The book Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp was originally published in 1995, but with the abundance of truth within the pages, it is not surprising the book continues to be a favorite among Christian parents.
In this parenting resource, Tripp combines principles from the Bible with real-life examples to show readers how to use the Bible as their guide for parenting their children rather than relying on ever-changing advice from the world.
Below is a summary from Shepherding a Child’s Heart, but I highly recommend parents purchase a copy of the actual book and read it in its entirety to glean more understanding.
Focus on the Heart Rather Than the External Behavior
The main idea of this book is how parents are responsible in shaping child’s heart. Rather than simply controlling your child’s behavior, you should guide them to identify matters of the heart from which the behavior flows. Often, parents are focused primarily on the external behaviors of their children rather than getting to the heart of the issue. When the heart is addressed, the behavior takes care of itself.
Christians are sinners saved by grace, and it is important for parents to understand their children also have sin natures. Therefore, it is imperative for parents to help their children understand their need for a Savior.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
Considering this verse, parents are urged to guide their child’s life and heart toward God rather than simply manipulating for behavioral changes. Changes in behavior will result from changes in the heart, and their heart will be directed by their understanding of God.
Understanding Shaping Influences
Tedd Tripp discusses the combination of shaping influences and a Godward orientation in the book. As Tripp explains, shaping influences determine who a child becomes; however, children are not helpless victims and parents are not merely molding clay.
Shaping influences include:
- Structure of family life
- Family values
- Family roles
- Family conflict resolution
- Family response to failure
- Family history
As Tripp explains, all families have these shaping influences – even when we do not acknowledge them. Because your children will be shaped by these, parents should aim to provide the best, biblical shaping guardrails possible.
However, children also have a Godward orientation. As Tripp explains, “The young child may not be conscious of his religious commitment, but he is never neutral. Made in the image of God, he is designed with a worship orientation. Even as a young child, he is either worshiping and serving God or idols (20).”
The combination of a child’s shaping influences and his or her Godward orientation will determine the person he or she becomes. As parents, you should both provide biblical shaping influences and shepherd your child’s heart towards God.
The Importance of Parental Authority
The book also explains that shepherding your child’s heart means being an authority. As a Christian, you are under God’s authority. Children are under God’s authority, and He has put your children under your authority. This is a biblical mandate.
Tripp explains a parent’s right to discipline their child comes from what God has called parents to do – not because of their own agenda. Similarly, children are called to obey God, which includes honoring their parents – not because their parents are in control.
Parents should teach their children how much God loves them, which is why He has given them parents as authorities to teach and shepherd them. When disciplining biblically, discipline is an expression of love. Parents should correct accordingly and never out of anger, frustration, or irritation.
As the parental authority, your discipline should always be focused on your child’s restoration to God – not merely on changing external behaviors or personal preference.
Avoiding Unbiblical Parenting Goals and Methods
Unfortunately, the world’s views of parenting are ever-changing. There are 700 theories of modern-day psychology alone. New methodologies enter the picture, and as culture shifts, the goals parents have for their children evolve as well. However, throughout history, the Bible has remained the same. Therefore, Tripp explains that our parenting goals and methods should be Biblically-based rather than based on the shifting sand of the latest trends.
Tripp describes various parenting goals that can be misconstrued putting the focus on something other than God. For example, these are some of common parenting goals, which tend to go off course:
- A child developing special skills and talents (without using those talents to glorify God).
- A child’s psychological adjustment (without concern for their Godward orientation).
- A child’s salvation (focusing on the sinner’s prayer (religion) and not the heart).
- A family’s worship (focusing on a routine or tradition and not a child’s heart).
- Having well-behaved children (external behavior only and a focus on what others think rather than what God thinks).
- A child’s education (becomes more important than matters of the heart).
- Cultural influences (ever-changing).
As Tripp argues, instead of having these types of things as goals, parents should be focused on teaching their children from birth how they are made in the image of God to glorify Him. Parental goals should be rooted in biblical truth and love. The ultimate goal must be for children to understand how life is found in knowing and serving God.
Likewise, Tripp explains, in order to teach what are deemed unbiblical parenting goals, parents turn to unbiblical parenting methods. These include things like pop psychology, behavior modification, emotionalism or manipulation, punitive correction, and inconsistency. Rather than using parenting methods such as contracts or bribery, he emphasizes the importance of addressing behaviors through addressing the heart.
Why Communication Matters
To address behaviors through addressing the heart, you must be able to communicate with your child. Communication is essential in the fact it not only disciplines but also disciples. Shepherding your child’s heart requires you to have a dialogue with your child to discover the “whys” for the behavior and to discern matters of the heart.
Throughout your child’s life, you will have to communicate in different ways depending on the behavior. For example, parents will use all the following types of communication to shepherd their child’s heart: encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, and teaching. Additionally, parents must actively listen to their children. If they do all the talking, they will be unable to listen and discern what is going on in their child’s life.
To Spank or Not to Spank – It’s Not a Question
Tripp spends a significant amount of time in the book explaining why spanking is biblical. Given the current climate regarding any form of corporal punishment, it is understandable why Tripp explains in great detail the “whys” and “hows” of spanking.
Ultimately, Tripp explains how the heart is sinful, and we need discipline to change the heart. He relies on the biblical idea of “the rod” (Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 23:14, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 29:15) for explaining how spanking is a biblical means to bring wisdom to the child.
The rod (spanking) is a parental exercise and is ultimately a rescue mission. It is not used for childishness; it is used only when a child’s behavior is in a sinful, dangerous state. Spanking is then used as a disciplinary action to help rescue the child from this sinful state.
Tripp goes on to explain the importance of only using the rod for this purpose and not for a parent’s own agenda or personal preference. For instance, spanking should not be the result of a bad temper, frustration, venting, retribution, or vindictive anger. He also goes on to provide clear examples and explanations for how a child should be spanked as a means of biblical correction without it being abusive.
The purpose of correction and discipline should be to find the mark in your child’s conscience, with the central focus on redemption. Biblical parenting should deal with the root problems and not merely surface issues.
Parenting Through the Years
The final portion of Shepherding a Child’s Heart contains specific examples for parenting through the years. It is broken down by age groups with discussions of parental training objectives and procedures.
Infancy through childhood is characteristically a time of change. This is when children must be taught to understand authority. Childhood (ages 5- 12) is characteristically a time of character development. This is when parents teach children the importance of dealing with heart issues. For example, children in this stage must be taught how to seek God as the basis for making choices about what they should and who they should be.
The teenage years are characteristically a time of rebellion. This is when children need to be taught the fear of the Lord; it is also a time when you need to make your home a safe shelter and a place they want to be, so they will not be as easily pulled to more attractive, worldly options.
As Tripp explains, it is much easier to start parenting biblically when your children are young because they are easier to teach. However, Tripp does include discussions for parents who are introducing these new goals and methods with older children.
Entrusting Your Children to God
The primary purpose of this book is to be a resource for parents who want to raise their children according to God’s Word. With that being said, Tripp explains the necessity of prayer and faith when it comes to raising your children. You can provide the best shaping influences and do all you can to help them have a Godward orientation, but you must entrust your children to God.
Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child's Heart. 2nd ed., Shepherd Press, 2005.