Children need heavy doses of rebuke and praise. Sometimes the parent should do this one-on-one. Elsewhere he should reprove and honor publicly. I’d like to argue that this latter category is best done at the dinner table or, even better, at Family Worship.
Reams of Rebuke
We assign the word “foolish” to terms like grin, mistake, idea or decision. Scripture appoints the word to “child”. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Pr 22:15). Folly is part of a child’s nature. Foolishness fills a youngster’s heart the way stars fill the sky. The darker the sin, the easier to see the folly. But even when the child is at his cutest and best behaved, foolhardiness—though hidden—is still there, like stars on a sunny day. Adam put it there (Ps 51:5). Special grace and common grace have yet to chisel off the edges.
So parents should expect to rebuke their children often, especially when they are young and especially from the lips of Dad (Pr 13:1). It is a child’s natural inclination to say and do stupid things. I remember telling my wife that if we tallied up for the day all the actions of one of our young children, probably 90% of them would be wrong. This is why parenting is such hard work. This is why millennials are having pets instead of children. You can put newspaper down for puppies. It doesn’t work as well for kids.
There are two kinds of foolishness, immoral and moral. Parents must be careful to correct them both. Immoral foolishness is a sin for which Christ died. It’s Junior talking back to mom or stealing an answer from the book or not obeying immediately. This kind of folly is more serious than moral stupidity and should be admonished earnestly. Moral foolishness is indiscretion, immaturity and thoughtlessness. It’s what all harebrained children have done since Cain. Moral foolishness is Sally sticking Legos up her nose at dinner or Jimmy playing the trumpet on the tailpipe or Teddy playing Robin Hood with the violin bow. Ask me how I know.
A father must be vigilant to correct these mistakes at the time, should he be there. But there is special benefit for admonishing the children when the whole family gathers. The prophets of old gathered together the men, women and children not only to teach (Dt 31:12) but also to rebuke (Joel 2:12-16). The goal is not embarrassment but repentance. John, I was told by your teacher that your homework was late for the second day in a row. Children, I noticed half of you didn’t clear your plate after dinner. Jane, the pouty face needs to stop pronto.
The benefits of group rebuke are legion. The younger learn from the mistakes of the older. One person doesn’t feel ganged up on. The whole family keeps The Little Sinner accountable. Mom gets a break and feels supported by her husband’s words. Everything is out in the open, eliminating the confusion of he-said, she-said.
Piles of Praise
If parents commit themselves to do this, then they must also keep an eagle eye out for activity to applaud. Cooked carrots go down easier when brownies are just around the corner. Solomon told his son: “Let another man praise you and not your own mouth, a stranger and not your own lips” (Pr 27:2). That “other man” may include Mom and Dad. This will foster humility in the children. When they know their parents love praising their accomplishments, they are less likely to commend themselves.
Just today I saw my eight-year-old pushing his little sister gently on the rickety swing. He protected her like a big brother should. I’m going to commend that this evening in family worship, right after I praise my wife for the biscuits and my daughter for cleaning the church building.
Again, the benefits of group praise are plentiful. The children learn how to give a compliment and take one. The family’s character grows as it strives to please dad. And the father, in showing public love to his children, is imitating his heavenly Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Pr 23:25).
A great setting to hop on the seesaw of praise and rebuke is in Family Worship. These planets of tough and soft, steel and velvet should revolve around praise to the Son in song, Bible reading, and prayer. Sing a hymn and praise your boy. Read a verse and rebuke your daughter. Intercede for family and then praise them with your words.
Praise and rebuke are forms of teaching. Isn’t this the point of Family Worship? Joshua was not content worshiping God alone. He said: “I and my family will worship the LORD” (Jos 24:15, NET). This should include parents praising God by rejoicing over their children.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Pr 27:5). The best is often open rebuke and open love. Parents would do well to practice this during Family Worship.