At what age should I start disciplining my children?
At what age should I start homeschooling?
At what age should I begin teaching my children to work?
You must start training your children one year before their first birthday, because if you don’t, they will be trained without your input. A sapling grows the way you bend it. But if you don’t bend it, it will grow and take shape just the same, though not as you would have it. It will be shaped by the prevailing winds, which, you can be sure, never blow in the right direction.
From day one, every conscious moment of a child’s life is training; every event, and non-event, is schooling, preparation for the rest of life. If a child’s eyes can see, tongue can taste, nose can smell, hands can feel, or ears can hear, training is in progress. Parents don’t need to initiate a program, set aside a time, or confront the child in some special way for training to occur. Training and schooling never cease, never rest. A child develops with or without you. If you are not deliberately leaving your imprint on every stage of his development, know that someone is.
A child left to himself in a crib or a room is being trained. All child-initiated events that have consequences, be they pleasant or unpleasant, are training. If a child stumbles into an experience and finds the consequences pleasurable, he is trained to repeat it. If the consequences are unpleasant, then he seeks to avoid it. If an infant sticks his finger in his eye, the pain will discourage him from repeating that on himself, but he may try it on you. That is unless you should make his unwelcomed advances unpleasant for him. The first time an infant pulls your hair, if you pull his, he will never be a hair-puller. One taste of a plastic toy communicates that it is not made to eat. These experiences are physical, and are easy to understand, but what about soul training?
If a child is playing alone and becomes frustrated with a toy, expressing anger, his reaction, left unchecked, is training him to deal with his environment in anger. If a child cries out in loneliness and is rewarded by being picked up, you have trained him to repeat the crying any time he wants to control the adults in his life. When a child is told no, and he responds with temper, if the parents compromise and give over just one-inch to the child’s demands, they have trained him to throw fits. It will become a life-long habit, begun at three months.
What you don’t do as a parent is as influential as what you do. If you permit a child to indulge in a pleasurable act several times, with no negative consequences, then he will develop a preference and a habit. If you give the kid an old set of car keys to play with, you have trained him to abscond with your keys. If you allow a child to snatch food from your hand, you have trained him to have crude table manners. If you allow him to get up after you have put him down to sleep, you have trained him to ignore your commands and to make his own decisions about his sleeping habits. You say, "But I didn’t mean to be training." Who trained the cat not to take food away from the dog? OK, so your cat does take food away from your dog. Then I ask you, who trained the cat that he could get away with taking food away from the dog?
Answer: The dog trained the cat by his responses, or lack of responses. All parental responses are training. All parental "do nothings" and "Oh, isn’t he cute," and "He is a real bear-cat," and "He is such a strong-willed child," are training par excellence.
I saw a mother enjoying her six month old, sitting in front of him singing, "No, No, No, No, No, No, No, and waving her index finger back an forth to the beat of the music. It sounded like a cat food commercial. This started out as a command to stop doing something, but it degenerated into a sing-song, redefining of the meaning of "No." I wanted to ask her, "What do you say when you really mean ‘No’?" She was training the child to understand that "No" meant, "Let’s have some fun."
So, it is not a question of whether or not a child is being trained, or at what age. It is a question of who is doing the training and to what end? Anyone and everyone is a trainer, including other kids. The prevailing winds blow upon your child’s flesh and train him in degeneracy. You must interrupt that natural flow, bending the child’s soul against the force of the world, the flesh, the devil, Hollywood, relatives, baby sitters, peers, nursery workers, and books on psychology, that is, if he is to stand different from the other trees in the forest.
The first six months of a child’s life is much more formative than most parents realize. The first three years molds personality and sees the establishment of the child’s world-view. Children can be trained after three years, but much of the training amounts to enabling the child to function in spite of bad habits instilled in those early months and years.
If your child is not liked by others, or if he is often in conflict, he is socially impaired. A shy child is socially inadequate, as is one who is loud and demands center stage. A bully on one side and a whining tattletale on the other are social misfits. A child quickly develops a social perspective, with or without parental guidance. Investigation teaches the infant what is acceptable in his society. Children are always influenced by the temperament of their parents.
If parents are overprotective, oversensitive, insensitive, angry, selfish, hostile or otherwise, the children tend to view the world through the social order parents maintain in the home.
I have had adoptive parents come to me describing the "generational sins" of their adopted children. Knowing the parents, I usually find it amazing that the adoptive parents seem to have the same lineage. Maybe it is just fate that brought them together; they were from the same family after all. Many biological parents would like to use the excuse of generational sins. It would relieve them of responsibility.
A child learns the rules by stumbling around, bumping into the rights of others, as when the infant tries to put his fingers in someone’s eye or mouth, or when the two-year-old tries to take something that belongs to a four-year-old.
