Monday, February 22, 2010

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Shepherding a Child's Heart, Tedd Tripp

I have heard many favourable reviews of this book over the years, so was looking forward to reading it.

Here are the things I liked:
  • The principle that you have to shepherd a child's heart. The heart is from where all things spring, where attitudes, behavour, speech, etc come from. Therefore, we must be seeking to change their hearts and help align them to God's.
  • The insistence that parents are in charge and they need to act like it. God has given parents their job on earth to raise their children and they need to do it well, pro-actively and in line with God's truths.
  • That communication is a key to this shepherding. Communication helps children to understand what they do and help us to understand our children. Communication can include encouragement, instruction, entreaty, rebuke, prayer, etc.

  • That another key is the appeal to the conscience, especially in later years.

All of these things were helpful and I think, correct.

However, my main problem with the book coloured my whole impression of it. Tripp has a very strong emphasis on the use of the 'rod' as discipline (ie. smacking). He claims that God commands the use of the rod (taking verses from Proverbs), therefore as parents we are obeying God if we are including physical punishment in our discipline and even more strongly, he claims that if we do not use the rod as parents we are actually being disobedient.

My concern with this was mainly theological. I am not at all convinced that the sayings in Proverbs are meant to be taken as commands. They are wise sayings about general truths, but they are not commands, nor are they guarantees. Also, how literally does one take this? He has interpreted using the rod as a smack (or several) on a bare bottom. However, could using the rod mean actually hitting a child with something? Why does he interpret it to be a smack? Could the rod be a term to encompass all discipline measures, not just physical ones? (my decision not to study Hebrew at college lets me down again!)

My other concern is practical. I do not think there is a 'one-size' fits all scenario in discipline. I will say that the care he went to outline the procedure one would take in using 'the rod' did have all the checks and balances in place that one would hope for if punishing children physically, ie. never do it angry, always be in control, tell your children why, ensure they understand, etc. However, I just don't think it's that necessary. I am not anti-smacking, but I am not convinced it is generally that effective.

My other two general concerns are:
  • He claims he presents the only God-inspired way to raise children. I am wary of anyone who claims that they alone have managed to interpret God's will for us and his way of doing things, and that virtually every other author on a subject is wrong. It just seems a little over-confident to me.
  • There weren't many practical examples. Yes, there were some, but I found it hard to actually see when & how I would implement a number of his suggestions. I understand you want to teach children the things of God, and show them how their hearts would look, but I still found it hard to figure out how some of those things would weave naturally into conversations. Having said that, some of his suggestions I am using already.

Anyway, if you have read it, I would love to know what you thought!


Meredith said...

Hi Wendy,

I haven't read the book, I should say that up front, but I had a bit of an epiphany with parenting books last year regarding the "one size fits all" thing. I was browsing through a different book that claimed if you followed the prescribed formula to a tee then you would have a new child by Friday. (You may now know which book I am talking about!) Well, I knew that the prescribed technique absolutely and unequivocally would not work with one our boys.

Which always takes me back to Christopher Greeen of "Toddler Taming" who says many times through his books, "If you do x most of the time then your child will display the the desired y behaviour most of the time." The only book I have read with real expectations of real (non robotic) children and their never 100% consistent parents. So while I continue to dip into parenting books (and there is value in doing so) I tend to be suspicious of parenting books that make the big (and sometimes dogmatic) one size fits all/foolproof claims.

mattnbec said...

Hi Wendy,

I haven't read this myself. I've heard/read really positive stuff about it generally but your first two concerns mirror the question marks I had. Still planning to read it (one day!), but it's useful to hear I'm not the only one.



Lucy said...

I've read it, and I thought pretty much exactly what you've said! I;ve found that the majority of christian parenting books (that I;ve come across anyway) are really just secular parenting books with a few bible verses thrown in, which I think is pretty sad.

I really liked the fact that Tripp isn't so much concerned with behaviour as with what's going on in the heart, and thought he had some really challenging and helpful things to say on that. Since reading his book I often think about the fact that I mustn't discipline my kids for my own convenience / preference or to look like I'm doing the right thing to other people.

His "circle of blessing" bothered me as it doesn't seem to line up too well with what the Bible says (unless I;m missing something). I also found him immensely impractical - I felt like he might change his views on a few things if he had to be a stay at home mum for a few months!

I also really disliked that he doesn't allow room for personality differences and other life factors. His idea that if you are not in control of your emotions you can just go off somewhere and pray until you feel better then come and smack your kids for their disobedience is pretty dangerous advice for people with real anger management issues or PND for eg. I'm not sure what exactly he thinks the unsupervised, naughty kids would be getting up to in mum's absence either!

Although I agree that his discipline = smacking approach is not a correct (or helpful) interpretation of scripture, I did find his critique of other discipline methods really helpful, especially as they are methods that other "christian" books seem to accept from secular behaviour management without question. I get really tired of books which complain about how barbaric smacking is and then advocate other practices that could be used in a really unhelpful way as well.

On the whole I thought it was a book really worth reading, so long as you take what he says with a grain of salt.

Natalie said...

Hi Wendy,

I just picked up this book and read the preface, forward and intro last night!

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on it and definately agree that one should not claim they have the perfect interpretation of God's word. Keeping this in mind, I've already been impacted on a comment he makes in his preface about making sure your children understand where their sin comes from and how it affects their behaviour (rather than just trying to mould good behaviour in them).

As for smacking - I was smacked as a child, but they were for fairly large offences which I never did again. Dad got out his belt, had us over his knee and gave us a couple of good ones. I think it was especially good for my older brother (who was particularly naughty - like making me put my thumb on a hot cigarette lighter from the car). I hate to think what state i'd be in if Dad hadn't sorted that out!!! :-)

Having said that, my Dad wasn't a godly man and my husband and I have yet to come to a decision about punishment for our son (he's only just 1).

Jenny said...

Hi Wendy - I read this book many years ago when my kids were toddlers. I found it unhelpful and couldn't understand why others had recommended it to me. It actually convinced me that I SHOULDN'T use smacking as a discipline strategy because I was never going to be in that calm, rational state that would make it OK!

I also find books that tell me there is a right way of parenting very irritating. When my kids were younger, I was desperate for advice, but when the strategies didn't work with my children, I felt like I had failed. Especially if a strategy was specifically designated as 'Christian' then I felt even worse! I didn't fully understand at the time, that all kids are different - as are all parents!

Your comments about Proverbs are helpful. Many Proverbs are cited in parenting books as commands so it good to be reminded of their place in the Bible.

Wendy said...

Thanks for all your comments - here was I thinking I was going out on a limb, now I know others agree with me! Gives me more confidence in my own reading of it.


Jean said...

Just discovered this old post of yours via Deb! And can I say, I agree with the reservations about this book. Here are mine:
- it's legalistic, one-size-fits-all, you have to do it this way, or else
- it misuses Proverbs, failing to read it as wisdom literature
- I, too, have big problems with the "circle of blessing" idea - not very gospel-centred
- it criticises all other discipline methods as appealing to a child's baser motives (whereas avoidance of punishment doesn't??)
- to focus every discipline situation on the heart - "let's have a long conversation about your motives now" - is neither realistic nor helpful. Sometimes you do just need to train a child's external behaviour.

The most helpful thing about this book?
- the focus on the heart and communication.

His brother Paul Tripp's "Age of opportunity", about parenting teens, is a much better book.

That's it from me! :)

Wendy said...

Thanks Jean. I may well try out the Paul Tripp one, I have really enjoyed some of his other books.