Main Theme: Parenting
For People Who: Want to be challenged in their approach to parenting, particularly from a biblical perspective.
I first heard about Shepherding a Child’s Heartfrom a family member several years ago. As a father of three, I am constantly evaluating my parenting and as a Christian I am deeply interested in what God has to say on the subject. Shepherding a Child’s Heartwill certainly cause you to rethink the processes and procedures of parenting because it addresses many of the pitfalls and fears parents face. While Tedd Tripp is a little more black and white on some issues in the book than I’d like, I find myself agreeing with his overall rational of the book: you can’t just deal with a child’s behaviors, you have to deal with the child’s heart. Shepherding a Child’s Hearthas certainly challenged me on: how I communicate with my children, what to do when I’m angry and frustrated, how to properly discipline them so as to cultivate a loving, trusting relationship, and much more. However, children are not idle in the process:
God intends for parenting to be a temporary task. In the final analysis, you must entrust your children to God. How they turn out will depend on more than what you have done in providing shaping influences. It will depend on the nature of their Godward commitment –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 211
- Your child is not passive in the parenting process. While a great deal of responsibility is placed on parents to shepherd a child responsibly, a child is not idle – they must make a choice to respond.
- Most parents confront bad behavior in a child without ever dealing with the source of the bad behavior: the heart. To only deal with the symptoms of a disease does nothing to fix the actual problem.
- Plain and simple, there are no shortcuts when it comes to parenting. It costs a great deal of time, effort, patience and teaching – but it’s arguably the most important thing you’ll ever do!
- When your child is young you have greater authority (as in, I’m bigger and stronger so you obey me), but as they grow older into their teenage years, that authority lessens. As your child grows older, they will obey and honor you not because of your authority, but because of your influence that has been built up over the years.
- All children (and all people) will idolize something or someone in their lives. Whether that’s a celebrity, money, a career, fame, etc. Your child is not neutral. So the question is: What will you point your child toward and say, “This is worthy of your worship.”
(Disclaimer: There are nineteen chapters in this book, so I won’t summarize each chapter like I normally do. I’ll summarize the big ideas in sections.)
The Heart of the Matter
Tripp begins laying the case for the proper perspective of parenting: dealing with the heart of a child. He quotes from Jesus in Luke 6:45: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Too often parents only deal with behavior – which does nothing to deal with the reason why the child is acting the way they are. Tripp writes, “You think you have corrected when you have changed unacceptable behavior to behavior you sanction and appreciate.” (pg 4) Parents can often impose their ideas of “acceptable behavior” onto their children, thus bringing about well behaved children that still have broken hearts. With many examples, Tripp lays out very practical ways to move your child toward the heart of the matter:
Your concern is to unmask your child’s sin, helping him to understand how it reflects a heart that has strayed. That leads to the cross of Christ. It underscores the need for a Savior. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 6
It seems no surprise that children are influenced by both their experience and their interaction with that experience. Tripp lays out six shaping influences that direct a child’s Godward orientation:
- Structure of Family Life: Is it a traditional family? Divorced parents? More than one child?
- Family Values: What is most important to the parents? Is money valued more than people? What is considered success?
- Family Roles: Is Dad the only disciplinarian? Are children seen as slaves or contributors to the family?
- Family Conflict Resolution: Does the family deal with problems opening and honestly? Or is it bottled up?
- Family Response to Failure: Are children belittled when they fail or encouraged to try again?
- Family History: Some family members are born and others die. Some do well and others fail.
The important thing to remember is that your child is impacted by a great many influences as they grow under your parentage. Some of these influences are within your control and others are not. But it is tasked to you to shepherd your child’s heart through all the influences of this life that will tug at their heartstrings for attention.
Determinism makes parents conclude that good shaping influences will automatically produce good children. This often bears bitter fruit later in life…They think if they had made a little better home, things would have turned out okay. They forget that the child is never determined solely by the shaping influences of life. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 16
You’re In Charge
We live in a culture today where the word authority is a four-letter word. We don’t like to be told what to do. We don’t like submitting to others. We complain about our bosses and other authority figures. Our children see these attitudes and then we are surprised when they don’t submit to us. Parents must remember that our children do not belong to us, they belong to God. We ought to parent and shepherd them the way that He deems necessary, not as we believe to be convenient. Tripp drops a bomb by saying:
When you direct, correct or discipline, you are not acting out of your own will; you are acting on behalf of God. You don’t have to wonder if it is okay for you to be in charge. You certainly do not need your child’s permission. God has given you a duty to perform; therefore the endorsement of your child is not necessary. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 31
Parents must see their responsibility to shepherd and discipline their children as an act of obedience to God. When we fail to discipline our children, when we let disobedience slide, when we “allow unholy anger to muddy the correction process” (pg. 30) – then we, the parents, are not acting in accordance with the will of God. We do not have the right to not demand obedience from our children. But we also don’t have the right to pour out unbiblical values, goals and expectations on our children that do not help them know God and enjoy His presence.
