The first duty of father and mother to their child is to see that they are a unit on family government. Second, they must study themselves and their failures, trying to make the weak places strong. Third, study the disposition of the child, gain an understanding of its inner life, and find out what pleases and displeases it; and, while cultivating the good, hold in check the bad. A mother should understand her children better than any one else. If she is a thoughtful mother, she knows not only the surroundings of her children, but many of the impressions that she has stamped upon their undeveloped minds.
Children are not putty that can be moulded into any form to suit our fancy, but there is a method by which we can fashion their young lives. Much patience, devotion to the child, and fervent prayer will be needful to accomplish anything worth while.
Every parent should see that their attitude toward their children is what it should be. Consider their feelings and show them respect, remembering that they have rights upon which you must not intrude; but never loosen the reigns of home government. Make any rules that you think practicable and necessary; explain each rule carefully to your child, giving your reason for making it, and then demand obedience. Never, unless for some special reason, ignore any good rule. Should your child happen to break one of these rules, do not punish without first finding out the cause. He may not have understood your meaning, or he may have forgotten. Take him quietly aside; and, after finding out why he has disobeyed, gently tell him again your reasons for making the rules and the necessity of his obedience. You might have to do this several times, but do not excuse him too long. When it is necessary to punish, ask for wisdom from above, and then punish in a way that he will understand you and remember the punishment. When you make a statement, stand by it, if possible, unless you see error in it. If such be the case, confess your fault. If your child does not show you due respect and obedience, there is a cause for it, and it is your duty to find out what that cause is.
All children have to contend with bad qualities that have been inherited. Do not flatter yourself that because the child is yours it will escape temptation; for all must be tempted, if they would be strong. Teach your children, according to their ability to comprehend, all that they should know to be able to shun evil. Do not think that because your child has inherited some moral weakness, you are helpless to teach him to overcome it. You can explain to him his danger and tell him what yielding to the temptations that come to him because of this weakness will lead to. Point out the effect of this sin upon the one from whom it was inherited. Tell the child that the only chance to overcome this inherited tendency will be by constantly avoiding those things that will lead to temptation. You may find the task difficult and you may sometimes feel disheartened, but you must put that wayward child of yours right, if possible, or God will hold you accountable. Perhaps the inherited sin may lie at your own door. If it does, you will understand better how to help him from under its power.
In the public school, on the street, and in his various associations, your child will be exposed to the evil of hearing impure language from vile lips; and if he be not warned, who can blame him for listening? Your home teaching must overbalance all that he hears outside.
Should some question concerning the mysteries of his own body or of his own origin be aroused in his mind by impure stories or by any other cause, you must at once arise to meet the difficulty before harm is done that will be very difficult to overcome. But some mother will say: |I do not know what answer to make my child when he asks questions of such a delicate nature. Would it not be best to leave his mind free from these ideas until he is older?| Doubtless it would, if the child would be contented to wait; but when he has learned enough to ask the question, he is able to tell whether you speak the truth when you say you do not know, and he will not be satisfied by the flimsy pretest, |Oh, run away and don't bother me; I'm too busy.|
Above all else, keep the confidence of your child, so that he will come to you with every trouble of life. Confidence of children in their parents is a gift from God. All children have it at first. See the tottering baby cling to its mother for support; watch it run to her when it is frightened. Can it not have the same confidence when it is older? I answer from experience that it can and should. Truth inspires trust in your child. If you do not think it best to answer all his questions fully at the time when he asks them, tell him at least enough to satisfy his curiosity, and promise him that, if this remains a secret between you and him, he may come to you whenever he wants more information. Do not be afraid of having secrets with your child. The matter may be trifling, but the fact that he is helping you to keep secrets will teach him to value his word and will increase his confidence in you. On the other hand, if you tell him an untruth, do not think that he will come to you again. No, he will doubtless go to some friend who he thinks will tell him, and thus get his young mind tainted with impure thoughts. And little better in results than telling an untruth is putting the child off till some future time. These questions must be met when they arrive.
You may say, |I don't know how much to tell at any one time.| Wisdom is necessary here. No more should be told than will satisfy the present curiosity of the child. A few questions on your part will readily discover what information he has gained and how much he wishes to know.
A boy of scarce six summers once came to his mother with a question of life. The mother was shocked; but, offering an earnest prayer for wisdom, she questioned the child and found that he had heard remarks made by older boys. As his mind was developed enough to comprehend part of their conversation, his curiosity was aroused. Having perfect confidence in his mother, he had sought her for an explanation of the points that perplexed him. As simply as possible, that mother gave the information, ending with the words, |Now, darling, this is to be a perfect secret between us; and when you are old enough, I will tell you more.| Years passed by until the boy was in his eleventh year; then he once more went to his mother for information. |Mama,| he began, |do you remember the time you told me a secret?| She answered that she did, and he continued: |Well, I have kept that secret. I have never mentioned it to any one. And do you remember that you said some time you would tell me more?| When she answered, |Yes,| he said quickly, |Don't you think I'm old enough now?| In answer, the mother put her arms about him and said, |My son, you shall hear all you wish to hear. What is it, dear?| Then as each question came, she gave him a satisfactory answer, and ended by saying, |Whenever you want to know more, come to me, and I will tell you.| That boy continued to go to his mother; and when he entered the most trying period of his life, her advice kept him from the dangers into which so many fall. In hours of trial she was able to point him to the Savior. Never neglect the duty of warning your child of danger.
Teaching of this kind will endear you to your children long after you are resting in the grave. They will recount, |My mother told me this. My father taught me that. They must have understood God's plan of salvation, or they would never have known how to tell me these things.| But the task will require your highest talents. Sympathy and love, constant watchfulness, and earnest prayer will be the most needful. Since the child does not know himself, you must learn to know him. You must search for the secret springs that govern his actions and for the master key that will unlock his heart.
One dear young woman, relating her experience to me, said: |My mother died when I was only six years old; but I know she must have been a Christian, because some friends who knew her told me of her devoted life and of earnest pleadings for her children when she saw that she must leave them. All that I can remember about her was seeing her bowing in prayer or talking to us children. There are desires in my nature that I know must have been planted within me in answer to her prayer. After her death I was cast out upon the world. I went to live with a very ungodly family, but that sense of right and wrong within me made me shun and despise their evil ways. I loved to read my Bible. From it I learned that, if I would gain heaven, I must forsake sin and live a pure life. To live such a life was a pleasure until I found that the denomination whose meetings I attended would not allow me to say much about a holy life, because their creed did not teach it. Then I promised the Lord that I would be a Christian if I had to be one all by myself. This was not necessary, for I found many true Christians who believed all that the Bible teaches.|
That mother's prayers had fashioned and governed the life of her daughter long before the child was able to understand her mother's meaning. Parents can not begin too early to win the child's love and confidence, and they should spare no pains to maintain these to mature years. Those who do will find that their children will never, even to old age, fail to come to them for sympathy and advice. Children so reared will always love and honor their father and mother as the Bible says they should, and will look upon their parents' lives as examples for them to imitate. See to it that you show yourself a good pattern, in thought, word, and deed, for them to follow.