16 Of The Best Bits of Advice for Raising and Caring for Children

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. – Proverbs 29:15


We occasionally find a lady, who is the kind friend of all the young mothers in the village. I was once acquainted with such a lady, and I can speak of her friendly advice with great gratitude, and have reason to know that many others can do the same. I have often thought that by attention to her good rules, the lives of many children were saved; and by being properly trained, many have become real comforts to their parents, and useful members of society. I am sure that many lives are sacrificed to bad management in infancy; and others have grown up, under parental neglect and bad example, such wicked characters, that it might truly be said of them, “It had been better for them if they had never been born.” Parents ought seriously to consider that they are to their children either their best friends or their worst enemies; and a solemn reckoning will be made at the last great day. What a dreadful meeting will that be for ungodly parents and ungodly children! What a blessed meeting for pious parents and grateful, godly children, whose feet they have early directed into the way of peace!

How true and how weighty are those sayings of holy writ, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it;” but “a child left to himself brings his mother to shame!”

1. I once asked her how early she thought a child could be made to mind, because I had heard some women say it was of no consequence how a child was humored the first few months, while it knew no better. She replied, “If a child can be humored, it can be managed; and whatever silly people may say about its knowing no better, its crying when anything is done to it, or when it wants anything—is the trial whether the child or the parent shall be master! You will soon find, when you wash and dress your child, if you stop when it cries, next day it will cry the louder; but if you go quietly on, the child will soon be quiet too. What can it cry for—except it be in order to get its own way? This, then, is the easiest time for teaching it that it cannot have its own way, but must be content with the parent’s way; and you can hardly imagine how valuable this lesson, thoroughly learned in infancy, will be to the child in future life.”

2. Another of this lady’s rules was this—”If children are to be made obedient and tractable, both parents must be of one mind. If one denies an indulgence and the other grants it; or if one corrects and the other pities and soothes, and says, ‘Poor thing! it did not mean any harm,’ the children are not likely to regard either parent. It is the father’s part to insist upon it that the children obey their mother both in his presence and in his absence, and the mother’s part to teach them to love and respect their father. By this means both may hope to maintain their just authority, and to preserve order and harmony in their family.”

I set down some more of her sayings.

3. “Remember your children are born with depraved inclinations, which soon show themselves in a spirit of selfishness. This you must very early resist, not only by making your children obey yourselves, but by teaching them to be kind one to another, and to find pleasure in giving up a thing they like for the gratification of another. This is the way to make them beloved by others, and happy in themselves. Whatever you do, set a good example before your children. Never say a word or do an action that you would not like them to imitate. Be not hasty or angry in correcting them. When you find it necessary to correct, let the child see that it is according to the sin of the action committed—not according to the inconvenience it may occasion you; and make your children sensible, by your calm, serious and affectionate manner, that you correct them from a sense of duty, and a desire for their real advantage.

4.”Never deceive children in the smallest matter or the greatest. Never promise that which you cannot perform, or which you do not intend to perform. Never get them to act as you wish, by telling them a thing is different from what it really is, or by any foolish threats of ‘an old man,’ ‘a ghost,’ etc. It is foolish to make them fear what has no being, and wicked to make them fear or hate what does exist, but would never injure them. People talk of ‘white lies’ to children; there are no white lies; but some of the blackest are those which, by deceiving children, teach them to practice lying and deceit themselves. ‘A trick helps once, but hinders ever after.’ If you tell a child that bitter medicine is sweet, you may get him to take it that once; but do you think he will ever believe you again? or, what is of more consequence still, do you think you can ever convince him that there is any harm in telling a falsehood when he can gain his purpose by so doing?

5. “Have no favorites, but treat all your children alike, according as their circumstances require, and their conduct deserves. If children are treated alike when all things are equal, it enables the parents to make a difference with advantage when circumstances require. A child which has misbehaved is not jealous at seeing its brothers and sisters enjoy pleasures or notice which he feels he has justly forfeited; but he is stimulated to better conduct in future, which may deserve the same kindness, and which he knows he shall receive if he deserves it. None of the children are jealous of the particular attention paid to a sick child; but by observing that the parents consider such a distinction necessary, tender feelings are awakened in their minds on behalf of the sufferer, and a desire to do or avoid anything in their power by which its comfort may be promoted.

