“You people are late, you have spoilt her, you should have started training her before 6 months,” my Nigerian dad said from the head of the sturdy oak dining table a few days ago.
Then began my attempts to defend my parenting abilities “well daddy, she only recently began to understand “No”. She just turned 10 months… there is still plenty of hope for discipline.”
After that, I don’t know what possessed me to explain how she is already showing signs of a strong will and how she clenches her teeth and sometimes squeezes her eyes shut when I am derailing her exploratory efforts with “No” and finger wagging.
“Great, you just confirmed what daddy is saying!”, I mentally chide myself. Am I supposed to spank a 10-month-old?
Anyone familiar with the Nigerian parenting style will sympathize with me. I have been exposed to many homes with varied styles of parenting and I know the result of a total lack of discipline.
It’s almost inevitable that the visit to my parent’s place during the weekend of the (failed/postponed) Nigerian presidential elections gave me an opportunity to reflect on, decide and actively implement how best I want to raise our child with my husband. After all, we did promise in front of God and our church to raise her in fear and knowledge of God.
In light of what my dad pointed out, I found myself in a bit of consternation as I watched my darling little gymnast crawl, climb, cruise her way around her grandparent’s living room, grabbing, banging and mouthing items and toys along the way. I found myself saying “NO!”, “Don’t go there”, “Come back” with just a bit more mommy authority in my voice and beamed with pride when I told her to “Come to mummy” and she came on hands and knees, pit-pattering her way across the marble tiles.
At What Age is Training Important?
There are so many Bible verses that highlight the importance of “training/instructing a child when they are young” (Proverbs 22:6). For new or young parents, NOW is the time to start instructing a child in good behavior and even more importantly, in the fear and knowledge of God.
This responsibility lies first and foremost in our lives as parents. It is important we cultivate our relationship with God, our prayer lives and knowledge of scripture as well as living lives holy and acceptable to God. It will be detrimental to attempt to tell your child what is wrong and right behavior when we ourselves model wrong behavior in front of their little eyes.
Partnering with God in Parenting
Often we are so tempted to Google everything when it comes to the unknown and we try to equip ourselves with medical and expert advice gathered from research studies. My Google dependence soared to new heights from the moment I got pregnant. However, God is the one who created our precious ones. He alone knows all the gifts, talents and abilities He has deposited in our children.
Isn’t it wise to go to the manufacturer’s manual as a guide to learn how to operate and experience the wide range of uses of any product we buy or are given? I am learning to go on my knees to ask God to reveal who He has created our darling daughter to be and for wisdom to help guide her even from this tender age. Glimpses of a strong, independent character give me a clearer view of the parenting work ahead of me. I am praying that our daughter’s heart will be receptive to God’s Word and learns to hear and obey God’s voice and leading.
Spiritually Training My Infant
In practice, how would I start sharing who God is with my infant? What I do is to add more Christian sing-alongs and programmes that share God’s Word to what my child watches/listens to instead of only nursery rhymes. She already recognizes songs like Jesus loves me, I am God’s little princess, and this little light of mine. Also in her bedtime routine, I sing worship and children songs as I bath her and clothe her and her bedtime story comes from a children’s Bible with lots of pictures. I started this from when she was a month old. Now because she may be too cranky to pay attention for long, I try to read to her earlier in the day. In addition, I talk to her about Jesus and God’s love for her and how God has made her beautiful and special with many unique abilities and talents.
I base all my practices on these scripture verses:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
-Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV
Is Training an Infant Worthwhile?
Some may argue that my attempts are futile as she cannot understand what I am saying. However, does that stop parents from talking to their babies? Don’t we introduce them to the world from our talk, describing things around them and constantly telling them who daddy and mummy is? Our baby’s first words come from those s/he hears the most. We are already training our babies in so many areas: eating, using a car seat, table manners, talking, walking, biting is bad and so on.
A study of the Bible and comparison of versions show synonyms for the word “discipline.” They are: Teach diligently, Instruct, Correct, Admonish, Discipline, Disciple with a rod/spank/swat, Chasten, Not spoil. The dictionary also defines Discipline as:
The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
I pray that God will continue to grant us parents wisdom and reward our efforts with success. May He give our little ones obedient hearts and remove any rebelliousness that may want to take root. I pray God gives us parents the grace, strength, patience, and perseverance to stand firm on what we are teaching our children. May God give us His kind of love, patient and kind, help us not to take their disobedience personally and to react in anger. Amen.