Review of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, now in its Second Edition (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2005, vii-xxiii + 210pp.) pastor and author Tedd Tripp has outlined a philosophy of parenting that goes beyond behavioralism to the root issues of a child’s actions. This is a book for parents who wish to see their children think and live in light of the Gospel. In the Preface to the Second Edition, Tripp writes: “Parents tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart. We tend to worry more about the ‘what’ of behavior than the ‘why’…To the degree and extent to which our focus is on behavior, we miss the heart” (xi).   The danger of this, according to Tripp, is that if parents don’t focus on the heart of their children, they miss the subtle idols of the heart—along with an opportunity to minister the gospel to their children and help them to live for the glory of God. In the Introduction Tripp thus writes: “The parenting task is multifaceted. It involves being a kind authority, shepherding your children to understand themselves in God’s world, and keeping the gospel in clear view so your children can internalize the good news and someday live in mutuality with you as people under God” (xix). Tripp arranges his work in two parts, “Foundations for Biblical Childrearing” (3-123), and “Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood” (127-210), with discussion questions at the end of each chapter throughout. The volume concludes with a two page Scripture index.

Tripp gives thirteen chapters to Part 1 of the book, “Foundations for Biblical Childrearing.” The first three chapters: “Getting to the Heart of Behavior,” “Your Child’s Development: Shaping Influences,” and, “Your Child’s Development: Godward Orientation,” can be analyzed together. Here Tripp argues that since the heart is the source of a child’s behavior, it is the responsibility of the parents to understand—and help their child to understand—the forces which mold a child’s heart, and lead them to trust in and worship God in the midst of these influences. The author opens chapter one by citing Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” upon which he comments: “The word picture here is graphic. The heart is a well from which all the issues of life gust forth…The behavior a person exhibits is an expression of the overflow of the heart” (3). The author notes several texts in the Gospels where Jesus echoed this theme, including Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45, and Matthew 15.1-9. From these Tripp urges parents, saying: “You must learn to work from the behavior you see, back to the heart, exposing heart issues for your children. In short, you must learn to engage them, not just reprove them” (6). In chapters two and three the author proposes that parents engage their children in light of several shaping influences that surface in the life of nearly every child, and the child’s innate tendency to worship idols. Tripp notes that at least six factors contribute to the person a child will become: Structure of Family Life, Family Values, Family Roles, Family Response to Failure, Family History, and Family Conflict Resolution. But the author argues against the deterministic philosophy which proposes that these six dynamics will have the final say over a child’s life, citing that a child’s Godward Orientation will finally prove decisive. That is, if a child is instructed of God’s providence, sovereignty, and worth—and the necessity of submission to Him—then he or she will be under His sway. Tripp writes, “Your child is not just a product of those shaping influences. He interacts with all these things…Either he responds to the goodness and mercy of God in faith or he responds in unbelief. Either he grows to love and trust the living God, or he turns more fully to various forms of idolatry and self-reliance” (22-23).

In chapters four through six, “You’re in Charge,” “Examining Your Goals,” and “Reworking Your Goals,” the author focuses on the leadership role of the parent. Here Tripp exhorts parents, saying: “The culture in which you live does not have a biblical understanding of authority. We think of authority as derived either from overwhelming force or consent…Our culture has no notion of intelligent, thinking persons willingly placing themselves under authority” (27). This being said, the author argues that parents have by God been placed in a position of authority over their children, and are themselves under God’s authority as those in authority. Thus Tripp admonishes parents saying, “You must undertake all your instruction, your care and nurture, your correction and discipline, because God has called you to. You act with the conviction that he has charged you to act on his behalf” (28). As parents provide direction under God’s authority—in love offering corrective, not punitive, discipline—then God is seen as ultimate, as He is. In light of the fact that God is the ultimate authority in a family, Tripp challenges parents to examine their parenting goals, including: “Developing Special Skills” (40), “Psychological Adjustment” (41), “Saved Children” (42), “Family Worship” (42), “Well Behaved Children” (43), “Good Education” (44), and “Control” (44). Tripp proposes that these seven aims should be seen as means rather than ends; “Teaching your children to live for the glory of God must be your overarching objective. You must teach your children that for them, as for all of mankind, life is found in knowing and serving the true and living God” (56).

