There are many things in life that are easy to do poorly but are much more difficult to do with excellence. It did not take me long as a parent to discover that it would not be difficult to raise children, but that it would be exceedingly difficult to do it with excellence. In the six years since my eldest child was born I have looked often for help and advice in becoming an excellent parent. Unfortunately my wife and I have received little mentorship in this area. Thankfully, there are many books written about this topic so we have often looked to these resources to provide the wisdom and training we know we need.
Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp came to us highly recommended. In fact, I can’t think of a book on this topic that was recommended to us more often. It is a book that deals with speaking to the very heart of your children. Realizing that too many parents react only to symptoms of underlying sin, Tripp attempts to help parents look deeper, to see that all the things a child says and does flow from the heart, for as Luke 6:45 says, “…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” If a parent can understand a child’s heart and shepherd that heart, he can deal most effectively with a child’s deepest needs. And through it all he seeks to keep the gospel central to a parent’s calling and to a child’s response.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first, Tripp lays the foundation for biblical childrearing. He shows that the heart of bad behavior is a sinful heart. He discusses a child’s development, showing that a child is shaped by various influences on his life and that a parent needs to help a child have a Godward orientation. He discusses authority and suggests that, despite our culture’s disgust towards authority, a parent must assert himself as being in a position of God-given authority over a child. A child must realize that parents speak not of their own authority, but of God’s. He also discusses goals, methods, communication and discipline.
Where the first part of the book lays a foundation, the second part guides a parent through shepherding a child through three stages of development: infancy, childhood and teenagers. For each of these periods he suggests the training objectives and then procedures a parent should use to attain these objectives.
A section I found particularly interesting, perhaps because I have young children, was the section dealing with punishment. Tripp advocates spanking as really the only biblical method of punishment (and certainly the only one that is specifically mandated by Scripture) for correcting young children. He lays out very clear circumstances in which children should be spanked and suggests many circumstances in which parents must not spank. He makes this type of corporal punishment very deliberate and very loving. He suggests that parents must be fully in control of themselves when they spank and must not be filled with anger. Parents do not punish their children out of anger, embarrassment or retribution, but to teach children that defying authority will bring about consequences. Children must know that God demands obedience to authority and that there are consequences for defiance.
In his endorsement of this book Edward Welch wrote, “Dr. Tripp’s material on parenting is clearest, most biblically framed, and most helpful that I have ever encountered. It has become the backbone of my own parenting.” I agree entirely. Throughout the book Tripp focuses on Scripture and on the gospel. He focuses on human nature and on the grace of God in providing a solution to the needs of our children. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any parent, and especially to new parents. Read it now, pray about it, and let God direct you to His ways of shepherding the hearts of your children.