The Biblical admonition to train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6) is rich in meaning. We are told to prepare our children well and make them fit to do the work for which God created them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The Bible often uses the metaphor of a fruit tree to describe an abundant and faithful life full of godly works. In John 15 Jesus cautioned His followers to abide in Him, explaining that He is the vine, and that our heavenly Father is like a vinedresser who takes away any branch that does not bear fruit and prunes every healthy branch to become even more fruitful.

Maybe the Germans got it right when they described kindergarten as a garden of children. Part of our responsibility as parents is to direct the growth of our children, gently pruning away childish behavior and foolish habits. We bend them toward God so that they grow in healthy directions. I certainly would not advise tying the little tykes up (no matter how rowdy they get), but I did learn an important lesson from a gardener who came to plant a peach tree in our yard.

After he had planted the young tree firmly in good soil, he took out his pocketknife and cut the branches back so severely I thought surely he would harm the tree. But he explained that for the first few years the little tree didn't need to put its energy into bearing fruit. Instead, it needed to develop good roots.

Perhaps you've noticed the compulsion of some well-meaning parents to sign their children up for any and every activity—sports, gymnastics, dance—from a very early age. Government schools that once began with first grade at age six gradually added half-day then full-day kindergarten and now offer prekindergarten preparation for children as young as three. Could it be that we are pressuring children to produce fruit too soon? If we took a lesson from the gardener, we might cut back on some of those activities and instead allow our children to become deeply rooted in home and family. With a healthy, supportive root system the tree will be better equipped to bear good fruit when the season is right.

After he'd trimmed the peach tree, the gardener staked and tied it with soft ropes. "These ties will support the tree and help it grow straight even when the winds blow against it, but as the tree grows you should loosen the ties so they don't chafe against the tree's trunk. In about three years, take them off entirely," he said. "Otherwise the tree will depend on the ropes to keep it upright, and it won't develop any strength in its own trunk."

Some parents are so enchanted with their little ones that they can't bring themselves to enforce the boundaries of good discipline, but children need boundaries until they are old enough to make wise choices on their own.

These same parents often experience a growing sense of anxiety as their children grow, and their worries can become full-blown panic when the child becomes a teenager. They respond by tightening the ropes, but discipline applied suddenly at that age only chafes at their strapping saplings. Even if they could succeed in sheltering their children from all winds or coercing appropriate behavior, the child has had no opportunity to gradually develop a core of personal strength. I would far rather the "ropes" come off while the child is still at home to make their youthful mistakes under loving supervision. If their first experience with independence does not occur until they leave home, it can be a very overwhelming experience!

The final word picture associated with training children is that of aiming an arrow. Psalm 127:4 says that children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. We shape a strong, straight shaft and chip away the rough edges to sharpen them to a fine point. Then we point them in the right direction and launch them with all our might into a world that is far beyond us.

And oh, when they succeed, what a joy it is to watch them fly!

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