Social rules are built on selfishness—live and let live, give and take. It is a pecking order—where people get pecked if they step out of line. It does serve to keep "everyone in his place," with the "fittest" at the top of the food chain, but it is no higher morally than a society of gorillas. If left to happenstance, a child will allow his values to be set by the worst elements in society.
The concern of parents should be the knowledge that if they do not take an early and effective role in communicating social behavior to their children, the kids are going to receive their education from the world at large. But most parents, certainly our readers, are not content to allow their children to derive their social etiquette by default. The norm is too low. Parents who take a continuous and active role can ease a developing child into a godly social order by example and instruction, saving the child a lot of embarrassment and antisocial behavior.
We adults are kept in line socially by pride, fear of ridicule, fear of rejection and embarrassment. But the small child is kept in line only by someone creating boundaries and then forcing compliance.
Children are born into this world without moral convictions. The two-year-old does not need bad influences to be a selfish, fleshly, carnal, hedonistic, hippie. I say that with the utmost love for all two-year-olds.
Parents are failing to communicate moral convictions to their children. One reason they fail is that they start too late. Parents do not start trying to train their children until they are convinced they can receive instruction, by which time children are already confirmed in carnality, addicted to the pleasures of hedonism. I am talking about children two and three years old. Parents find it difficult to believe that their very young children are capable of early training. They wait so long that they are fighting momentum, and everything within and without the child is on the side of carnality. Your early training alone stands between your child and degrading behavior.
You want to know how to train a six-month-old? By context. All with whom the child associates is the context in which the child first emulates moral attitude. Morality is first an attitude, a way of viewing the self in relationship to the stimuli that assail us. Morality is the right choice in the face of choices that are immediately more fun. Morality is choosing principle and duty above thrill and laziness. Morality is love of truth; it is a pure heart; it is love, grace, mercy, patience, kindness, hard work, wisdom, faith, joy, thankfulness, and serving others. Morality is not the lack of certain acts of debauchery. It is the heart of God practiced in these bodies of flesh.
In the early months and years of a child’s life, you will not be able to lecture him on morals, but you can plant his little developing soul in pure soil. Children are rooted in the souls of those with whom they associate—including any media. You, as a parent, cannot change the environment at large. Eventually your child is going to have to enter the ugly arena of society. But in his developing years, you can tuck his little soul into yours and give him a little bit of heaven before he finds out that he is in a moral battleground where the bad guys almost always win.
Training to Work
Work is one thing in life that if you could get along without it, you would. All work is pain. You have to be raised with it to be hardened to it and to accept it as necessary. Every fresh budding of understanding and every newly acquired ability in the infant and small child must be immediately channeled into wholesome productivity. A child should never be allowed to acquire an attribute of mind or body that is left to idle indulgence. If a ten-month-old child, capable of picking up his own socks, sits and watches his mother pick them up, he is being mistrained—trained to be lazy. You are missing the best opportunity to teach a teenager to be a worker. Teenagers learn to work before they are two years old.
I know that a child under one year old is not capable of doing one stitch of productive work. But the question before us is not how old a child should be when his work is of value. The question is "At what age should I teach my children to work?" The answer is: As they become capable of the least participation, no matter how worthless, they should be involved in working. They will have more fun than a birthday party if you involve them in all your chores. Children love cooking, cleaning and all chores that Mama and Daddy do if they occur as a matter of routine and are done in a joyful atmosphere.
If this is handled properly, there will never come a time when your child is shocked that you asked him to work. He will never balk or complain. He cannot remember a time when he was not under obligation to pull his share of the load. His first awakening to life was one of being part of a team working. He happily stands up to his chores. It is what life is all about.
If you wait until a child is four years old to ask him to work, he will be hurt and offended that he, the royal consumer of goods and services, should be called upon to stoop to menial chores. What a drag! What pain! What misery! Life is not supposed to be like this. He has lived four wonderful years with several servants, and now you expect him to do boring physical labor? He may do it if you force him to, but he will never like it, not now and not ever.
Should you wait until they are big enough to be profitable in labor before you require it of them? Only if you want to feel like the worst villain in the world and spend most of your emotional energy nagging them into what will always be a job half done.
Children should learn to work at the same time that they learn to play. A child should never be allowed to think that the world is ordered so that he plays while others serve him. Don’t pick up after the child. If a kid is big enough to pull toys out of a box he is big enough to put them back. Make work part of the play. Sit on the floor. Enjoy showing him how to put the toys away. As you give the command, "Put your toys back in the box," place a toy in the box. Give the command again and guide the child’s hand to put a toy back in the box. Put another toy in the box yourself, and then again voice the command as you guide his hand to put away another toy. If the child is never allowed to walk away from scattered toys, he will always pause to put them away, and you will never have a hassle over clean up. Three times is enough to train a child, if it is the first three experiences with the toy box. It will take more if you have mistrained him.
When you must carry groceries into the house, give your toddler a light box to carry and brag about what a good worker he is. When you are carrying in firewood, give the stumbling toddler a small piece to carry.