Correction is not your showing anger for their offenses; it is rather reminding them that their sinful behavior offends God. It is bringing His censure of sin to these subjects of His realm. He is the King. They must obey. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 36
Examining Your Family Goals
Do you have goals for your children? Have you communicated and dialogued about those goals? How important are those goals? Are they biblically influenced or culturally influenced? These are important questions to answer, and how you answer them will tell you whether or not you need to rework the goals and values your family strives for. The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides a wonderful standard to base our goals and values around.
Q. – What is the chief end of man?
A. – Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Tripp makes the claim, “If your objectives are anything other than ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” you teach your children to function in the culture on its terms.” (pg. 47)
Moms and dads tell the children what to do. Kids tell their parents their wishes and dreams. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 75
This statement gave me great pause. Does a majority of communication with my children pertain to giving orders? While a majority of my children’s communication pertains to what they wanna be when they grow up, their dreams and aspirations of life? Parenting is hard. And unfortunately we don’t get to hit a “Reset” button. When your children want to talk, especially during their teenage years, sometimes it’s best to drop what you’re doing because you may not get many moments like that. Taking time to understand our childs’ struggles, hurts, pains, and frustrations is a vital part of parenting. A couple times a week, after we put our children in bed each night after praying together and reciting the Nicene Creed, I’ll ask my children, “Is there anything you wanna talk to Daddy about? Anything bothering you that you want to share with me? Is there anything that is hurting your heart that you want to express?” You’d be amazed how much your children will share when you give them the opportunity.
Children trust you when they know you love them and are committed to their good, when they know you understand them, when they know you understand their strengths and weaknesses, when they know that you have invested yourself in encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer. When a child knows that all his life you have sought to see the world through his eyes, he will trust you. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 98
Goals for Each Stage of Life
The second half of the book is incredibly practical! Tripp walks us through the parental goals of each stage of life for a child. Each of these chapters from infancy up to adulthood provide you with important understanding of the stage of life you find your children in. Even if you have a rebellious and unruly teenager, Tripp provides wonderful solutions and steps to take, namely, ask forgiveness, communicate clearly, and start exemplifying the right attitudes as a parent. One big lesson for each stage of development is:
- Infancy to Childhood: [The child] is an individual under authority. [A child] is made by God and has a responsibility to obey God in all things. (pg. 133)
- Childhood (Ages 5-12): The big issues during these middle years is character. Your child’s character must be developed in several areas. (pg. 163)
- Teenagers: You desire to see the daily instruction throughout your child’s life brought together and internalized by [the child]. (pg. 188)
You can accomplish nothing of lasting value simply by being an authority. You must seek to counsel and influence. –Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 203
I found Shepherding a Child’s Heart to be immensely helpful. At the end of each chapter are a series of questions to answer, which would make this a good book for a small group to use. There were a few occasions I think Tripp was a bit too black and white, but I give him the benefit of the doubt because I understand what he is meaning. One such place is when he speaks ill of rewards for children obeying (e.g. cleaning your room). But he excuses “heavenly rewards” because the reward is not the incentive, obeying God is. I wrote in the margin, “Why can’t a child’s reward be the same way?” (pg. 62-64). I must say, his chapters on spanking were superb. He lays out a biblical argument for doing so, but also lays out guidelines for doing so in a very practical way. A big takeaway for me was that if your child leaves the disciplinary moment mad, then you’re not done. Each disciplinary moment should be filled with love and explanation. But you’ll have to pick up the book and read it for yourself if you want more on that.
Information and Personal Rating
- Title: Shepherding a Child’s Heart
- Author: Tedd Tripp
- Published: 1995
- 211 pages
Personal Ratings (1-10)
- Applicability: 9
- Readability: 7 – there is some redundancy near the end
- Originality: 8
- Recommendation: Yes – a great read for any parent.