Would you believe me if I told you that I found an ancient promise from a man named Fenelon that can prepare your children to live meaningful and worthy lives? Before I share this ancient promise, let us first look at another ancient promise concerning how we raise our children: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

The root word for train—חנך (cha^nak)—means literally “to narrow or restrict.” The most natural meaning of this word carries the idea of training within boundaries. Several historians have connected this word, train, to the practice of midwives dipping their fingers in crushed dates or figs and massaging the pallets of newborns. This massaging of the pallet created a sucking reflex that caused a restriction in the mouth, which led to swallowing. This line of reasoning teaches us that training up our children requires cultivating a taste that develops their appetite to follow the path God has designed for them.  

“Training” our children, then, requires much more than simply providing educational and recreational activities. It requires the creation of appetizing learning environments and experiences so that our children will passionately pursue worthy goals that are connected to their areas of God-given giftedness. Parents are responsible for stimulating, cultivating, and developing a child’s taste and appetite for his or her particular way or bent. Cultivating these appetites is not always easy, especially in the midst of an indulgent culture that lends itself to distractions.

But history provides evidence that we can raise our children to rise above these distractions. For example, when Francois Fenelon mentored the grandson of King Louis XIV, he dealt with an extremely distracted child. When Fenelon became his teacher, this child was so distracted he was considered incorrigible; even leaders in the court were afraid of him! But within a few years Fenelon had taken this child from incorrigible dishonor to the privileged position of a noble prince. When I read about this transformation in Fenelon’s book, The Education of a Child, I was convinced that this seventeenth-century wisdom was desperately needed today.

Fenelon writes: “Suffer a child to play, mixing instruction with amusement: let wisdom appear to him at intervals, and always with a smiling face. Be careful not to fatigue him by an indiscreet exactness.” Always keep in mind that “health and innocence are the true sources of enjoyment; but those who have had the misfortune to accustom themselves to violent pleasures, lose all taste for those of a more moderate nature, and fatigue themselves in a restless pursuit, seeking after excessive gratifications. . . . In this state of frivolity, if a child gives himself up to idleness, which is the vacancy of the soul, [he] . . . exhausts himself into a state of weariness. These children often accustom themselves to sleep one-third more than is necessary for the preservation of health. This indulgence serves only to weaken, to undermine their constitution, and expose them to bodily infirmities, whereas a moderate degree of sleep, accompanied with regular exercise, exhilarates and renders the human frame vigorous and robust; which makes the true perfection of the body, without mentioning the vast advantage which the mind draws from it.”

Training our children in the way they should go requires the influence of attractive righteousness and is a far greater influence than the violent pleasures to which Fenelon refers. I find it interesting that 325 years ago children were being influenced by violent pleasures—hundreds of years prior to the invention of video games! In order to successfully influence our children to love what is good and hate what is evil, we need to separate them from—and encourage them to separate themselves from—these deadly attractions.