. Can they touch things—or not? Do they have to stay right beside you—or not? Can they ask you to buy them something—or not? Spend a few minutes instructing them in exactly what they may and may not do.
One of the specific things I trained my boys to do in a store was to respond respectfully if a request was denied. For instance, if they asked for Pop Tarts and I said no, they were trained to say, “That’s okay, maybe some other time.” Not only did it sound polite, it helped develop their self-control.
State the Consequence
Then, if possible, tell them the exact consequence they will get for not following the rules. Having a preplanned consequence works best when training for a specific activity like bedtime or shopping. However, sometimes it’s not possible to foresee the most appropriate consequence for a particular situation. Just make sure your kids know that there is a 100% chance of some sort of unpleasant consequence if they disobey. Then, if they do get a consequence, it will have been their choice. When they chose to disobey, they chose to get a consequence.
Be sure to ask questions along the way to make sure they clearly understand what to do. Ask questions like: “What are you supposed to do when I tell you to clean up? What’s going to be your consequence if you don’t?”
Practice the Correct Behavior
After instructing, have your kids practice the correct behavior. So if you just instructed them how to clear off the table after a meal, practice it. Have them practice rinsing off the dishes and setting them in the correct place. Have them practice wiping off the table without knocking crumbs on the floor. Train them specifically how you want it done.