This book is the epitome of biblical wisdom, and humility. Henry Clay Trumbull is undoubtedly an expert in his field. He was a father, an educator, an author, and an evangelist. This book is not the "know-it-all" rantings of a new father, but the humble wisdom of an experienced father. The original book was written in 1890, when Trumbull was 60 years old.
In the preface he relates an encounter with a friend who questioned him on his theory of child training...
"`Theory?' I responded. `I have no theory in that matter. I had lots of theories before I had any children; but now I do, with fear and trembling, in every case just that which seems to be the better thing for the hour, whether it agrees with any of my old theories or not.'"
In a world where everyone views themselves as an authority on every subject under the sun, it is refreshing to see one, so worthy of the title, admit with humility that he does not deserve it.
This book is a collection of "hints" from one who has been down this path before. These hints are not presented as a fool-proof method for raising a godly child. They are practical tips, deeply rooted in biblical truth, and proven over time in the lives of this man's children and grandchildren. (He is the great-grandfather of Elisabeth Elliot!)
This book starts off by defining the terms used. So often the idea of "training" a child is used interchangeably with the idea of "teaching" a child. As it is used in the context of this book, "the training of a child is the shaping, the developing, and the controlling of his personal faculties and powers; while the teaching of a child is the securing to him of knowledge from beyond himself." (pg. 1) He quickly points out that although both are a necessity in the upbringing of each child, training is a possibility long before teaching is. In fact, he says, the training is begun much earlier than is the teaching.
Chapter 2 - The Duty of Training Children:
This chapter, in my opinion, is right on target. He starts off by saying, "It is the mistake of many parents to suppose that their chief duty is in loving and counseling their children, rather than in loving and training them; that they are faithfully to show their children what they ought to do, rather than to make them do it." (pg. 5)
He carefully explains how it is both a privilege and a duty of parents to train their children to do and be what they should. Just because a child has natural tendencies in one direction or another, does not mean that he or she cannot be trained to restrain themselves in certain areas, or to develop proper interests in another. He offers a reminder to parents that "there are no absolutely perfect children in this world. All of them need restraining in some things and stimulating in others." (pg. 7)
Chapter 5 - Will-Training, Rather Than Will-Breaking:
I found this chapter particularly interesting for two reasons. I have a stubborn little girl. I often find myself engaged in a "battle of wills" with her over one thing or another. I have always heard that it is sometimes necessary to break a child's will in order to get them to do what is right, even, or especially, if they have no desire to do so. But, Trumbull suggests a different approach:
"To break a child's will is to crush out for the time being, and so far to destroy, the child's privilege of free choice; it is to force him to an action against his choice, instead of inducing him to choose in the right direction." (pg. 20)
As parents, we have to remember that the final choice, and the consequences associated with it, belong to the child, not the parent. It is our responsibility, as parents, to see to it that his will is strong towards right choices, and to guide them in that.
Chapter 11 - Training A Child Not To Tease:
I often read with a yellow highlighter in hand, which I use to mark thoughts, sentences, or quotes that stand out as particularly educational or inspiring. I like to be able to easily reference these portions when I return to the book at a later date. This chapter is exactly why!
It begins by saying that "a child who never `teases' is a rarity." In this chapter more than the others, it is important to remember that this book was written over 100 years ago. "Teasing" is not what we might think of when we hear that word used today. He defines it as "to pull, to tug, to drag, to vex (or carry) with importunity. A child teases when he wants something from his parents, and fails to get it at the first asking." (pg. 57)
He is referring to what we today commonly call "whining!" The practicality of this book is clearly seen in this chapter. He simply states that, "If a child never secured anything through teasing, he would not come into the habit of teasing; for there would be no inducement to him to tease." (pg. 57)
For one reason or another most parents to give in to their child's request after some amount of whining. But, no child should be under the (mistaken) impression that his parents decision was based on his teasing (whining), rather than their own understanding of what is best for the child in a given situation. If a child knows that he can eventually get what he wants by teasing (whining), the parent does not have that child's respect.
It is difficult for parents to refuse to give in to a child's teasing (whining), without exception. But, in this chapter, we are wisely encouraged to give careful thought to our child's request before giving an answer. A quick, or thoughtless reply will only result in furthering a child's belief that he can push just a little farther to get what he wants. A parent's answer should be final, and the child needs to be trained to accept it as such.
Chapter 14 - Training a Child's Faith:
Faith is instinctual in a child. But, the "knowledge of the One on whom his faith can rest with ultimate confidence is not innate." He clearly sees the responsibility of the parents in training a child in a knowledge and understanding of God - a concept that a child is capable of grasping.
"...Children...can receive the profoundest truths of the Bible without any explanation. When they are older, they will be better fitted to grapple with the difficulties of the elementary religious teachings. The idea that a child must have a knowledge of the outline of the Bible story before he knows the central truth that Jesus Christ is his loving Savior, is as unreasonable as it would be to suppose that a child must know the anatomy of the human frame before he is able to believe in his mother's love for him." (pg. 77)
This is unquestionably the most important duty that rests on a parent in the area of child training.
Chapter 30 - Good-Night Words:
Thirty chapters make up this book. It ends, appropriately, with a chapter about saying "good night" to your children. He emphasizes the need for these last words of the day between parent and child to be pleasant, encouraging, gentle words of affection. This is not the time for sharp rebuke. He closes this chapter, and the book, with this gentle admonition to parents:
"Let, then, the good-night words of parents to their children be always those words by which the parents would be glad to be remembered when their voices are forever hushed; and which they themselves can recall gladly if their children's ears are never again open to good-night words from them." (pg. 181)
We would all be wise to carefully consider the words in this book, and "take a hint!"