Book Review: Shepherding a Child’s Heart

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Being a new father, I had to read this classic book called Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp that many have recommended. The book lives to its reputation as it goes against the tide of your typical parenting books, and focuses parenting directly on the heart.

Author: Tedd Tripp is a graduate Philadelphia Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has pastored in the past and is a popular author. He and his wife Margy lead the Shepherding the Heart ministry.

Summary: The book is divided into two parts: (1) The Foundations for Biblical Childrearing, (2) Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood. The first part lays the building block and establishes the correct mindset which is a focus on the heart. He discusses the following issues: counseling the heart, Godward orientation, parental authority, establishing goals, removing unbiblical parenting methods and establishing biblical ones, communication, and discipline. Part 2 tackles issues specifically related through the different stages in life (infancy, childhood, and teenagers).

Weaknesses: Though a good introduction to biblical counseling, the book was at times a bit too general and introductory. It at time lacked in giving specific alternatives to critiques or specific examples of principles and concepts. There were moments where it was a bit repetitive and elaborated on a principle when it was sufficiently covered. The book is heavy on answering the question “Why?” but doesn’t deal so much with the “How?” which I feel is needed in a parenting book.

Strengths: Tripp does an excellent job focusing parenting around the issues of the heart and the God-ward orientation and relationship of both parents and children. His observations and critiques of today’s parenting (even in Christian circles) are spot on, and the biblical alternatives are very helpful and insightful. He brings attention to things that parents today tend to tolerate or to ignore in a child, and emphasizes that outward change must start with the inward attitudes. The principles here are flexible enough to shape any context of parenting. I also appreciated his application of these principles to each stage in childhood, which brings it from the theoretical to the practical. It is also comprehensive in the fact that nearly every subject in parenting is addressed (but not exhaustively).

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book for every parent. If you feel lost, and don’t know really where to start, I would start here. This will really set the foundation and trajectory for your methodology. But be mindful of its repetitive nature. However, if you have not been exposed to any content related to biblical counseling, especially in the area of parenting, this is a must-have. This will be a great gift for someone who is looking for a solid Gospel foundation for raising their children.

Principles for Parenting (This is long, but a lot of good material!):

  • “The central focus of parenting is the Gospel” (p. xxi)
  • Learn how to engage your children, not just reprove them (6). Don’t just provide food, clothing, and shelter for them; know what makes your children tick, know them and their inclinations .
  • It is a mistake to think that child-rearing is only about providing the best possible shaping influences for your children. It is wrong to think that sheltering and protecting them will guarantee that they will turn out okay (15)
  • Parents must actively shepherd a Godward orientation in their children’s lives (25)
  • We must teach our children that freedom is not found in autonomy and independent decision making, instead it is found in obedience (27)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for forgiveness for your anger or sinful responses to your children (33). Live a shared life of repentance. Acknowledge your own sin and weakness. admit when you are wrong (91).
  • As difficult as discipline is, remind yourself that “discipline is an expression of love.”  God disciplines us for our good that we might share in His holiness. The primary thrust of discipline is not to take revenge, but to correct (36-37)
  • Do your best to not fill their young lives with distractions from God. Show them that a life worth living is found only in knowing and serving God. Do not train them in the idolatry of materialism and feed them idols. Help them learn that they will only “find themselves” as they find Him (45). What values are taught when the Lord’s day worship play second fiddle to other activities like baseball or swimming (50)?
  • School and education: The “A’s” are not at stake. What is important is that your child learn to do his work diligently for God, and He will reward that (55). Children must learn that they have been made for God (103).
  • Communication: Seek to talk WITH your children. Communication is not monologue. It is dialogue (72). Learn to draw out the thoughts of one another. Help your children articulate their thoughts and feelings (73)
  • “You will never have the hearts of your children if you talk with them only when something has gone wrong.” (90)
  • Authority: “Influence represents the willingness of a child to place himself under authority because of trust. This trust has several elements. Children trust you when they know you love them and are committed to their good, when they know you understand them…” (94)
  • Discernment: Provide your kids with a grid through which to filter the events of life when you’re not there. Train them to be independent, trained to stand on their own without parental support, so that they can understand life through a biblical, redemptive grid (96).
  • Discipline: Discipline underscores obedience to God. The issue is never “You have failed to obey me.” The reason for a child to obey mom and dad is because God commands it. Failure to obey parents is a failure to obey God (106)
  • Obedience: Submission to authority means that your child may have to do things he or she may not want to do. Obedience is without delay, excuse, or challenge (135).
  • Spanking: It is not right to merely warn or to ask if they want to be spanked. You are training them to wait for the warning before they obey. “Your children must understand that when you speak for the first time, you have spoken for the last time.” (146)
  • Spanking: Spank only for defiance, not for being clumsy and being childish (151).
  • Spanking: Do not spank out of anger. If you are too mad to discipline properly, repent of your anger first and wait until you are able to deal with your child with integrity (155)

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Shepherding a Child’s Heart

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