I had the pleasure of interviewing Tedd Tripp the author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Below are my questions and his responses:
Q: How do you go about addressing the parent’s heart? In the book, you talk about correction should never come as a by-product of irritation or anger or a focus on what others think as opposed to what God thinks. What suggestions do you have for addressing a parent’s heart?
Tripp: One thing that always strikes me whenever I do a seminar, no matter where I teach in the world, is people will come to me and say, “This wasn’t just about my kids. This was about me.” The more you talk to people about those attitudes of heart and the subtle idolatries we work for and live for, the ways we are driven by the fear of man, by pride – the more insight I get into those attitudes of heart in order to help my kids, the more I’m going to see those things in myself. I can look at heart issues, attitudes of heart, idols of heart, the subtle ways we are self-serving -- I can’t just fix those things in my kids if I have no insight to those things in myself. The insights I gain into myself enable me to see it in my kids and enable me to respond to them in ways that point them to Christ.
Q: In another section of the book, you emphasize the importance of using various types of communication. What do you tell parents about discerning the type of communication that is needed in the heat of the moment, so they don’t just react?
Tripp: We have to just remind ourselves that we can’t trust ourselves in the heat of the moment. In the heat of the moment, when I am upset with my kids, like when I’ve seen them do something defiant or wrong or they’re cruel to their brothers or sisters or something, I cannot trust myself in that moment. I’ve got to take a deep breath and quiet my heart before God. I might even shoot a prayer at that moment – “Lord, help to engage this kid in a way to help him and not just serve me.” I’ve got to get that switch of focus.
Otherwise, I’m just reacting, and that’s when I’m going to be destructive in my manner or my tone. Even if I’m not destructive in the things I actually say, the kids will read my manner and my tone. They’ll read the frustration in me. I talk to parents about how those are the moments when I am modeling something that is so important because we are the tangible representatives of God in our children’s lives. They can’t see God, but we represent God. We talk to them about God. We’re His ambassadors. An ambassador is not there to serve his own ends; he’s there to serve another. And, that’s what we are for our kids. We’re there to serve Christ. We want to not be in the way. Our flash of anger is going to be in the way.
Also, if we study the Word – continually reading the wisdom literature in Scripture, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and looking for communication issues - it is just so amazing.
Ecclesiastes 6:11 – “The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”
What an amazing insight. When you throw a lot of words out there, the words lose their meaning. Sometimes parents use way too many words, and that’s just one of those insights.
Ecclesiastes 9:17 – “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.”
Such an interesting insight. Because when I’m shouting at my kids, I’m putting emotion in the foreground and meaning in the background. What the kids get is my emotion, where if I’d used quiet words, I’d put meaning in the foreground and emotions in the background. If I just go on and on and on, I’m going to say something unguarded, something foolish, something I should not have said.
Proverbs 18:2 – “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
Boy, how many times have I been a fool in conversation with my kids because I wasn’t interested in understanding but was interested in having them understand me? And that’s the posture of the fool.
- In recent news, the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out and said, “no” to spanking. In the 2nd edition of the book, you talk about parents being afraid of spanking because of how they will be viewed or treated (i.e., fears of being arrested). In light of this new study, what would you say to parents about this issue?
Tripp: I don’t know anyone who has ever studied what I advocate. There are studies that study the effects of parents who hit their kids because they are upset with them or frustrated with them or they want to teach them a lesson. So, there are studies that say that is negative for kids. And that doesn’t surprise me at all. If you have a parent who is striking their child out of frustration, that is going to be damaging to the child. You can never discipline in anger. If you do discipline in anger, you need to ask forgiveness from your children because you have sinned against them. And it’s wrong. “Daddy needed to discipline you, but I should never have disciplined you in anger.” So, on the scientific study side of it, I don’t know anyone who studies what I advocate because what I advocate is a careful, appropriate, timely use of physical discipline.
Another distinction I wish I would have made in Shepherding the Child’s Heart is the difference between correction and discipline. For a lot of what you deal with in little children, correction is the appropriate intervention – not discipline. If I have a 3-year-old who pushes her 18-month-old sister or takes her toy, my first step is not going to be discipline – it’s going to be correction – because the child is not being defiant. She’s being an impulsive 3-year-old. So, I’m going to correct it instead and say, “No honey, you can’t take your sister’s toy. Your sister was playing with it. Let’s give it back to her.” I’m going to use the language of the heart. Instead of saying, “Don’t do that! That’s bad.” (which doesn’t help), choose to say, “You’re not being kind to your sister. You’re not loving your sister. You’re not serving your sister; you’re serving yourself.” I’m using the language of the heart to correct. I’m not going to spank this child.
