So, I read Shepherding a Child’s Heart, and have been thinking about it, feeling about it, and reflecting on it. I’ve tried posting about it and haven’t been satisfied with any of the drafts. Here goes another attempt.
Tedd Tripp avoids authoritarian and libertarian parenting pitfalls, arguing that both rich communication and “the rod,” in balance, are necessary for godly parenting.
He is concerned that parents understand and know their kids. He wants parents to focus on the relationship with their child, and make sure their disciplinary efforts foster relationship instead of distance and alienation.
He understands that the heart is the root of all behavior, and that discipline that focuses on behavior alone misses the point.
Tripp advocates teaching kids to do good to bullies instead of ignoring them or defending themselves. He doesn’t say at what age you can start expecting your kids to do so. It seems to me that a kid first needs to learn that he has the right to defend himself, before he can learn to set that right aside for the sake of agape love. It seems to me that teaching a kid that he can’t fight back is very similar to teaching a kid that his safety and dignity are unimportant. I would rather my kid feel absolutely permitted to defend herself — with the caveat that she shouldn’t seek to hurt the bully more than necessary for defense, and even that caveat has to wait for the ability to consider another’s point of view.
Tripp says that the “Who had it first” approach to resolving toy sharing conflicts is wrong.
First of all, he says that it’s about justice — as if justice is a bad thing. A kid needs to know and value justice before she can know and value loving self-sacrifice.
Then he says that this approach favors the one who is fast enough to get the toy first. Really? Is it that great a favor to have the first turn? And if it’s obvious that the grabber deliberately grabbed the toy BECAUSE he saw the other kid going for it, well, then justice would award the first turn to the other kid.
He talks about how the real heart issue is that both kids are being selfish and not putting the other kid’s happiness first. Again, a kid has got to understand his own pleasure in happiness before he can value his friend’s happiness. I’m fairly convinced that what looks selfish to an adult is not quite so to a kid — it’s not necessarily meanness or a desire to hurt the other, but a desire to protect oneself.
Tripp thinks that an eight-month-old resisting his mom’s attempt to put a hat on him is rebellion against authority, or refusal to be ruled from without. Yeesh. Seriously? Maybe — just maybe — the eight-month-old simply doesn’t like having something on his head, and is communicating that the only way he knows how. He has no idea what authority, rule, and rebellion are. (And who says authority and external rule are good in and of themselves, or that rebellion is wrong in and of itself? I want Amy to obey not merely because I’m in charge, but because she knows I love her and she trusts me.)
Tripp criticizes pop psychology and any expert parenting advice that does not come directly from the Bible. I want to be biblical in my parenting, but I don’t think the Bible is a complete parenting manual any more than it’s a math or history textbook. What it has to say about kids and parents is truth — but that’s not the same as instructions. And common grace teaches us that biblical truth is found in all sorts of places — even in psychology. Not that all psychology is sound, but neither is all of it suspect. Finally — does Tripp not realize that everyone interprets the Bible? No one can merely read what it plainly says — everyone brings presuppositions and prior experience to it. There are limits to what you can do with interpretation, and there are lots of things that are very clear in Scripture, but there’s also things that are more open to more various interpretations.
One of the biggest mistakes Tripp makes is to equate the biblical “rod” of discipline with corporal punishment. The biblical authors are quite capable of metaphor, and I don’t see any reason to believe that the “rod” is meant literally — and even if it is, then why is Tripp advocating spanking with the hand instead of with a stick?
What gets me really riled up is his idea that spanking renders kids sweet, and that timeouts are abusive. (3/18/2012 Edited to add: I have come to see why some folks argue this way about timeouts — that they are isolating and promote the suppression of feelings and make a child think they are only acceptable or wanted when they are cheerful… I’ve been moving in the direction of time-in instead, when I am able, and taking my own time-out when I need a separation.)
First of all, I really do appreciate his emphasis on restoration and correction instead of mere punishment. He is very careful to instruct parents not to spank in anger, to determine in advance how many swats and no more, to hug the child immediately after the spanking, to spank in private for the sake of not shaming the child, and always including discussion of the misbehavior.
And I believe that spanking carried out in this way can be part of a loving family life. I also believe that I personally dare not try it — nor do I have any desire to do so. (3/18/2012 Edited to add: I am more and more persuaded that spanking is never really okay. Parents who spank can be loving and devoted, and kids who are spanked can live through it, but spanking is still a mistake — there are better ways.)
I certainly do not believe that corporal punishment is necessary to drive the foolishness out of a child’s heart (I forget what Proverb that’s from). There’s the case again of confusing figurative and literal use of the word “rod.”
I’m not convinced that a timeout is necessarily abusive. It can be carried out with as much anger and punitive intent as spanking can be, or it can be carried out with restoration and correction in mind, just as Tripp recommends for spanking. The book did remind me to think about how I do timeouts. (3/18/2012 — see added note above)
While Tripp is correct that the heart is the root of behavior, and that therefore parents should be concerned to shepherd their kids’ hearts and not just modify their behavior, it’s extremely dangerous to suggest that parents must read back from the behavior to identify the heart issue.
Who can read hearts, but God alone?
And surely a child knows her own heart better than the parent does.
And if the parent interprets the child’s heart for her, how confused might she become? What she meant in one way, her parent insists she meant in another way, and now what should she think? (3/18/2012 Edited to add: for one example, we are so often tempted to see rebellion and manipulation where it is not yet possible — young kids are not consciously thinking this way, but are expressing their feelings, their wants, their needs, as best they can in the moment.)
Likewise, I believe in original sin and total depravity — that is, that we all do in fact sin and that even our best works have sin mixed in. But I think Tripp is overly focused on sin and does not sufficiently emphasize the glory we have as bearers of the image of God, and in how wonderfully he has made us. Sin fragments the image, and mars the wonder, but it doesn’t completely do away with that glory, and we must not let our belief that kids are sinners too lead us to dismiss, deny, or neglect their great glory.
I think it is better — at this toddler stage at least — to focus corrective discipline on concrete behavior that she and I can both see clearly. And to save heart-shepherding for generic lessons in heart issues — what it means to be loving, what it means to be sorry, what the Golden Rule requires, and so on. Let the Holy Spirit draw the connections for her between these heart lessons and her own heart and the behavior it influences.