Ryle’s second proposition applied to rearing children is as follows:
II. Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.
I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.
Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys – these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, these are the clews you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.
Ryle’s words are right on target. Love is at the heart of the Christian ethic, and this includes the way we treat our children. We might think of 1 Corinthians 13 here. If we have all the latest scientific evidence about training children, but lack Christian love, we are nothing. If we follow “all the rules” for producing good kids, but do not have godly love, we gain nothing. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7, ESV). How are you doing today at training up your child with love?
Ryle continues: Few are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw than to drive. There is that in all our minds which rises in compulsion; we set up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of a forced obedience. We are like young horses in the hand of a breaker: handle them kindly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with a thread; use them roughly and violently, and it will be many a month before you get the mastery of them at all.
Now, children’s minds are cast in much the same mold as our own. Sternness and severity of manner chill them and throw them back. It shuts up their hearts, and you will weary yourself to find the door. But let them only see that you have an affectionate feeling toward them; that you are really desirous to make them happy and do them good; that if you punish them it is intended for their profit, and that, like the pelican, you would give your heart’s blood to nourish their souls – let them see this, I say, and they will soon be all your own. But they must be wooed with kindness if their attention is ever to be won.
Next, Ryle adds some words which are apropos for earnest young parents. If you are like I am, you desire almost to the point of aching for your children to “love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Deut 11:1). In that case, we can easily try to force this to happen in a day. But it doesn’t work that way.
Ryle says, We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what they are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal – not to be forged and made useful at once, but only by a succession of little blows. Their understandings are like narrow-necked vessels; we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled or lost. Line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, must be our rule. The whetstone does its work slowly, but frequent rubbing will bring the scythe to a fine edge. Truly there is need of patience in training a child, but without it, nothing can be done. Nothing will compensate for the absence of this tenderness and love…. You may set before your children their duty; command, threaten, punish, reason; but if affection be wanting in your treatment, your labor will be all in vain.
Love is one grand secret of successful training. Anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he sees you often out of temper, you will soon cease to have his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan…need not expect to retain his influence over that son’s mind.
Try hard to keep a hold on your child’s affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything, almost, is better than reserve and constraint between your child and yourself, and that will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to openness of manner; fear leads to concealment; fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie. There is a mine of truth in the apostle’s words to the Colossians. “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col 3:21). Let not the advice it contains be overlooked.