6. “Parents who always treat their children with justice, fairness, and affection, will find little difficulty in inducing the many to forego their noisy sport for the sake of the one, or to give up anything they possess for his gratification. These things are comparatively easy in families where a habitual good understanding is maintained between all parties; and these kind dispositions, thus early cultivated, generally mark the fellowship of the brothers and sisters through life.

7. “Be frugal in the use of rewards and punishments. It is the part of wisdom to effect all possible good at the least possible expense. Rewards and punishments are like money, valuable according to the value set upon it, and the advantages it will procure. If sending to bed an hour earlier than the rest of the children is found sufficient to impress on the mind of the offender a sense of the evil of his conduct, and the folly of repeating it, it would be a pity to waste a more severe punishment, which should be reserved for some great and special occasion. In some families, a kiss, or a quarter of an hour’s conversation or reading, or being employed in some little commission for the parents, forms a more powerful reward, or the withholding them a more effectual punishment, than the lavishing of costly gifts, or exercising severe flogging, or starvation, or imprisonment would do in others. But this is managed by firmness: a very small punishment, which is sure to be inflicted, will intimidate more than a much greater punishment, where there is a hope of getting off.

8. “Children should be early taught to employ their time in doing something useful. There is no surer way to make a child respect himself and have a regard to his character, than to let him feel that he is of some use to his parents; and nothing so effectually keeps children out of mischief as the habit of having something to do.

9.. “When children are to be seen gambling, or tormenting a mouse, a worm, or a fly, it just makes good what the little hymn says,—

‘For Satan finds some mischief still

 For idle hands to do.’

“If these children had been taught to take pleasure in making baskets or nets, in gardening or carpentering, as their turn might be, it is most likely they would never have thought of cruel, mischievous sports. The mind or the hands unemployed resemble an empty dwelling with a sign, This house for rent; and some tempter or other is sure to get access to it.

10.”Children should not only be well employed in a general way, but they should early be taught some regular employment by which there is a prospect of their getting a livelihood. Old Mr. Dod, the puritan minister, used to say, ‘Give them a Bible and a calling—and may God be with them.’

11. “Children should be early trained to an orderly attendance at the house of God. It is not for us to say at how early a period, pious impressions of a saving kind may be made on the minds of children. Some children have given decided evidence of them very young indeed; but whether or not a child of three years old may be benefited by what he hears—it is a disgrace that a child of three years old should keep someone at home to mind him. A mother who manages her infant well, may very safely take it in her arms the first six or eight months. It will then perhaps become so lively as to disturb the solemnity of worship; but if it is brought under control, and accustomed to habits of propriety at home, at eighteen or twenty months old it may be made sensible that at such a time and place it must be quiet. In families where pious privileges are prized, it will be no small acquisition to be enabled to take children early to the house of God; and to the children themselves the early formation of this habit may prove of unspeakable advantage. What a lovely example does little Samuel present! the child who was weaned and brought to wait upon the Lord, and who was as eminent for steadfast piety as he was for early devotedness; and what a pleasing proof that his fond and pious parents had been exemplary and successful in the exercise of early discipline! A well-behaved child in the house of God is a credit to its parents, and proves that it has been well instructed and well disciplined at home.

12. “It is of great importance early to impress on the minds of children sentiments of respect and reverence for the ministers of the gospel. Children are very observant even of tones and manners. Happy are those children whose earliest associations are connected with the minister as the most esteemed friend of the family; one who was always welcomed with affectionate cordiality; always spoken of with respect and gratitude; his advice sought; his approbation valued; his instructions treasured up and enforced; and the success of his labors made a constantZ matter of prayer. Many such families have I known, and I have observed that the young people in those families have been distinguished by a modest sedateness of manners, and a reverence for sacred things in general; which, though not in themselves amounting to a saving change, nor by any means to be substituted for it, are yet very lovely and desirable, and which are often the companions or the precursors of an ear and a heart opened to receive the saving impressions of divine truth.

