Train up the child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
King James Version
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
English Standard Version
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
New International Version
Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won't depart from it.
Common English Bible
The most common interpretation of the verse above is as follows. Us adults need to ensure that children develop according to what we think is good and correct. If we do that well, then our children will grow up and do what is good and correct. I think such an interpretation opens the way to parent hubris. What makes us think that what we think is good and correct, is really good and correct?
Should Go VS Should Go
I prefer another interpretation that I first read about 20 years ago. This interpretation acknowledges that only God knows what is good and correct for each child. It assumes that when God made each child, he gave that child an innate shape. As parents, we are to develop the child in such a way as to bring into salience the innate shape that God had put there from Day 1. In other words, we should train that child in the way he SHOULD go... but this notion of SHOULD is already pre-defined by God when he made the child.
As godly parents therefore, we need to first open our eyes and observe our children. We are then to see the hidden beauty that God has already put there. It doesn't matter what it is that WE think is good. It doesn't matter what it is that WE value. As godly parents, we have to develop that child with every faithfulness to the architecture that's already in that child.
After all, God made that child, and who are we to see imperfection in what He gave us? Children MUST be perfect, no? If they weren't perfect, why would Jesus say "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." It is us parents, with our spite, our anger, our anxiety, our fears, and our notions of what a perfect child should be... that slowly deform the children who were already perfect when they arrived in our arms.
I was reminded of Proverbs 22:6 when I spoke to a Mommy whose twins have just started classes with me. Mommy had warned me that her son was a handful, whilst her daughter was docile of the docile - a veritable angel. He got in trouble so often with his Teachers that Mommy was desperate for a place to park her little handful without having to hear anymore Teachers' complaints.
To hear Mommy describe him, I did wonder if I had been stupid in accepting the child since there were so many other children waiting for a place. Nobody wants to deal with a difficult child. According to Mommy, he was aggressive, unco-operative, disobedient. At the enrichment centre that he was previously attending, he sat under the table and absolutely refused to do as he was told. During this year's Teacher's Day, he asked his mother if it was possible to put poison in the cookies for Mrs So-and-So.
Ohhhhhhh dear! I made up my mind that I would be ever so careful if this little boy offered me cookies!
Don't Put Me in a Mould, Mommy
Then I met the boy. He was this scrawny little thing who did everything I asked him to do. Indeed, when I asked all 9 children in the class to memorise lines for a play, this boy was the only one who actually DID memorise. He was the only one who was able to rehearse without a script.
The thing though is this. This is one boy who WILL NOT be crammed into a mould. Unlike other more docile children, this boy has clear ideas about what he likes, whom he likes, and what he wants to do. He doesn't care a hoot about what people think of him. He can't care less that he is failing in school. He can't be bothered to please his Teachers. If you force him or frighten him, he will fight you to the bitter end. Yet, having taught him for 4 weeks, I can discern a very keen intelligence. This is not a child we can cut against his grain. He will fight you and resist you if you attempt to develop and sculpt him into any other form than that which is already in there, in him... as intended by God.
Thomas Edison was one such child. Here is a quote from Wikipedia...
In school, the young Edison's mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him "addled". This ended Edison's three months of official schooling. Edison recalled later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint." His mother taught him at home.
Edison's mother saw beauty in Edison that no one else saw... certainly not his Teacher, Reverend Engle (with all due respect for the good man). Edison's mother was so true, so sure of him that she did not believe the school system's judgment of her son - addled. She went ahead, listened to her child, observed him, saw beauty in her child and loved him into brilliance that lives on today every time we flip a switch to turn on a light... power a hair dryer... bake a loaf of bread.
So many parents I meet, allow the schools' negative feedback about their children to blind them to the ATYPICAL beauty of their children. There is a certain type of child the schools like. These children are docile, obedient, quiet, hardworking and they excel at the 4 PSLE subjects. These are the traditional high flyers.
Christian Parents Who Focus on the Ways of the World
Nowhere in the bible are parents commanded to ensure that their children get 4 A* at the PSLE, and yet again and again, I see Christian parents turn all their attention and energy to lamenting their children's inability to get 4 A*. After meeting these kids and teaching them for a while, I notice incredible atypical strengths (not valued by the school system) but very valuable in business, in the arts, in LIFE. These children come to me with an innate beauty that their own parents fail to see because their own Christian parents are blinded by the ways of the world.
I always begin by focusing on THESE strengths. I see them. I appreciate them. I ask their parents to see and appreciate them too. As their parents begin to see them differently, these children also begin to see their own worth and their own beauty. They then feel heartened and find the motivation to work hard, because there is someone that they must not disappoint.
Before you know it, their grades have moved up. By the time this happens, the parent invariably tells me, "I don't care about those grades anymore. I have faith in my child. I see him for the beauty that's there. He is my special child. This is worth MORE than 4 A*."
See God's Perfection in Your Child
So, if you want your children to bear fruit, to be successful, to grow strong and beautiful, STOP seeing ONLY their weaknesses as defined by the school system. See ALSO their strengths even if these strengths are not valued by the school system. Then, bring out these strengths. Money (big money) is made from skills and talent that are rare. The school system churns out many in the same mould. If your child is not from a mould, then your child is a rare commodity. He/she has strengths and skills that few others have.
I am quite sure Alex Atala didn't get 4 A* at the PSLE... but like my student Little T, he had passion and he wasn't someone you could easily cram into a mould.
The most gifted sculptors in the world, study their material BEFORE they begin to sculpt. Every block of marble has an innate shape. Every block of wood too has an innate shape. If you insist on sculpting YOUR OWN idea of perfection without regard for your child's innate shape, then you would very likely never bring out the true potential of that perfect piece of raw material God gave to you, to sculpt.