When he spills something, guide him in cleaning it up. You may have to buy a special mop and shorten the handle to keep him from jousting everything in the house. But a one-year-old that mops is a six-year-old that mops and a sixteen-year-old that is a blessing. When you have cut the grass, give the toddler a sack and a small rake and show him how to fill the sack with grass clippings. If he grows bored, don’t make demands; revive his interest; make it fun.
Do you know what sick is? It is a father at home on Saturday, working in the yard while the kids sit in front of the TV and eat snacks. Don’t ask me how to get them to work. You cannot train them one way and then expect different results.
Do not make your kids work alone until they get old enough to deal with the isolation. Even then, you should seek opportunities to work together. If work involves warm fellowship, it takes the pain out of it. If you have developed an adversarial relationship around work, you are causing ongoing harm. If you press a child and are never pleased, he will hate you.
Work is pain, and so you labor to get the job done so you don’t have any more pain. If there is no end to the work, no reward, children will always drag because doing the job never brings relief. Give them a job that has defined limits and the reward of freedom upon successful completion. Do not allow them to have the freedom until the job is completed satisfactorily. Parents have told me that when they started making the child’s leisure dependent upon completing the job, the kids turned what was previously a four hour job into a thirty minute job, and they had fun doing it, because they were laboring so they could rest. If your child is lazy and never does an acceptable job, then you must give him a job with well defined, and easily defined, limits and stay with him until he completes the job successfully, whereupon you praise him for a job well done. If the job is cleaning his room, first carefully define what you expect, in every detail. Write it down if the kid is old enough to read. Do not nag or whine. Quietly but firmly stand by your commitment that he will not leave his room and return to his leisure until the room is perfectly ordered. He will drag at first, hoping to conquer your will, but once he is convinced that your word is final, he will comply out of pure laziness. How else can he rest? You must maintain a pleasant attitude at all times, or all is lost.
Training in Academics
The biggest mistake is thinking of schooling as something different from family, from everyday life. Don’t think of it as an event that starts and stops by a clock. When done most efficiently, there is no age at which you start. Nothing ever changes. Schooling is life. I know kids locally who do not "do school," and yet are far advanced over their grade level.
The purest form of homeschooling is a way of life. A young mother says to her crawler, "Give me the blue sock. No, not the green one, the blue one. Here, this is the blue sock, just like mama’s dress. See, this toy is blue also. Thank you, you are a smart girl."
Another mother says to a two-year-old, "Here are three raisins. See, count them. One, two, three!!!" A mother says to a three-year-old, "How many raisins do you have? That’s right, five. Now give me one. Now how many do you have? Four!! Five take away one is four!!"
Entertain the children with colors, pencils, and paper in mounds. Go to your local printers and tell them you need paper for your students. They will give you scrap paper by the truckloads. You can get good quality paper forty inches wide. Kids love it. Write their names at the top and let them try writing. Hang their work on the wall. Show it off. Read to your kids and have them pronounce words. Show the three-year-olds the word "cat" and let them put a yellow line under it every time it appears in the little book. Make flash cards—don’t buy them.
The kids need to see you make stuff just for them. Do not sit the kid down at a school desk and pound flash cards until he goes to sleep. As you pass through the house, pick up one card and flash it, saying the word. You don’t need to ask questions. They are learning. Write the name of foods on cards and have them point to the word that represents the food they want. Write "nap" on a card and show it to them when it is time to sleep. Read road signs. Write letters to friends. Leave notes hidden in the house for them to find and read, notes that promise a treat. Read the breakfast material—boxes of cereal. Talk about the human body, naming the body parts, the bones, muscle, organs. You don’t know those things? Get a chart; hang it on the wall and learn with your children. Look at pictures. Discuss topics at the dinner table. Talk about history and science. Investigate your yard and then go to the library and investigate books on plants, insects, the universe, animals, earthquakes, anything that is fun and interesting. That is homeschooling. The kids never know they are in school, and you never feel like a teacher. It is not important that the kids know details on any subject; or if they know details, it is not important that their knowledge be thorough. It is far more important that they develop a learning attitude than it is that they learn certain prescribed curriculum. Think of it this way; your job as teacher is not to prepare them to take a test and answer questions. Your job is to instill a love of learning, to enjoy investigation, to be inquisitive, and to know that they can learn anything they need to know if they set their mind to it. The worst thing you can do is to pound enough facts in them to pass a test, but leave them with a fear of learning, leave them feeling inadequate.
Homeschooling cannot be an event out of the day; it must be the day, the night, the lifestyle of homeschooling parents.
Most importantly of all, it must always be fun. If it is not fun for you, it will not be fun for them. Never-never-never approach homeschooling with apprehension or impatience. Do not let the system or in-laws cause you to fear and start pressuring the kids to perform. The day that happens you have failed, and they will fail.