Give Me Your Child Until He Is Six

by Dr. Harold J. Sala 

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.  Proverbs 22:6

John Watson, one of the most controversial psychologists of all times, once wrote, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

In the old battle of nature versus nurture, Watson obviously came down strongly on the side of nurture.  Environment, not heredity, thought Watson, shapes the destiny of people.  In recent years as behavioral studies have provided more and more information on the parenting process, we have come to realize that no matter what the environment, heredity is a powerful factor.  Take, for example, twins who are separated at birth with one being raised by one family, another being raised in a completely different environment, yet as adults both have tastes in clothing, foods, and entertainment very much the same.

Nonetheless, Watson points out a powerful truth.  What you do with your infant in the early years of his or her life profoundly influences what happens later in life.  As the sapling is bent, so goes the tree.  Is this truth new?  It’s about as new as 3,000 years ago, for it was then that the writer of Proverbs penned these words:  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

The Hebrew word means “infant,” and the verb to train was used three times in the Old Testament, including one in reference to the foundation of a building.  In simple terms, the early years of a child’s life are the foundation upon which his entire adult life will rest.

The word also conveyed the thought of a plan, such as an architect’s rendering, which was in the mind of the builder—or, the parent—which eventually would take shape.

One of the anomalies of life is that we take the test and then learn the lesson.  In parenting it means that we see our mistakes and failures so much more clearly after our kids are grown and gone.  But when it comes to the early years of your child’s life, there is no going back, no reruns, no returns because you have done a lousy job of parenting.

If you have children under age six, stop and ask yourself some tough questions:  Are you training your child, or simply letting him or her grow up? Taking the path of least resistance because you are too tired or too busy to train him or her, or doing the right thing regardless of how tired you may be?

Discipline, instruction, taking your child to church, reading to him or her, doing the same thing over and over, day after day, time after time is not easy. It’s hard—time consuming and physically taxing.  But I have to tell you, it’s worth it.  You win or lose a lot of territory before age six.

“A child learns half of everything he knows by age three; three-fourths by age seven,” say psychologists.  They are not talking about cognitive recall:  algebra, computer science, or how to change the spark plugs on an automobile.  They are talking about the limits of acceptable behavior, right and wrong, what is rewarded and what is punished.

It’s easy to be a parent, tough to be a good one; but there is one thing for certain:  once you are a parent, you are a parent.  Having made a human being in your image, you bear the responsibility of that child.  A final thought:  God honors the commitment of your time, effort, prayers, and care.   Though it seems that a pre-school youngster will never grow up, you’ll look back and be amazed how quickly those years went.  Believe me.  It’s true.

Resource reading: Proverbs 12


Harold J. Sala 2015Speaker, author and Bible teacher, Dr. Harold Sala founded Guidelines in 1963 and has served at its helm since its inception.  Pioneering the five-minute commentary in Christian radio, Dr. Sala’s daily “Guidelines-A Five Minute Commentary on Living” is broadcast in 49 of the 50 states and is heard the world over in a variety of languages. Sala, who holds a Ph.D. in biblical text, has authored over 55 books published in19 languages.  He speaks and teaches frequently at conferences, seminars, and churches worldwide. Residing in Mission Viejo, California, Harold and his wife, Darlene, have three adult children and eight well-loved grandchildren. 

Used with permission from Guidelines International Ministries.  To learn more about Guidelines and the ministry, please email  You may also visit the Guidelines website at 


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