J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), an Anglican Bishop, wrote an excellent little book on parenting that I absolutely love. In the book, Ryle gives 17 practical pieces of advice for parents; young and old alike. I’ve listed each of the principles—including selected excerpts—below. Enjoy!
1. First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go—and not in the way that they desire.
Remember—children are born with a decided bias towards evil—and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.
2. Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.
I do not mean that you are to spoil him—but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.
3. Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you.
Grace is the strongest of all principles. See what a revolution grace effects when it comes into the heart of an old sinner—how it overturns the strongholds of Satan—how it casts down mountains, fills up valleys—makes crooked things straight—and new creates the whole man. Truly nothing is impossible to grace.
4. Train with this thought continually before your eyes—that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered.
Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No interest should weigh with you so much as their eternal interests. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all, and whether in happiness or misery (to speak as a man) will depend on you.
5. Train your child to a knowledge of the Bible.
You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Spirit can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your children acquainted with the Bible; and be sure they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well.
6. Train them to a habit of prayer.
Parents, if you love your children, do all that lies in your power to train them up to a habit of prayer. Show them how to begin. Tell them what to say. Encourage them to persevere. Remind them if they become careless and slack about it. Let it not be your fault, at any rate, if they never call on the name of the Lord.
7. Train them to habits of diligence, and regularity about public means of grace.
See to it too, if it can be so arranged, that your children go with you to church, and sit near you when they are there. To go to church is one thing, but to behave well at church is quite another. And believe me, there is no security for good behavior like that of having them under your own eye.
8. Train them to a habit of faith.
Reason with your child if you are so disposed, at certain times, but never forget to keep him in mind (if you really love him) that he is but a child after all—that he thinks as a child, he understands as a child, and therefore must not expect to know the reason of everything at once.
9. Train them to a habit of obedience.
This is an object which it is worth any labor to attain. No habit, I suspect, has such an influence over our lives as this. Parents, determine to make your children obey you—though it may cost you much trouble—and cost them many tears! Let there be no questioning and reasoning, and disputing, and delaying, and answering back. When you give them a command, let them see plainly that you will have it done.
10. Train them to a habit of always speaking the truth.
Truth-speaking is far less common in the world than at first sight we are disposed to think. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is a golden rule which many would do well to bear in mind. Lying and prevarication are old sins. The devil was the father of them—he deceived Eve by a bold lie, and ever since the fall it is a sin against which all the children of Eve have need to be on their guard.
11. Train them to a habit of always redeeming the time.
Idleness is the devil’s best friend! It is the surest way to give him an opportunity of doing us harm. An idle mind is like an open door, and if Satan does not enter in himself by it, it is certain he will throw in something to raise bad thoughts in our souls.
12. Train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence.
Spoiling is a very expressive word—and sadly full of meaning. Now it is the shortest way to spoil children—to let them have their own way—to allow them to do wrong and not to punish them for it. Believe me, you must not do it, whatever pain it may cost you unless you wish to ruin your children’s souls.
13. Train them remembering continually how God trains His children.
I ask you to lay to heart the lesson which God’s dealings with His people is meant to teach you. Fear not to withhold from your child anything you think will do him harm, whatever his own wishes may be. This is God’s plan.
14. Train them remembering continually the influence of your own example.
Children are very quick observers—very quick in seeing through some kinds of hypocrisy—very quick in finding out what you really think and feel—very quick in adopting all your ways and opinions. You will often find as the father is—so is the son.
15. Train them, remembering continually the power of sin.
Never listen to those who tell you your children are good. Think rather that their hearts are always inflammable as tinder. At their very best, they only need a spark to set their corruptions on fire. Parents are seldom too cautious. Remember the natural depravity of your children, and take care.
16. Train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture.
“Cast your bread upon the waters,” says the Spirit, “for you shall find it after many days” (Eccles. 11:1). Many children, I doubt not, shall rise up in the day of judgment, and bless their parents for good training, who never gave any signs of having profited by it during their parents’ lives. Go forward then in faith, and be sure that your labor shall not be altogether thrown away. Three times did Elijah stretch himself upon the widow’s child before it revived. Take example from him, and persevere.
17. Train them, lastly, with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do.
I know well that God is a sovereign God, and does all things according to the counsel of His own will. I know that Rehoboam was the son of Solomon, and Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, and that you do not always see godly parents having a godly seed. But I know also that God is a God who works by means, and sure am I, if you make light of such means as I have mentioned, your children are not likely to turn out well.