The distinction between correction and discipline is very helpful – especially with little kids. Most of what is correctable to a four-year-old does not require discipline. 4-year-olds needs to be corrected all the time! But they don’t need to be spanked all the time. They only need to be disciplined if they are being blatantly defiant towards authority.
Now, there is no state in the United States where it is illegal to spank children. But one of the things you do have to deal with and understand realistically is child abuse authorities have incredible discretionary power in removing the child from the home. And they must have this power because if a child is being abused, you can’t wait until there is a hearing or proof of abuse, you’ve got to get the child out of that abusive situation. So, I understand why child abuse services have that kind of power. As parents, we need to be wise and very careful about how we discipline, where we discipline, and when we discipline. We should discipline in the privacy of our home and never in public. In our culture, by the time kids are school-aged, kids will probably be asked at some point, “Do your parents hit you when they are angry?” And, if a child is spanked, they will say yes to that question. Then, you could end up having someone show up at your door who has an awful lot of discretionary authority in deciding if your child should be removed. Some of those people are very wise and careful and are able to distinguish between appropriate discipline and abuse, but you can’t presume on that. The assumption in our culture is generally not that parents spank their kids out of a thoughtful type of discipline. The idea in our culture is that parents hit their kids because they are frustrated or angry in the moment, and they can’t think of anything more constructive to do.
I certainly don’t want to see anyone taking anything I’ve taught and believing it gives license to do that to children. Parents need to be wise and thoughtful about physical discipline for children. One of the things I talk about in seminars is that if you focus the first five years on teaching kids to be under authority, if you really work on that in those early years, then by the time your child is school-aged, he’s learned to be a person under authority. You’re not going to need to spend the rest of your life having contests over obedience. I have grandchildren whose parents have not needed to spank them because the kids have generally embraced the notion that they are to obey mom and dad. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because the parents were diligent in those early years teaching their kids to obey.
Q: In one section of your book, you talk about raising teenagers. You tell parents to make your home an attractive place to be. How so?
Tripp: You welcome your kids to bring other kids home, and you organize your life so you have time to spend with your teenagers. I think parents make a huge mistake of thinking their teenagers don’t need them like they needed them when they were toddlers. Your kids don’t need you to treat them like toddlers, but they need you just as much as your toddlers needed you. Parents need time to engage their teenagers’ and their kids’ friends. Parents should be looking for opportunities to cultivate relationships and to have a relationship of influence with their teenagers.
We made our home a welcoming place. We were happy to have their friends come and hang out, and we were willing to deal with the inconvenience of having gangly awkward teenagers around. We saw it as an investment. We wanted to know our kids’ friends. Just being present, being welcoming, and having your life organized so you have time with your kids and doing fun things with them makes a difference. Think of yourself as a youth group leader to your kids. My job is to engage my kids and interact with them and to try to bring gospel truths to them in the ways that I can.
Q: What is the role of a grandparent in shepherding a child’s heart?
Tripp: My wife and I were just talking about working on a book about shepherding your grandkids. The relationships with grandkids are so varied. You could have kids who are nonbelievers and grandkids being raised by non-Christians, so as grandparents you’re trying to influence them, but you also don’t want to make yourself odious to your kids by making them think you're trying to proselytize their kids in aggressive ways.
There are just so many variations. You have single parents who need a lot of support from the grandparents. We’ve had the joy of having all nine of our grandchildren grow up within five miles of us. So, we spend a lot of time with our grandkids. We want to engage them. We want to be another set of voices in their lives who are encouraging them with the same values their parents are encouraging.
I think it’s also very important for grandparents to respect their children’s parenting abilities. Never be in a situation with your grandkids where you are saying to them, “I know your dad doesn’t let you do this, but you can do it in my house.” Instead, I want to say, “If your dad doesn’t let you watch that, then you can’t watch it here either” - even if I don’t agree with the dad. I don’t want to undercut my kids. I want to support my kids. He’s their dad – I’m not. And my role is to be supportive of his role as the authority in their lives.
Also, look for opportunities to build relationships. We have relationships with our grandkids. We understand them. We know who they are. We understand their interests. We’re always trying to engage them in those things. Cultivate relationships with your grandkids. Know what they are up to. When you have a relationship with your grandkids, you become a person of influence in their lives.