Parenting and Proverbs

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“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

This is one of the most quoted texts of the Old Testament people use when talking about parenting and discipline. Another very popular verse people quote is Proverbs 13:24 – “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” That verse is often paraphrased “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” When we think about discipline from the book of Proverbs we often think about justifying the use of punishment on children to correct and train them. Specifically what is often being justified is spanking or corporal punishment as a means of correction. I am not going to go into that right now and may do that in another post but my point is the Proverbs have a lot more to offer than merely serving as a rationale and justification for spanking a child.

Look at the first verse again. When we read that we normally think “discipline” and “correction.” That is what it takes to “train a child”. But notice the very next phrase “in the way he should go.” Punishment trains a child not to go a bad way. That is one side of discipline but the other side of the discipline/training coin is reward. If you are going to do what the proverb says and “train a child in the way he should go” then we need to make sure that the other half of the discipline equation is in play – rewarding appropriate behavior. Kids need praise. Kids need reward. Kids also need punishment and an awareness of where the boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate behavior meets. But the point is training takes both sides of discipline to be effective.

How many people do you know who got plenty of the rod but very little of the idea of how much they were loved by their parents? How did they do later on? Did they depart from “the way they should go”? I know many who have because they never had motivation to do the right thing. They never had someone cheering for them. They never had someone wiser than them letting them know which way was the right way. We see this in parenting all the time. It is much more likely for a parent to yell at a kid for jumping on the couch than it is to catch them sitting nicely on the cough and letting them know how much you appreciate them using the couch appropriately and respectfully.We have to be diligent in making sure our discipline involves far more than a tutorial in the “what not to do’s” and far more encouragement in the “to do’s”

For more on these concepts see these posts on parenting.

0 Responses

  1. Matt, I love the emphasis on the positive “should go.” It’s worth noting the Jewish interpretation of this verse too. It emphasizes the “he.” That is to say, according to Prov. 22:6, it is the parents’ job to identify what the individual child is good at, and then train him up in the way that HE should go. How many left-brained parents have had an artsy kid they drove crazy because they kept trying to turn him into an accountant? They didn’t train him in the way that he should go.

    1. Thanks for the additional background. That is a great point to make and makes a lot of sense. I guess the extreme of that we see today where people just know their son would make the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc and they push and push something unrealistic. I guess they didn’t have that issue as badly as we do 🙂

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