13. “I have also known families—yes, and schools,—professedly religious, where the dinner-table conversation of the heads of the family on a Sabbath day was generally occupied in censuring some expression of the minister, or ridiculing something in his tone or manner. And the effects have been lamentable. Some young minds, on which impressions had been made by the sermons so ridiculed, were thus encouraged to postpone the convictions they had begun to admit, and to shut their hearts against the instructions they were thus taught to despise. Some have even advanced from contempt of an individual minister, to indifference, contempt, and scepticism on all pious subjects. This is not a fiction or a fancy, but a fact; a fact, it is to be feared, by no means uncommon; and one which, perhaps, in some measure accounts for a frequent wonder in the pious world, namely, how it is that the children of pious parents, and those brought up in religious schools, so often become indifferent or opposed to religion. A great and beneficial hold is laid on the feelings of a child who has been taught to reverence his minister.

14. “Parents who know the value of their own souls, will hardly neglect the pious instruction of their children. Perhaps they may feel their own ignorance and inability to teach; yet let them be encouraged to try. It is very remarkable that the means of instruction most expressly charged on parents in the word of God, is that which is within the reach of the poorest and most illiterate. It requires no great learning to talk in a familiar way with our children. Who is there that sits down to a meal, and rises up in silence? Who takes a walk with his children, and says nothing as they go along? Now, scripture expressly enjoins, that this free and affectionate fellowship between parents and children, should be made subservient to the purposes of early pious instruction. The only pre-requisite for employing this best and most efficient means—is a heart thoroughly alive to the importance of the subject. ‘And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes, and you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and upon your gates.’ That is, all the habits and observances of the family should be calculated to keep alive a constant remembrance of true religion, and to present it in a lovely and attractive form to all around. A child brought up in a consistent family, when it goes out into the world, will look anxiously for a Bible, and feel the lack of it a deficiency for which nothing can compensate. He will wait for the summons to family prayer, and if no such call be heard, he will feel that a most important part of the business of the day has been neglected, and a most delightful part of its daily enjoyments withheld.

15. “Parents who are sensible of their own deficiencies, and yet desirous that their children should be well instructed, will surely avail themselves of the valuable advantages of Sunday school instruction. Indeed, every young person, in whatever station of life he may be placed, ought to be either a Sunday scholar, or a Sunday school teacher. It is a pity that either pride, indifference, or love of pleasure, on the part of the young, or false indulgence on that of parents, should withhold the attendance of so many children and young people, who ought to be employed in getting good or doing good. Parents should enforce the attendance of their younger children as learners, and encourage and stimulate their diligence, devotedness and perseverance as teachers, when arrived to sufficient maturity.

16. “One word more on the subject of children. Parents ought not to make the care of a family an excuse for negligence in the great affairs of personal religion. It is hardly possible to manage a young family so as to occasion no privations and sacrifices of attendance on the public means of grace; but by early discipline with the children, and a good understanding among those who have the care of them, the labor may be so lightened and so divided, as that no one person need be confined from public worship a whole Sabbath, except in case of illness. On the other hand, there are some mothers who need a caution against indulging themselves in frequent attendance on week-day services, to the neglect of a young family. It was well said by a worthy minister, on finding a family of children in dirt and confusion at a late hour in the morning while the mother was upstairs at her devotions, ‘What! is there no fear of God in this house?’ In other families, the children have been exposed to bodily danger, or to the greater danger of being corrupted by evil example and impious companions, while the mother was seeking her own pleasures in the house of prayer, or perhaps engaged in religious gossip in a neighbor’s house, but neglecting the obvious duties of life. This kind of neglect is perhaps less frequent than the other extreme; yet both should be guarded against. The care of children will not atone for the neglect of the soul; but the truly consistent Christian will give to every duty its proper place and proportion, and, by early rising and good contrivance, will secure time for pious duties, without neglecting her duty to the bodies and souls of her children: ‘These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.'”

Gorham Abbott, The Family At Home