Chapters seven through twelve compose the bulk of Part One. Here the author leads parents in the exercise of ‘putting off and putting on,’ eliminating unbiblical thinking, and seizing God’s means for His ends. In chapter seven, “Discarding Unbiblical Methods,” Tripp notes that most parents rely upon the strategies their parents used, pop psychology, behavior modification, emotionalism, punitive correction, and/or any combination of techniques to adjust their child’s behavior. Yet he states that, “The expediency of dealing with behavior rather than the heart means that deep needs within the child are ignored” (66), needs only the gospel can meet. If parents wish to train their child’s heart in light of the gospel, then they will need to practice good communication with a view to corrective discipline with the rod, Tripp argues. Here the author relies heavily on Proverbs 23 (vv. 13-19, 22, 26). In chapters eight through ten: “Embracing Biblical Methods: Communication,” “Embracing Biblical Methods: Types of Communication,” and “Embracing Biblical Methods: A Life of Communication,” Tripp lays a foundation for how parents can inform children of God’s plan for the family. Tripp argues that communication involves not only speaking to a child, but listening to him, understanding him, and inquiring as to his understanding of God and God’s ways. In this way parents can evaluate the child’s heart. The author notes that while communication in parenting is frequently reduced to the explanation of rules, correction, and discipline, Christian parents need to employ multifaceted communication to shepherd their child’s heart. These must include: “encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer” (81). This will require a life of communication, Tripp writes, which involves investment of time, thought, and energy. “Parenting is your primary calling,” the author argues, “Parenting will mean that you can’t do all the things that you could otherwise do…It will modify the amount of time you have for bowling, hunting, television, or how many books you read. It will mean that you can’t develop every interest that comes along. The costs are high” (97). The dividend will be increased influence in the life of the child: “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…” (94). Having stressed the place of communication in parenting, Tripp turns to the role of the rod, discipline. In chapters eleven and twelve, “Embracing Biblical Methods: The Rod,” and “Embracing Biblical Methods: Appeal to the Conscience,” he argues that parents shepherd the heart of the child when they reinforcing what they have communicated of God’s plan for the family by lovingly employing appropriate measures of physical discipline. According to Tripp, the rod functions as a necessary tool for parenting because the heart of a child is corrupt from birth. Citing Proverbs 22:15, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him,” Tripp writes: “God says there is something wrong in the child’s heart. Folly or foolishness is bound up in his heart. This folly must be removed, for it places the child at risk” (102). Thus, “Use of the rod is not a matter of an angry parent venting his wrath upon a small, helpless child. The use of the rod signifies a faithful parent recognizing his child’s dangerous state and employing a God-given remedy” (103). The author notes that while many object to the use of the rod, when employed rightly it uniquely shows God’s authority over both parent and child, and accomplishes God’s ends of hearts that fear and worship Him. This is so because the rod opens the door of the child’s conscience. According to Tripp, the biblical methods of parenting—communication and the rod—turn up the soil of a child’s heart, allowing parents the opportunity to plant seeds of the Gospel, the message of God’s redeeming work in Christ.

In Part 2, “Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood,” Tripp helps parents apply the principles of communication and the rod to children from infancy to the teen years. Chapters fourteen and fifteen provide the training objectives and procedures for those in infancy to childhood. Here the author notes that the primary characteristic of these years is change—physically, socially, intellectually, and even spiritually. The primary lesson for the preschooler is that he is a being under authority. Parents thus need to establish a good routine of focusing their child on God as the supreme authority, and themselves as God’s agent of authority. The preschool years provide an opportunity for teaching obedience and honor—and also the process of a child asking for an appeal of a directive—so that he can learn to live happily in the circle of God’s blessing. In chapter fifteen Tripp offers a step-by-step plan for spanking, and answers questions regarding the “How’s” and “Why’s” of the rod during these years. Tripp exhorts parents that during these years, “Your focus must be on what it means for you to honor God in your family life, not how to get your kids in line. Getting your kids in line is a by-product of honoring God” (159). In chapters sixteen and seventeen the author outlines the training objectives and procedures for the childhood years. He notes that parents must begin to give attention to heart issues of defiance and character development. Tripp proposes that children in this stage develop character as they are instructed of their relationship with God, themselves, and others; “Addressing the child’s character places the emphasis on issues of the heart. It enables you to get underneath behavior and address the thoughts, motives, and purposes of the heart” (164). He proposes that in these years a parent can begin to cast a long term vision for God’s glory and blessing upon the child who lives in submission from the heart. In chapters eighteen and nineteen Tripp describes the training objectives and procedures that accord teens. He notes the prominence of teen insecurity and rebellion, and proposes that during these years parents need to help their child establish three foundations for life: “The Fear of the Lord” (187), “Adherence to Parental Instruction” (189), and “Disassociation from the Wicked” (193). These three foundations provide the structure necessary for the teen to internalize the Gospel, writes Tripp, including: the development of a Christian mind, discovering and developing their peculiar ministry niche, determining a career in which they can fulfill the cultural mandate and God’s command that they support themselves and share with others in need, establish their own home and family identity as part of Church and society. Tripp concludes: “In the final analysis, you must entrust your children to God. How they turn out…will depend on the nature of their Godward commitment. Ultimately, you leave them to God, knowing that you can entrust your children to the God who has dealt so graciously with you” (210).

Shepherding a Child’s Heart is one of the best parenting books I’ve read. I have gone through this book in its First Edition, and now twice in the Second—and my copies look like rainbows because I’ve marked them with so many colors! As a parent and a pastor I recommend Tripp’s work to every family; the principles in this book can bring untold richness to the parenting process. If every believing family would employ Tripp’s biblical strategy, the church of the next generation would be strong.

Comments are closed